BUENOS AIRES — Hollywood blockbusters “X2: X-Men United” and “The Matrix Reloaded” are luring Argentines back to the theater — sales are up 10% on last year’s slump-driven lows.

Ticket sales rose nearly 13.7 million in the first half 2003 from 12.5 million a year earlier, according ACNielsen-EDI data. In 2002, ticket sales dropped 2% to about 30.4 million from 31 million in 2001.

With the economy on track to grow around 4.5% in 2003, Argentines are returning to the movie houses.

The release of “Finding Nemo,” “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” and “The Hulk” in the coming weeks should boost ticket sales, said Oscar Coraggio, the programming manager of Columbia TriStar Films Argentina.

The story is different for independent films. “The market works only for blockbusters,” said Bernardo Zupnik, head of Argentine film distributor Distribution Company.

Average ticket prices have plummeted in U.S. dollar terms, in line with the 65% depreciation of the Argentine currency against the dollar since 2001. This has made it harder for distributors to make a profit, as their takings have dropped to about 60¢ per ticket from $2.15 before the 2002 devaluation of the peso. At the same time, many of a distributor’s costs like copying and film rights are in dollars.

As a result, distributors are screening less pics, but more sure-fire crowd pleasers. The number of screenings in the first five- and a-half months of the year dropped by 11% to 91 from 102.

A few local pics are lined up for the winter school break (June and July), when attendance generally surges.

Two are off to a romping start. Daniel Barone’s romantic comedy “El dia que me amen” (The Day That They Loved Me) and Tomas Yankelvich’s “Vivir intentando” (Live Trying), starring reality pop band Bandana, have been among the top 10 most watched in their first two weeks, between June 12 and June 23. “The Day” sold 183,100 tickets in its first two weeks, while “Live Trying” sold 104,300.

Other possible big-draws are Juan Bautista Stagnaro’s romantic comedy “Un dia en el paraiso” (A Day in Paradise), set for a July 3 release, and Eduardo Mignogna’s “Cleopatra,” a road-movie starring Norma Aleandro due out later in the year.