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BUENOS AIRES — With their country’s battered economy recovering, Argentines are swarming back to the theater for Hollywood blockbusters and a local “Popstars” spinoff. Ticket sales were up 11% two weekends ago, the first of the winter school break, from a year earlier.

Admissions rose to 926,700 in the July 24-28 weekend from 831,700 in 2002 — the strongest result since 1998, according to Nielsen EDI.

“The economy is more predictable, making people more confident to spend their money and go to the movies,” says Diego Lerner, prexy of Walt Disney Co., Latin America.

So far, they’re flocking to see Hollywood pics. The big draws in the first winter-break weekend, normally the hottest of the year, were “Finding Nemo,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” and “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.”

Two homespun releases are also popular. Tomas Yankelvich’s “Vivir intentando” (Live Trying), starring reality pop band Bandana, sold 727,200 tickets in its first seven weeks, keeping hold on its Top 5 spot each weekend. And Juan Bautista Stagnaro’s romantic comedy “Un dia en el paraiso” (A Day in Paradise) sold 226,900 tickets in its first four weeks.

Buoyed by the jumping weekend, Lerner predicts ticket sales will return to pre-crisis levels by 2004.

In the first half of 2003, ticket sales rose 8.4% to 15.7 million from 14.5 million a year earlier, raising hopes that admissions would end the year above 2002’s 30.4 million. Before 2001, ticket sales grew steadily for six years, rising to 34 million in 2000 from 17 million in 1994.