Russian produced horror film Night Watch, directed byTimur Bekmambetov, is on its way to becoming one of the top grossing filmsin Russian box office history, challenging the $14m record set by Lord OfThe Rings: The Return Of The King. Local audiences are also eagerlyawaiting the sequel Night Watch II due for release on 27 July.

Distributed by Moscow based Gemini Film International (GFI)and produced by ORT Television team Konstantin Ernst and Anatoly Maximov, NightWatch has already grossed $8.45m at the local box office in a 300 printrelease - making it the highest grossing Russian film on record.

It opened on 8 July, taking $3.4m in four days, and thendeclined only 8 percent in its second weekend.Its distributors expect it to easily pass $12m. "It may even catch Lord of the Rings:The Return Of The King which is the all time record holder at theRussian box office with $14m," said GFI director of sales, VadimIvanov. Local films also have a historyof greater staying power at the box office.

Russian distributors are now looking for locally producedhits among the new crop of young commercially orientated filmmakers to drivethe box office. "Up until thisyear we distributed almost exclusively foreign films," said Ivanov,"but now it's good business to distribute Russian films." GFI released Vladimir Khotinenko's 72Meters in February which made $2.6m at the box office. GFI, which distributes Fox product inRussia, is readying a slate of Russian releases and have three more potentialblockbusters in the pipeline.

Night Watch is based on the popular fantasybook franchise by Sergei Lukyanenko and has been supported by a massivetelevision advertising campaign - the same formula that produced the Polishblockbusters of the late 1990's. Producedon a budget of about $4m, Night Watch has also become hugelyprofitable. The first real commercialbreak-through for Russian films came with Igor Konchalovsky's Anti-Killer IIlast year that racked up$2.7m at the box office.

Unlike the Polish blockbuster phenomenon that concentratedmost of the country's production resources into one mega-budget film a year outof a total annual production of 15 to 20 films, the Russian production boomwill churn out more than 100 features this year. The Polish blockbuster collapsed as suddenly as it appeared afterseveral films failed to make their money back at the box. The Russian successbased on moderately budgeted films of between $2.5 to $5m looks more like thebeginning of a solid local industry that could challenge its Hollywoodcompetitors for many years to come.