The Russian box office is predicted to hit the $1bn mark in 2009. According to the European Audiovisual Observatory, Russia became Europe's fourth biggest market in 2008 in terms of admissions - 123.9 million (a 16% increase on 2007). And according to local analysts Nevafilm, the CIS (excluding Ukraine) generated $830m in box-office revenues in 2008, up a whopping 47% on 2007.
Russian films are helping drive this growth. Local titles garnered a 22% market share last year, propelled by a handful of blockbusters including Fox's The Irony Of Fate: The Sequel ($49.9m) and Caroprokat's The Very Best Film ($27.6m).
The exhibition sector is also booming. According to Nevafilm, Russia had 1,864 screens at 736 cinemas by the end of 2008.
Most new screens are being built by major Russian exhibitors including Karo Film, Cinema Park, Kinomax and Kronverk. Most of the construction is in areas outside the major cities. Some 123 new screens opened in non-metropolitan areas of Russia in the first half of 2008. That said, the exhibition markets in Moscow and St Petersburg increased 13.2% and 10.8%, respectively.
Audiences tend to be young, with as many as 40% of film-goers under 20. The success of action titles suggests a core audience of young males, but anecdotal evidence suggests the picture is not so clear. Paul Heth, general director of Rising Star Media, says: 'Our experience in the under-19 demographic is that about 55% are female.'
Rising Star Media, a joint venture between National Amusements and Soquel Ventures, opened its first cinema in Russia in 1993 and now has 66 screens, giving it a 3.3% market share and making it the sixth-largest exhibitor in the territory.
Heth wants to reach beyond the young male demographic. The Irony Of Fate: The Sequel drew on older audiences familiar with the popular film from the 1970s.
Heth is also a shareholder in Monumental Pictures, the joint production and distribution venture between Sony Pictures Entertainment and the Patton Media Group, which has three Russian-language films in post-production - a romantic comedy, an adventure with a female central character and a comedy thriller.
Joint US-Russia ventures such as Monumental Pictures are aiming to tap into the demand for local product by producing Russian-language films. Disney CIS is producing The Book Of Masters, a $7m children's adventure inspired by Russian folk tales.
Russian audiences enjoy military themes in local films (Admiral, The 9th Company, Turkish Gambit), but they can find them a turn-off in Hollywood product. Anti-Soviet elements hurt the performance of Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, while Charlie Wilson's War was not released.
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is the highest-grossing non-Russian film and highest-grossing animated film ever at the CIS box office. While animations are popular - Kung Fu Panda grossed $20.9m, Bolt $11.5m - the strongest non-Russian films tend to be action thrillers.
After Madagascar, the most successful Hollywood films in 2008 were The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor ($27.8m), Wanted, directed by Timur Bekmambetov ($26.3m), and Hancock ($25.9m). Films aimed at women typically earn significantly less. Sex And The City grossed $9.1m while PS I Love You took $2.8m.
Heth believes local product will always have an advantage, but that Russian audiences expect local films to be as entertaining as Hollywood movies. 'They've seen the big Spielberg movies. They have a certain expectation now of what needs to be on the screen in terms of production values,' he says.