Vet helmer Daniel Filho’s “If I Were You 2” was designed to be a local summer hit, extending the joke of a couple who get to know each other better by switching bodies, but before its opening Jan. 2, not even those close to the project could have forecast what was about to happen.

The comedy sold more than 6 million tickets, the highest admission level for a local film since 1978. The B.O. reached a record-setting $23 million, more than any other homegrown pic in Brazil’s history.

Thanks to “IIWY2,” the total B.O. for local pics in the first quarter of this year jumped 117% over the same period in 2008, boosting Brazilian-made pics’ share in the total market to 23.8% in the quarter, up from just 13.3% for the same period in 2008.

Arriving on the heels of five years of declining admissions for local pics, “IIWY2” leads one to ask whether the film is anything more than a fluke.

One explanation for the poor performance of local pics in recent years is the way nonrefundable incentives work in Brazil, supporting the production of features that, for the most part, are designed to play the arthouse and fest circuits. These breaks allow companies and helmers to get paid during the production process, regardless of the projects’ commercial fates or popularity.

“This type of thinking is gradually changing,” says Sergio Sa Leitao, president of Rio’s film investment agency RioFilme, where managers have thoroughly analyzed the stock of feature projects. “We were surprised with the high number of good commercial film projects. The introduction of refundable incentives, such as the Sector Fund, has contributed to this positive process.”

Jorge Peregrino, Paramount Pictures Intl.’s senior veep for Latin America, has a different perception: “I believe ‘If I Were You 2′ is an isolated case of success. I do not see any change in the filmmakers’ way of thinking.” The exec also criticizes the Sector Fund for allowing government input on the committee that analyzes the applications for coin, which could lead to subjective decisions.

“We are having a good year following five bad years,” explains Leonardo Barros, partner and international senior VP of indie pic production company Conspiracao Filmes, who warns against reading too much into the sequel’s success. “At this point, it is difficult to affirm … that there has been a structural change in the industry.”

However, while analysts, execs and government officials are divided about whether “IIWY2” sets a trend, they all agree the commercial potential of local pics slated for this year and 2010 far exceeds those of the past.

Jeremias Moreira’s rural drama “The Boy on the Ranch’s Gate” and Jose Alvarenga’s comedy “Divan” enjoyed strong commercial runs earlier this year. Other potentially strong pics for 2009 include Claudio Torres’ romantic comedy “The Invisible Woman” (which Warner will release June 5); Henrique Goldman’s “Jean Charles” (due June 26 from Imagem); another Alvarega’s comedy, “The Normal Ones 2” (set for August); Joao Daniel Tikhomiroff’s Disney-backed debut, “Besouro,” and Sergio Rezende’s “Salve Geral,” both set for October; a local version of “High School Musical” helmed by Cesar Rodrigues; and popular kids TV show host Xuxa Meneghel’s annual project in December.

Early 2010 brings Guel Arraes’ “O bem amado” from Disney; Bruno Barreto’s politico portrait “Lula, the Son of Brazil”; and Daniel Filho’s biopic “Chico Xavier.”

Rumors also suggest helmer Jose Padilha, who directed 2007 hit “Elite Squad,” has a sequel to that film slated for 2010, which would likely give the local B.O. yet another boost. Though Padilha won’t confirm the project to be in the works, his decision to turn down offers from local nets, including open-TV market leaders TV Globo and TV Record, for spinoff series is seen as a means to preserve “Elite Squad’s” integrity for a theatrical sequel.