Italy's first-quarter box office results show that while over all box office is lagging in respect to the same period last year, local product has remained strong.

The data is important to the local industry, since 2007 saw local films boom, and aid significantly in bringing box office numbers to levels it hadn't seen for 20 years.

From Jan 1-March 25, admissions declined from 32,743,193 in 2007 to 29,363,192 in 2008, to a 10.3% drop.

The decrease accounts for a loss of almost $30m (Euros 20m) in overall box-office takings from $309m (Euros 196m) to $278m (Euros 176m), according to Cinetel, the Italian box office data compiler.

Meanwhile, the market share for Italian films is still strong. In 2008, market share (for Jan1-March 25) went 51.6% to US fare over 50.94% for the same period of 2007.

In 2008, 36.7% went to Italian product - while in 2007, 41.2% to Italian product.

Both years are an increase over 2006, when US product took 43.65% and Italy 35% of the market share for those first-quarter dates.

Furthermore, in 2007 four local films were amongst the top ten for the period, while, 2008 counts six local films at the top of the chart.

In 2008, the top 10 films so far (Italianfilms have an asterix*):

1- I am Legend
*2- Scusa ma ti chiamo amore
*3-Grande, Grosso e Verdone
4-American Gangster
*5-L'Allenatore del Pallone 2
*6- Parlami d'Amore
*7-Quiet Chaos
8- No Country for Old Men
*9-Black and White (Bianco e Nero)
10-Into the Wild

Also, in 2007 ten out of the first 12 weekends of the year registered more than $15.8m (Euros 10m). For 2008, only five out of the first 12 weeks have surpassed that amount.

Without important summer releases, it is not clear if 2008 can stay on par with 2007's box office returns.

'Last year we had Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire released in July,' Paolo Protti, president of ANEC, Italy's distributor's association, said.

July typically sees no new releases in Italy and distributors and exhibitors here hoped the Harry Potter 'test' would become the new standard but so far, US majors have not scheduled major releases. Protti says The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and Kung Fu Panda will be released locally in late August.

In an attempt to keep summer moviegoers interest, Italy's Medusa will release a blockbuster-style local film, a comedy directed by Carlo Vanzina with the title Un estate al mare on June 28.

'It's the first time a major Italian film will see summer release,' Protti notes, although he admits, 'Foreseeing (a year-end result) at this point, is not easy.'