While there appeared to be some evidence in the US that the war on Iraq affected box office figures last weekend, the effect in Europe seems more on viewing choices rather than numbers.

Indeed, athough many territories saw a drop in returns this weekend from last weekend, others including Denmark, Finland, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland bucked the trend and saw increased box office. However whether rising or falling, box office success this week seemed tied into more escapist fare such as comedies, musicals and superhero movies.

Following the example set by Bringing Down The House's domination in North America, escapist titles ruled throughout most of Europe. France saw local comedy Chou Chou triumph for Warner Bros with $5.4m - the third biggest opening of the year, while Danish comedy The Green Butchers also opened top at home.

German comedy drama Good Bye, Lenin! continued to rule at home ahead of new opener Daredevil, which claimed leads in Belgium and the Netherlands and opened second in Switzerland behind Chicago. The Oscar-winning musical also took top spots in Finland, Hungary and Poland. Meanwhile romantic comedies Just Married (leading from Maid In Manhattan) and Two Weeks Notice opened top in the UK and Sweden respectively.

Though many people were quick to blame the war for year-on-year percentage drops last weekend, a simpler explanation immediately presents itself - school Easter holidays. In 2002 the Easter holiday weekend fell over the last weekend in March (Mar 29-Apr 1) meaning the previous weekend was dominated across Europe by releases for the children's and teenage markets including Ice Age, Monsters, Inc., The Time Machine and Resident Evil.

With the Easter weekend not arriving until April 18-21 this year, distributors are holding back lucrative holiday fare and filling screens with smaller US movies. That is not to say that the conflict has had no effect but that effect cannot be measured in terms of audience figures.

Although there should be an obvious deficit between last year's March 22-24 weekend and this year's March 21-23 due to the different timing of Easter this year some territories have still managed to improve on year-on-year takings. Italy saw a 12% jump from $6.1m over the weekend last year (when Monsters, Inc. launched in the lead) to $6.8m this year. The Netherlands improved 8%, from $1.6m to $1.7m and Hungary 10%, although Hungarian admissions only increased 0.5% for the weekend year-on-year.

This contrasted with Germany which saw a 56% drop in box office and a 58% fall in admissions year-on-year and the UK which dropped 45% in box office. However Germany was boosted by the one-two launches of Ice Age and Resident Evil in time for Easter in 2002. The UK saw local teen-aimed comedy Ali G IndaHouse and Ice Age open in the top two places. Belgium was 19% down year-on-year (Monsters, Inc. led in 2002 going into the Easter weekend) while Denmark (18% down), Norway (down 21%), Sweden (down 17%) and Switzerland (down 36%) all benefitted in 2002 from the launch of animated hit Ice Age.

European territories comparative table

Country This week/ Last week / Last year / week-on-week % chg / year-on-year % chg *

Belgium $1.3m / $1.6m / $1.7m / -16 / -19

Denmark $981,628 / $877,559 / $1.2m / +12 / -18

Finland $552,200 / $539,694 / $534,928 / +2 / +3

France 2.7m adms / 3.2m adms / 2.45m / -17 / +10

Germany $8.3m / $10.2m / $18.9m / -19 / -56

Hungary $458,845 / $621,931 / $418,487 / -26 / +10

Iceland $137,206 / $137,144 / na / 0 / na

Italy $6.8m / $9.85m / $6.1m / -31 / +12

Netherlands $1.7m / $1.9m / $1.56m / -11 / +8

Norway $1m / 1.2m / $1.3m / -16 / -21

Poland $1m / $926,810 / $1.1m / +9 / -11

Spain $7.5m / $8.4m / $7.95m / -10 / -5

Sweden $1.4m / $1.3m / $1.7m / +6 / -17

Switzerland $1.7m / $1.5m / $2.7m / +15 / -36

UK/Ireland $7.8m / $9.35m / $14.4m / -16 / -45

*This week = March 21-23, 2003

Last week = March 14-16, 2003

Last year = March 22-24, 2003