The Russian box office grew by 41% to $268m lastyear, while admissions surged to 76.5m according to latest figures.

The figures, relating to November 2003-November 2004, were announced by trade magazineKinobusiness. Topping the local box office was Russianproduced sci-fi hit Night Watch which broke all previous Russian boxoffice records with over $16m.

Runner up The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King grossed just over $14m.

The figures provide solid evidence for the renaissance inRussian film production. Some 50 Russian films were released and earned $32.5m,accounting for 12% of the total box office.

Thebox office growth has been driven by the increase in the number ofcinemas in Russia with two more multiplexes opening in December alone. Cinema Park, backed by Russian financialgroup Interros and Nikita Mikhalkov's Studio Three T, opened a six screenmultiplex in central Moscow in December.It is the second multiplex for the Russian exhibitor which opened a ninescreen Moscow multiplex at the beginning of last year.

Meanwhile, NationalAmusements, the only international exhibitor, opened its second Moscowmultiplex in December - the 12 screen KinoStar Delux through its joint venturewith Moscow-based Rising Star Media.

Withan estimated 650 screens for a population of 150 million Russia isstill one of the most underscreened countries in the world. While most of the multiplex action has beenin Moscow or St Petersburg, Cinema Park along with other Russian exhibitorshave announced plans for major expansion into the regions during 2005.