Czech cinemas enjoyed their highest-grossing year ever in 2007, with box office receipts reaching a total of $66.9m (ckr1.2bn). This represents a 20% increase on 2006, although ticket prices also increased 3% in 2007. Admissions were 12.8 million, up 11% from 2006.

Much of the success has been down to strong local titles. Of the top 10 highest grossing films, five were Czech. Two Czech films from Oscar veterans topped the charts - Jan Sverak's Empties earned $6.9m (ckr124.3m) on 1.3 million admissions, while Jiri Menzel's I Served The King Of England earned $4.5m (ckr81.3m) on 849,078 admissions.

In addition to strong product, David Horacek, general manager of operations for exhibitor Palace Cinemas, also points to the strategic release of Czech titles in spring and autumn when the films had less competition from US releases. Poor weather also brought audiences to the cinema, Horacek says.

Andrea Metcalfe, COO of AQS, a leading independent acquisition and production company which distributes films through its subsidiary Bioscop/Magic Box, points out nearly twice as many Czech titles will be released in 2008 than in 2007, thanks to boosts in state funding.

The higher number of Czech titles means local films will increasingly need to compete with each other as well as US titles. "More films doesn't mean more money (will be) spent by the customer," says Jan Bradac, general manager of distributor Falcon.

Bradac points to a number of factors that could harm growth. Consumers are already suffering from inflation, he says, which could cut into their willingness to spend at the box office. Furthermore, VAT on cinema tickets leapt from 5% to 9% on January 1, which means some multiplex tickets will start selling for around $10 (ckr169). Bradac says it is too early in the year to see what effect the price hike will have. Multiplexes continue to expand, but some markets, such as Prague, are already overloaded with screens.

However, the industry is cautiously optimistic the upward trend will continue, pinning hopes on likely blockbusters Sex And The City: The Movie (released on April 5), Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (May 22), The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor (July 31), Wall-E (August 14), Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince (November 27) and new Bond film Quantum Of Solace (November 6).

This year's Czech contenders

While the blockbusters will draw core film-goers, the 2008 Czech crop should have a wide appeal, although few of the new films are likely to see the success of Empties or I Served The King Of England. Action-thriller Na Vlastni Nebezpeci was released on January 24 and shot to number one with a $257,475 take. It will appeal not only to young men but also to older viewers intrigued by a rare Czech venture in genre film-making. The Loveliest Riddle, a fairy tale from veteran Zdenek Troska to be released on February 21, will draw on the country's growing family audience.

Nostalgia will bring audiences to comedies Takova Normalni Rodinka (April 17), based on a successful 1970s Czech TV series, and Snezenky A Machri Po 25 Letech (October 2), a sequel to a popular 1981 comedy. Other strong contenders come from directors who have made inroads internationally. Country Teacher (March 20) is the latest from writer-director Bohdan Slama and producer Pavel Strnad, the team behind 2005 San Sebastian winner Something Like Happiness. U Me Dobry (May 15) is a comedy from director Jan Hrebejk, scriptwriter Petr Jarchovsky and producer Ondrej Trojan, the creative team behind 2001 Oscar nominee Divided We Fall. And Czech New Wave veteran Juraj Jakubisko will release his long-awaited Bathory on July 10, possibly in a world premiere at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

In terms of market share, local distributor Falcon captured the largest slice of the pie in 2007, with 32.9% from the success of local films Empties, Gympl and Medvidek, as well as Ratatouille and Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End. Bontonfilm had a 27.6% market share with top titles Shrek The Third and The Simpsons Movie. Bioscop/Magic Box came third with a 13.5% market share on the strength of I Served The King Of England and Bestiar.