Italy's box office has slumped a massive 35% in May, compared tothe same month last year.

Thedrop comes as Kingdom of Heaven and Star WarsEpisode 3: Revengeof the Sith, which have respectively grossed $8,664,419 and $8,419,105 todate, failed to match the success of last year's Troy and The DayAfter Tomorrow, which were also released in May.

BVI's Sin City is currently topping the charts, followed byStar Wars: Episode 3 and Gabriele Salvatores's Italian picture, QuoVadis Baby'. However, Sin City registered a lukewarm average of$2,614 per screen last weekend, which was a bank holiday, while Star Warshad a disappointing screen average of just $1,650 after three weeks.

Some industry insiders have pointed to the particularly coldwinter as having led millions to desert cinemas and flock to the beaches indroves at the first sign of a heat-wave, in spite of the country's new, modernair-conditioned cinemas.

However, although the box office slump has accelerated in May,figures have been down 14% year-on-year since the beginning of 2005.

'In January and February, there was a 12-13% drop, which wethought could be due to the fact that last year we had big titles like TheLord Of The Rings and The Last Samurai. March was up 9%, but thenthis year Easter was in March not April like last year, so the holiday explainsthat rise,' says Warner Bros Italy chief Paolo Ferrari.

'April was down, but last year at the same time we had MelGibson's The Passion of Christ. But the real surprise has been May. Wewere expecting more from Star Wars and Kingdom of Heaven,'he says.

Like other industry insiders, Ferrari says the real cause behindthe drop in admissions is Italy's struggling economy.

'The film industry is suffering from the consequences of ageneral economic crisis in Italy. People have to cut their expenses, and cinemais one of the ones to go,' Ferrari told

The industry now hopes that Warner Bros' June 17 of BatmanBegins and UIP's The War of the Worlds' release on June 29 (on 600screens) will help reverse the tide.

'Five years after Mission Impossible 2, we areonce again offering the public a blockbuster in July,' said UIP'scommercial director Marco D'Andrea.

D'Andrea echoed industry opinion in saying that the new summer push from distributors this year was far from beinga mistake.

'We really believe in the summer,' he said. 'In theItalian market, at other times of the year, films aren't able to stay longenough in cinemas. By having to give up space to even smaller films you losemoney, while exhibitors continue to pay the highest rental rates.'