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MADRID — After years of marked box-office growth, Central American box office dipped 5.6% in 2018, from $144.34 million in 2017, to $136.3 million last year – which is nonetheless almost 50% higher than the regional box office recorded in 2012, according to comScore figures.

Honduras bucked the trend, with 8.5% growth, whereas the biggest drop was recorded in one of the smallest markets – Nicaragua – with a 34.5% fall.

Notwithstanding the dip in admissions, 56 new screens in 14 theaters opened in 2018, headed by Guatemala which bowed 25 new screens at six sites, followed by Costa Rica with 13 new screens, Panama with seven, Honduras with six and El Salvador with one.

Having emerged from decades of instability and war, Central America has prospered in recent years with low inflation rates, rising prosperity, and an increasingly stable middle class, which has fueled cinema-going habits. Nonetheless, box office revenues plateaued in 2017 and the dip in admissions in 2018 places a question mark for the future.

According to Luis Vargas, comScore’s managing director for Latin America, U.S. blockbusters continue to dominate the region’s box office.

The top three titles were “Avengers Infinity War,” followed by “The Incredibles 2” and “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.”

Imax films recorded 2.39% growth in admissions but box office edged up just 0.23%, according to comScore.

Costa Rica had the highest number of local films released – with nine titles.

The biggest local hit in Costa Rica was Daniel Moreno’s comedy about a country bumpkin who travels to Europe to find a cure for his grandmother – “Maikol Yordan 2: The Distant Cure” – the sequel to 2014 hit “Maikol Yordan: Traveling Lost” – which clocked up 770,000 admissions. Lensed in Europe, Egypt and Costa Rica, the sequel received mixed critical reviews, but recorded over 200,000 admissions.

The second biggest local hit in Costa Rica was Sergio Pucci’s “Guilas” which weaves together seven short films featuring children in seven different provinces.

Jose Mario Salas Boza’s romcom “An Essential Gift” – whose story jumps between 1985 and 2025 – was the third most popular Costa Rican film.

In Honduras, the biggest local hit was Wilfredo Leiva’s thriller, “Mala Nova The Treasure Of The Cursed Mountain,” followed by Ruben Darío Robelo’s Christian drama, “A Light on the Way” and Josá Maradiaga’s romance, “In Love for the Second Time.”

Panama was immersed in soccer fever in 2018 due to the country’s participation in the World Cup in Russia.

Local helmer Arturo Montenegro followed up on his previous hit, “Grace and Splendor,” with the $1 million Panamanian-Russian co-production, “Frozen in Russia”, shot in Panama City, Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

That step up in scale paid off. It ranks as Panama’s most popular film ever, with over 160,000 admissions, having premiered on May 31 just before the start of the World Cup tournament.

The film was also released in Costa Rica, Guatemala and El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic.

The second most popular Panamanian film was also soccer-themed: Christian Escobar’s documentary about the passions released when Panama qualified for the World Cup finals: “Minute 87 – Panama in the World Cup”,

Panama’s third biggest movie at cinemas prove to be Juan Carlos García de Paredes’ comedy “Sin Pepitas en la Lengua,” a remake of the 2016 top-grossing Chilean comedy, “No Filter” by Nicolás López, which has spawned over 10 remakes worldwide and the sale of U.S. remake rights to Eva Longoria and Charles D King.

Panamanian helmer Abner Benaim’s music documentary, “Ruben Blades Is Not My Name” was the fourth biggest local hit.

Riding on the international fame of Ruben Blades – Panamanian musician, actor and political activist – the documentary was also released in Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Chile and is now streaming on HBO US and Latam and will soon be available on iTunes.

“Blades,” is a co-production between Benaim’s Apertura Films, Gema Juarez Allen’s Gema Films of Argentina and Ciudad Lunar, Colombia, and had its world premiere at SKSW, followed by multiple festival screenings and nomination as Panama’s foreign film entry to the Academy Awards.

It was recently nominated for the Platino Awards, Ibero-America’s annual film awards – a first for a Panamanian pic.