Admissions to Italian films dropped by almost 50% to 9 million in the eight months from August 1999 to March 2000, according to local trade body Cinetel, compared to 16 million the previous year.

Total admissions fell by 1.5 million over the eight-month period, according to Cinetel which monitors 75% of the territory.

Five Italian productions featured among the country's top 15 grossing films during the 1998-1999 box office season. However only two local titles - Leonardo Pieraccioni's The Fish In Love (Il Pesce Innamorato) in eighth position and Christmas Vacation (Vacanze Di Natale) in tenth position - have made the top 15 so far this year.

Pieraccioni has previously had two box office smashes with The Cyclone in 1996 and Fireworks in 1997. Other previous box office earners such as Aldo, Giovanni and Giacomo, stars of Three Men And A Leg - Italy's highest grossing domestic film in 1998 with $16.4m - have also failed to fill cinemas with their latest effort All The Moron's Men (Tutti Gli Uomini Del Deficiente).

Italy's box office experienced a temporary lift last month thanks to a strong line-up which included The Blair Witch Project, The Beach, Toy Story 2 and American Beauty. The four titles contributed to a 50% increase in takings during February 2000 compared to February 1999 (Screendaily March 3).

Blair Witch broke all previous records for an American film on its opening weekend scooping $5.4m from 440 screens. However Pieraccioni's 1997 Fireworks remains the territory's all-time biggest opener. The film went on to gross $25m.