Italian box office takings grew 5.5% to $378m (L779.5bn) in 2000, according to figures from box office service Cinetel, but local product's share of the market slipped to 17.48% compared to 23.90% in 1999.

Italian films and co-productions grossed $61.6m (L127bn) in 2000, down 18% from $75m (L154.6bn) in 1999, as US fare continued to dominate the local box office.

The overall performance of domestic product is disappointing considering the runaway success of homegrown comedy Ask Me If I'm Happy (Chiedimi Se Sono Felice), which was released on December 15 and in two weeks grabbed the year's number one position. Distributed by Medusa and sold internationally by Rome-based Adriana Chiesa Enterprises, the latest movie by co-directors and stars Aldo, Giovani & Giacomo has so far earned a whopping $24.8m (L51bn).

So huge was the comedy's success that it helped lift end-of-year results, which had been down 2% at the end of November on the previous year's figures. Other holiday releases which helped the upswing were The Exorcist - The Director's Cut and Dinosaur.

The overall box office rise - and a corresponding 5% rise in admissions from 69 million to 72 million - was also helped by a 4% increase in the number of screens in Italy, as well as a 17% increase in the number of days of programming. Mission: Impossible 2's release in the summer - when many Italian cinemas are traditionally closed - grossed $9.4m (L19.3bn) and boosted box office earnings 152% for the month of July.

American Beauty took second position in 2000's top ten, after Ask Me If I'm Happy, followed by Gladiator, Mission: Impossible 2, The Blair Witch Project, The Bone Collector, The Green Mile, The Exorcist, Dinosaur and Hollow Man.

UIP, which released MI:2, was the year's top-grossing distributor, followed by Medusa, Buena Vista International, Columbia TriStar, and Cecchi Gori. The previous year saw Cecchi Gori in first place, ahead of UIP, Medusa, Buena Vista and Warner Bros.

Cinetel surveyed 1,591 screens in 219 cities. It excluded a further 163 screens, which did not have results available for 1999.