2008 B.O. CUME: $35 million*

TOPPERS: Horacio Altamirano, prexy, Grupo Media Max; Alejandro Lebrija, director, Gussi Artecinema; Armando Garcia, film sales director

UP NEXT: “Bangkok Dangerous” (Sept. 19), “Disaster Movie” (Oct. 31), “Pride and Glory” (Nov. 21)

By maintaining a careful balancing act between bigger-budget and indie films, Gussi topper Altamirano has guided this decades-old regional distributor to consistent success, typically outgunning perennial No. 2, Televisa’s film distrib Videocine.

While Gussi’s output deal with New Line is set to come to a close at the end of 2009, a pic from that deal is its top performer of 2008 so far: July 23 release “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” which has grossed $11.4 million to date. Its bow dovetailed with the launch of RealD 3-D technology in six Cinepolis theaters — the first of 500 Mexican screens scheduled to install 3-D.

The distrib has tempered such tentpole fare by handpicking choice Mexican indies. Helmer-scribe Rodrigo Pla’s “La Zona” is among several buzzed-about smaller films Gussi is releasing this year. Others on the slate include Jose Alfredo Rangel’s “Burn the Bridges,” which nabbed two Ariels (Mexico’s top film prize) for acting and score, and “40 Days,” the narrative feature debut of Juan Carlos Martin, director of Ariel-winning docu “Gabriel Orozco.”

In early 2009, Gussi also is set to release Pla’s “The Desert Within,” which swept this year’s Guadalajara Intl. Film Festival and went on to close Cannes’ Critics’ Week.

Both “Desert” and “Zone” will reach Stateside auds via Gussi’s new U.S. theatrical outfit, Distrimax, which plans to release four to five films a year and about 40 on DVD. On June 27, it bowed its first theatrical title, Spanish-Argentine co-production “Elsa y Fred.”

*as of Aug. 13