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‘Irony’ rides Russian box office wave

Bekmambetov film takes in $35.7 million

Russia’s latest blockbuster, “Irony of Fate — Continuation,” the sequel to a massively popular 1970s Soviet classic, took in a record-breaking $35.7 million in its first two weeks, according to figures to be officially released later this week.

That perf caps a record-breaking year for the film industry in Russia, where 2007 box office takings reached $565 million — up 37% from the previous year.

“Irony,” which stars some of Russia’s top talent, reunites thesp Konstantin Khabensky with his “Nightwatch” and “Daywatch” helmer Timur Bekmambetov — the first Russian director to cross over to Hollywood in more than 30 years. It went out in a 1,000-copy release, the territory’s biggest ever, on Dec. 21.

The film, produced by leading national pubcaster the First Channel for a reported $5 million, broke the previous B.O. record of nearly $35 million set by fantasy thriller “Day Watch” last year.

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A source at the channel told Daily Variety on Wednesday that the first two weeks’ box office receipts totaled $35.7 million but added that an official announcement confirming the figure was not due for another day or so.

The figure eclipses that of the pic’s nearest rival, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” which took in just over $30 million in Russia and CIS (former Soviet territories) in 2007.

The success of “Irony of Fate — Continuation,” whose director Bekmambetov recently shot “Wanted,” starring James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie — comes on the back of another thumping year at the Russian box office.

Figures from authoritative industry journal Russian Film Business Today puts box office gross for the region at $565 million for the 12-month cinema accounting period that ended Nov. 30, 2007.

Box office was up 37% over 2006 receipts of $412 million and exceeded predictions that it would end up at $500 million. Admissions for Russia and the CIS (but excluding Ukraine) were just over 106 million, up 16% over the 91 million in 2006.

Cinemas in Russia and the CIS have never before recorded more than 100 million admissions — even during the boom years of state-supported Soviet cinema.

There were 350 releases, 115 of them in limited releases of 25 or fewer prints, breaking the 100 barrier for limited-release films for the first time and suggesting that the Russian taste for niche films is growing.

Some 109 movies grossed at least $1 million — another record. In 2006 only 90 films made the grade.

Top distributor in terms of share of the box office grosses was UPI (formerly UIP and East West), which accounted for a touch under $96 million, giving it nearly 17% market share.

Top-grossing films of 2007 were “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, the highest-grossing foreign film in Russia ever at $30.85 million; “Shrek the Third” ($23.39 million); and Russian production “The Wolfhound” ($20 million).

Russian share of the box office in 2007 on 85 movies (including co-productions) was $148.5 million (just over 26%).