UK cinema admissions hit 156m in 2001 according to Screendaily estimates, surpassing industry expectations and making it the most successful for nearly 30 years. Other major European territories mirrored the UK's near 10% admissions increase.

Despite a below-par first quarter in the UK - which saw admissions down 8.7% year-on-year - and a gradual economic slowdown, the combined weight of powerhouses Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone and The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring helped pull in over 15 million admissions in December. Other big attractions included Bridget Jones's Diary, Shrek, Cats & Dogs and Hannibal. (see chart on left bar)

The admissions count continues the level of growth set in 2000, when pictures such as Toy Story 2, Gladiator and Chicken Run propelled UK cinema ticket sales to a 26-year high of more than 142.5m according to figures from the Cinema Advertising Association. By comparison, 139m tickets were sold in the UK in 1999.

With Potter and Rings returning again this year with their sophomore efforts, and with eagerly awaited pictures like Star Wars: Episode 2 - Attack Of The Clones, Gangs Of New York, Monsters Inc. among others due for release it looks very likely that the theatrical fortunes currently enjoyed could well be sustained in 2002.

And the upward admissions growth in the UK is a trend seen across other major European territories.

In the year that local productions captured a massive 41% of its domestic market (see separate Screendaily story), France saw 185m cinema admissions, according to film support body CNC estimates. This is up 10% from 2000 and is the best tally in France since 1984.

This reiterates France's long-held position as Europe's largest cinema market in terms of admissions (although German admissions hit 132.8m - 8.4m more than France's - in 1994).

Germany itself saw a hefty leap in admissions last year, with an estimated 166m tickets punched. In 2000, the territory saw 152.5m admissions, and 149m in 1999.

Spain, meanwhile, is estimated to have seen 137m cinema admissions in 2001, up from 135.4m in 2000.

For European Top 20 charts for 2001 see left bar.