Czech admissions have dropped nearly 10% year-on-year, according to new data from the Czech Union of Film Distributors, but local distributors have reason to hope that year-end results will rebound.

The first 10 months of this year saw 10.1m admissions at the Czech box office, compared to 11m for Jan-Oct 2007. Sales for the period dropped almost 8% to $54.4m (CZK 972m).

But the current state of the market is an improvement since June, when year-on-year sales were down 20%.

Exhibitors at the time attributed the slump to a lack of compelling titles in the first half of the year and said that 2007 was always going to be a hard act to follow: Czech cinemas had 12.8 million admissions last year, boosted by record-breaking performances by Jan Sverak's Empties and Jiri Menzel's I Served The King Of England.

More local titles than usual were released in the first half of 2008, owing to increased state funding for production, but exhibitors say these titles cannibalized each other. 'There's a limited audience for Czech film,' Bradac said. 'Not everyone is willing to see all of them.'

The market began to recover in July with the premiere Juraj Jakubisko's Bathory at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Bathory went on to become the year's top earner so far, with sales of $4.6m (CZK 84.4m) on nearly 900,000.

Mamma Mia! The Movie also premiered at Karlovy Vary and has since become the top-earning non-local film and the second-most successful film in the first 10 months of 2008, earning $3.4m (CZK 62.6) on 607,373 admissions.

David Horacek, general manager operations for multiplex operator Palace Cinemas, expects 2008's figures to be between 12.5m and 13m by year's end and points to several strong titles released in recent weeks. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is performing strong at five weeks in cinemas, with 468,000 admissions. Quantum Of Solace has seen 210,553 admissions since opening Nov 17. And 444,584 Czechs have gone to see local comedy Nestyda during its ten weeks in cinemas.

Recovery in December

Horacek and Bradac are also optimistic about December. The week of Dec 11 saw Filmanie, a coordinated discount offered by all multiplex operators in the country, whereby all tickets to all films cost only $2.75 (CZK 50) - less than one-third the normal price. Last year's Filmmanie produced 350,000 admissions in one week, Bradac said.

The holiday event film will be SnezenkyA Machri Po 25 Letech. A feature adaptation of a popular 1980s sitcom, the film opens today December 18 on 44 screens. The cast features the same actors reprising the roles they had as children in the original series.

Next year will see a strong summer slate from Hollywood, including Angels & Demons, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs, Monsters Vs. Aliens, Night At The Museum 2: Battle Of The Smithsonian and Terminator Salvation.

In 2009, 29 Czech films are scheduled for release. Spring will see fairy tales PekloS Princeznou and Libas Jako Buh, as well as romantic comedy Pripad neverny Klary. Local titles give way to summer blockbusters in the middle of the year but return in early autumn with animated adventure Saxana, World War II thriller Protektor and true-crime tale Kajinek.

Bradac says that local films' market share is strong enough that Falcon's US partners Disney and Sony are taking note of Czech films' premieres when planning their own release dates.

More multiplexes

A growing number of screens in the territory may also help next year's figures, although Horacek and Bradac, who is also director of local exhibitor CineStar, both say that the appeal of multiplexes alone was not enough to bring in audiences in the first half of the year.

Six new multiplexes have opened in 2008, giving the Czech Republic a combined total of 193 multiplex screens. The multiplex market share now stands at 78.5% and is expanding smaller towns. Brno, population 367,000, has 17 screens. Plzen, with 163,000 residents, has 18.

The city of Liberec will likely be one of the last battles between multiplexes. Long served by only a few aging single-screen cinemas, the town of 100,000 got its first multiplex in October - an 8-screen venue operated by CineStar. Palace Cinemas is considering opening a second venue there in 2010. Bradac said smaller towns cannot support two multiplexes, despite ongoing development there. 'It's really nonsense,' he said.