French admissions dipped last year but the country still recorded its second biggest box-office tally in 20 years, according to the latest figures from French exhibition body the National Cinema Federation (FNCF).

The 183 million tickets sold last year marked a 1.5% fall on last year's 186 million, but still resulted in an estimated box office total of $915m.

But it was a depressing year for local films, as French cinema failed to repeat its 2001 dominance. Only Asterix And Obelix: Mission Cleopatra topped five million in ticket sales, compared to the four titles that managed that feat the year before. Only two French films - Asterix and 8 Femmes - made the top ten.

Overall admissions at mid-sized cinemas jumped by 9% thanks to new sites opened in the past year, while the smallest and largest exhibitors lost 4% of their take this year. Cinemas inside Paris were down 6% after a building boom in the city's outskirts, where admissions rose 4%.

The drop in ticket sales is put down to the continuing trend of too many films being released too close together. The FNCF has long called for distributors to spread out their films more, especially in the summer when the French public is on vacation and distributors are wary.

According to the FNCF, no French films were released between June 19 and August 28, while seven American films were released in the same period. The resulting glut of autumn films saw 18 French films released between August 28 and September 25. The month was the worst in the entire year.