LONDON — The credit crunch is hurting Brits in the pocketbook, but they are still coughing up their hard-earned dough for a trip to the movies.

That’s according to Film Distributor’s Assn. data released this week that shows cinema admissions for summer 2008 were the highest since 1969, despite the ever-worsening current economic climate in Blighty.

In the three month period June-August 2008, there were 53.6 million admissions, up 5% from the 50.8 million figure in the same period last year. Summer 2008 grosses totalled $598.9 million, up 14% from $526.2 million the previous summer.

Boffo numbers add further credence to the theory that cinema is one of the most recession-resistant leisure activities.

“As a night out, the cinema is cheaper than spending three hours in the pub or at a (soccer) match,” points out Mark Batey, chief exec, FDA.

“Regardless of the looming recession, people still want entertainment, and I cannot think of a better way to spend a tenner (£10) ,” stresses Stuart Boreman, director of film buying for Vue.

But aud’s appetite for a few hours break from the harsh reality of the daily grind is not the only factor at play in the big summer ’08 numbers. Consistently rainy weather throughout the summer has had Brits looking for indoor entertainment rather than trips to the park or beach.

The breadth of the films themselves may be the top reason for the uptick.

“Product is number one,” says Paramount Pictures Intl. prexy Andrew Cripps. “This summer has truly had something for everyone — the likes of ‘Iron Man’ for action fans, ‘Indiana Jones’ for families and ‘Mamma Mia!’ for female audiences.”

Summer biz was spearheaded by feelgood tuner “Mamma Mia!” The whammo musical — which has massively  outstripped even the most upbeat pre-release industry expectations — has banked  $113.2 million through Oct. 28, and it is still showing good legs; it slipped only 14% in its 12th frame. Pic is the fourth-biggest earner in U.K. box office history.

“Mamma Mia!” is not the only summer release to outstrip forecasts. Another upbeat, female-skewed pic — “Sex and the City” — earned Entertainment a sassy $46.6 million.

Other big summer performers in the U.K. have been Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight” (cume of $87.1 million), “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (Paramount, $78.9 million), and “Hancock” (Sony, $45.2 million).

The big summer has industryites licking their lips about the rest of the year. Hottest title is undoubtedly Bond 22 — “Quantum of Solace” — which, partly due to a popular trailer, is getting tons of buzz a month before release. But not all the eggs are in 007’s basket.

“We’re bullish about prospects for the rest of the year too, for several reasons. There’s a strong homegrown presence with British actors leading films such as ‘Quantum of Solace,’ ‘Easy Virtue,’ ‘Brideshead Revisited,’ ‘Ghost Town,’ ‘Hamlet 2’ and ‘Inkheart.’ The autumn also has a slew of event films by major directors, such as ‘Changeling,’ ‘Body of Lies’ and ‘Slumdog Millionaire.’ And audiences will get their first chance to sample some of the contenders for the upcoming awards season,” Batey says.