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Russian box office rises 47%

Grosses hit $830 million last year

MOSCOW — Russian audiences gave the territory another record breaking box office year in 2008, when regional receipts hit $830 million, up nearly 47% on the previous year’s figure of $565 million.

Detailed figures released Monday, reflected another year of strong growth in a region that remains one of the film industry’s strongest emerging markets.

“Box office is likely to continue to grow in 2009, although not at the same rate as last year,” Alexander Semenov, publisher of Russian Film Business Today, which collated the figures, told Variety.

“Growth will be affected by the falling value of the ruble against the dollar and the impact of the financial crisis on the construction of new cinemas and multiplexes, which has been underpinning recent strong box office growth,” he said.

A resurgent national film industry during 2008 put local language fare in pole position with romantic comedy “Irony of Fate — the Sequel” notching up just under $50 million at the local box office, beating international cartoon juggernaut “Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa” into second place with $40.7 million.

The only other overseas movie to make it into the top five was fourth placed “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” ($27.7 million), the detailed Russian Film Business Today figures show.

Russian language films took third and fifth place: historic costume drama “Admiral” — starring top Russian actor Konstantin (“Day Watch”) Khabensky as anti-Bolshevik leader Admiral Kolchak — took $33.7 million; “The Very Best Film” — a spoof on recent Russian movies — raked in $27.6 million. A surprise hit early in the year, producers of “The Very Best Film,” Sony-aligned Monumental Pictures and Russia’s Comedy Club Productions, plan to release a sequel soon.

Other local language titles that fared well in a market that has copied successful mass movie marketing techniques from the West in recent years, included cartoon “Ilya Muromets I Solovey-Razboynik” — a fairy tale of bold knights and beautiful princesses that took $9.7 million, and surprise hit “Hitler Kaput!,” a madcap musical comedy featuring singing Nazis and buxom Aryan maidens, which made $9.7 million at the turnstiles.

Not to the taste of all in Russia, where the country’s massive wartime sacrifice and heroism remains a topic of virtually daily remembrance, the film was compared for its alleged vulgarity by some with Swiss-born Berlin-based Jewish director Dani Levy’s 2007 spoof “Mein Fuehrer: The Truly Truest Truth about Adolf Hitler.”

Other international top tickets included “Wanted” ($26.3 million) — made by Uzbek-born director Timur Bekmambetov, whose handling of Russian hits “Day Watch” and “Night Watch” brought him to Hollywood’s attention — and Will Smith starrer “Hancock” (just under $26 million).

Top distributor was UPI, which grossed $203 million — more than double its 2007 gross of $96 million — to give it a 24.6% market share.

Other leading distributors were 20th Century Fox ($154.9 million; 18.7% market share); Caro Premier/Caroprokat ($126.1 million; market share: 36.2%); BVSPR ($120.4 million; 14.6%); and Central Partnership/CP Classic ($64.9 million; 7.8%).

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