Czech admissions in the first half of 2008 are down 21% year on year, with sales down nearly 20%, despite a 4.5% increase in the number of screenings and a whopping 35% market share for local films.

According to new figures released by the Czech Film Distributors Union, admissions in the first six months of 2008 dropped 1.4m from the same period in 2007. Ticket sales dipped 124.7m.

Last year was record breaker for Czech cinemas. The Czech Republic bucked European trends last year by registering an 11.4% increase in admissions. Sales were up 20% to $66.9m (as of 2007 rates for CZK 1.2bn).

Jan Bradac, general manager of leading local distributor Falcon, which distributed Empties, suggests that 2008's figures are where they should be and that it was 2007's numbers that were unusual. In 2007 two local films - Jan Sverak's Empties and Jiri Menzel's I Served The King Of England - broke previous box-office records.

'The 1.4m decrease closely matches the admissions for I Served The King Of England and Empties last year,' Bradac told

'It's hard to compete with a year in which there were two Oscar-winning directors releasing films,' said Andrea Metcalfe, COO of AQS, which distributed I Served The King Of England through its subsidiary Bioscop/Magic Box. 'But without a doubt, there are too many Czech films on the market.'

In addition to the glut of local films - fueled by increased state funding in recent years - Metcalfe blames higher ticket prices, newsstand sales of cheap DVDs and a higher cost of living for the decline.

'People need to drive more than they need to go to the movies,' Metcalfe said.

But it's primarily the lack of titles that can fill seats. 'There were no event movies in the first half of the year,' Bradac said. Even Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, the box-office leader, has done only 230,000 admissions in nine weeks in local cinemas.

Bradac thinks the second half of 2008 will compensate somewhat but not enough to make year-end results stronger that 2007. 'A loss of only 1m admissions is my wish,' Bradac said.

Distributors expects good things from local releases Tobruk (Bioscop, Sept 11), about Czech and Slovak soldiers in North Africa in World War II; Snezenky a machri 2 (Pragofilm/SPI, Oct 30), a sequel to a popular 1981 comedy; and Nestyda, (Falcon, Oct 9) an adaptation of a popular novel by Michael Viewegh. Previous adapations of Viewegh's books have almost always attract more than 500,000 admissions, Bradac notes.

Bradac says the new Pixar hit should compare favourably to last year's Ratatouille, which had more competition from other animated and family films. 'We expect 400,000 admissions in the Czech Republic [for Wall- E],' he said.

Despite setting box-office records in the US and performing strongly in other international territories, The Dark Knight could show lackluster results in the Czech Republic. Previous installments in the Batman franchise haven't faired well with Czech audiences, and Warner Bros is releasing the film (Aug 7) in 32 copies - a strong number but considerably less than the 45 copies for Harry Potter And The Half- Blood Prince (Nov 27).