Box-office figures from thefirst half of 2006 may have seen a 3% year-on-year deficit in the UK but Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest has almostsingle-handedly turned fortunes around in just two weeks.

After its third weekend (18days on release) Buena Vista International's sequel had already become thehighest-grossing film in the UK this year taking $58.5m (£31.5m). It surpassedSony's The DaVinci Code, which has reached $56.2m (£30.2m) after 10 weeks on release,over the weekend.

The result is a boon for theUK, which, after proving the European exception lastyear by not having so dramatic a downturn in fortunes as most territories, is,once again, bucking the upward trends by hovering at a static level.

The first five months saw UK admissions trailing 1.1% at 63.6m, according to theCinema Advertising Association (CAA). TheWorld Cup's draw and soaring temperatures then took some toll leavingsix-months admissions (72.3m) down 3.4% year-on-year according to latestfigures from CAA, while box office dipped to $699.4m (£376.2m),according to Nielsen EDI, 3% down on the first six months of 2005.

By July 20, however, twofull weeks in Dead Man's Chest'sUK/Ireland run, the box-office numbers stood at $785.7m (£422.6m), now 1% up on2005. The BVI film accounts for 59% of this two-week hike. Admissions figuresaren't yet available.

Able support has, of course,come from a raft of titles, including UIP's Over The Hedge,which had grossed $17.2m (£9.3m) between June 30 and July 20, and Warner Bros' Superman Returns, which took $12.5m(£6.7m) in its first week to July 20. The period has also seen smaller scalehits such as Ken Loach's The Wind That Shakes The Barley, whichis the director's highest earner in the territory having taken $4.6m (£2.5m) todate for Pathe Distribution.

"This year all of Europe's box office is going to be massive despite the World Cup and the heatwave," says Christian Grass, executive vice president, Europe, Middle East and Africa at Twentieth Century Fox International - the leadinginternational distributor so far in 2006 having grossed over $1bn ininternational ticket sales in record time. "And that is because of the qualityof the product, both US and local."

Meanwhile Stormbreaker gotoff to a somewhat slow start for Entertainment Film Distributors. It is earlydays for the film with school holidays in the territory just getting underwaybut the first weekend $2.3m (£1.2m) was weaker than some may have anticipatedfor a potential franchise starter based on a very popular series of books. Itbeat family competition from fellow opener Garfield2 and the fourth week of Over TheHedge but wasn't close to troubling teen and young-adult fodder Superman Returns and Dead Man's Chest, which slipped just 46%and 36% in their second and third weekends, respectively. Adding to woes familyaudiences will have a new high profile distraction this weekend in BVI's Cars.

Stormbreaker may yet prove to have the legs to carry it to the kind of $18.5m (£10m)levels many had predicted for it but with the competition and weather as theyare the opening indicates that this will be a tall order. Last year's sameweekend opener going for a similar audience, Fantastic Four, opened to $6.6m (£3.5m) at 406 locations and went onto gross $23.6m (£12.7m). However, FantasticFour benefited from little direct competition in the weeks preceding it.

Some may even drawunfavourable comparisons to 2004's Thunderbirds,a film based on a well-known UK property that opened on the same weekend (July 23)and disappointed with a $2.5m (£1.35m) opening and a $10.1m (£5.4m) total. Thunderbirds opened at some 66 morelocations than Stormbreaker,however, and saw lower theatre averages.

UK Top Ten releases 2006 toJuly 23

Title (Release date)Distributor Total gross

1 POTC: Dead Man's Chest (July 6) BVI $58.5m*

2 The Da Vinci Code (May 19) SPRI $56.2m*

3 Ice Age 2: The Meltdown (April 7) 20th Fox $54.8m

4 X-Men: The Last Stand (May 26) 20th Fox $35.5m*

5 Mission: ImpossibleIII (May 4) UIP $28.7m

6 Chicken Little (Jan 27) BVI $25.4m

7 Walk The Line (Feb 3) 20th Fox $18.9m

8 Brokeback Mountain (Jan 6) Entertainment $18.75m

9 Over The Hedge (June 30) UIP $18.3m

10 Big Momma's House 2 (Feb 10) 20th Fox $17.1m

Source: Screen International

* still on release