Czech distributors knew early in the year that 2005 wouldnot be a record-breaker, but that didn't make the year's bitter figures easierto swallow. Box office admissions and sales both fell in 2005 more than 20%below 2004 level dropping to their lowest levels since 2001. December was theonly month that saw more than 1 million admissions.

Ales Danielis, director oftheatrical distribution for Bontonfilm, agrees thatmuch of the drop resulted from weak product. "The decreasing is mostly inthe major programme, from Hollywood studios," hesaid.

"There weren't any major, major releases," saidAndrea Metcalf of film-buyer AQS.

Czech box-office figures lagged throughout the year and onlysaw a glimmer of hope in December with the release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and King Kong. But while Potterearned $2m on 467,182 admissions in just one month, making it thesecond-biggest earner of the year, Kongdid poorly, bringing in just over $428,000 in its two-week run before year'send.

In 2004, the top-grossing film was Lord of the Rings: Return of the King with $3.4m on 778,852admissions. The number two film was that year's Harry Potter instalment, which did $2.6m on 703,219 admissions. Infact, each of the top five films of 2004 each made more at the box office thanthe number one film of 2005: From the SubwayWith Love, an adaptation of a best-selling novelby Michal Viewegh. Themovie opened in April and made $2.2m in sales on 550,670 admissions.

Weak performance for Hollywood moviesmeant a larger market share for domestic products. Czech productions had a24.4% market share in 2005, compared to 23.5% the previous year. Independentsalso did better, increasing their market share from 25.4% in 2004 to 28.6% in2005.

Distributors and exhibitors do not agree on the extent towhich piracy and early DVD releases arehurting their business, but they acknowledge that a problem exists. Accordingto the Czech anti-piracy authority, the number of pirated DVDs seized in 2005was four times that in 2004. Prices of home entertainments systems are falling,and a family of four can buy a new DVD forless than they would spend at the multiplex.

But a better 2006 may be in the wings. In its first 31 days,Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fireearned more than three-quarters the amount HarryPotter and the Prisoner of Azkaban made over six months in 2004. The Chronicles of Narnia:The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe did not openin Czech cinemas until the new year was under way.

More good news might come in the opening of two newmultiplexes in the second-tier cities of Olomouc and Plzen, and most exhibitors anddistributors expect better performance from this year's films.

Hopes are high for a variety of Hollywoodmovies, from such action-thrillers as Mission:Impossible IIIto children's fare like Ice Age 2 tomore challenging films like Mel Gibson's Mayan-language Apocalypto.

Among the new crop of Czech films there are some likelywinners, including teen comedies TheExperts and The Rafters and worksfrom established directors Vera Chytilova, Jan Hrebejk and David Ondricek.

"I don't know if we can expect 2006 will return to thelevels of 2004," Danielis said. "Myexpectation is that the final of 2006 will be somewhere in the middle of 2005and 2004."

Metcalf is also cautiously optimistic. "I wouldn't bein the film distribution business if I wasn't hopeful," she said, butacknowledged the challenges. "This year is going to be tough. You have theOlympics and the (World Cup) football championships. We have to calculate allthese factors," she said. "I have to be very realistic, but I trustthat 2006 won't be any worse than 2005."

Top 10 Films

Rank Title Dist. Admissions Sales

1 From the Subway WithLove Bioscop 550,670 $2.2m

2 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Warner Bros 467,182 $2.1m

3 Madagascar Bontonfilm 394,328 $1.4m

4 Star Wars: Episode III -

Revenge of the Sith Bontonfilm 273,676 $1.2m

5 War of the Worlds Bontonfilm 256,857 $1.1m

6 Mr. and Mrs. Smith Bontonfilm 233,190 $1m

7 Wrong Side Up Bioscop 225,911 $1m

8 Over and Over! Bontonfilm 212,728 $883,000

9 Alexander SPI 206,069 $899,000

10 Kamenak 3 Prospero 201,471 $829,000

Market Share - CzechDistributors

Rank Dist. Sales % market Premieres Films

1 Bontonfilm $12.8m 35.1% 47 403

2 Warner Bros $5.9m 16.2% 18 65

3 Falcon $5.2m 14.3% 26 72