US box office for the first six months of 2001 is up 7.6% against last year, with strong results from both winter and summer seasons. In addition, the top distributors are all more evenly matched than at any time in the last five years, with the difference between the market shares of the top and bottom ranked majors just five per cent.

According to an analysis carried out by Screen Digest, the battle for distributor market share is more finely balanced than at any time since 1997, witnessed by the fact that had Paramount delayed its release of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider by just three weeks, it would have come fifth instead of first in the half-year rankings.

Second-placed Buena Vista saw its market share fall sharply for the first half of 2001, ending a three-year growth trend. Gross earnings from the company's theatrical releases fell by $183m compared to 2000, despite releasing Pearl Harbor, one of the most successful domestic titles of the year so far with $195m at the US box office.

The big winner so far this year, according to Screen Digest has been MGM which grossed $183m more this half than last years, an increase of nearly 3000 per cent. MGM's success is almost entirely down to one film - Hannibal.

US distributor market shares

First half 2001

Buena Vista'11.1%
Warner Bros'10.7%
New Line'.''3.9%
Sony Classics'.3.5%

Source: AC Nielsen EDI