Cinema attendance is expected to rise significantly in Singapore thanks to the launch next week of a new ratings system.

In a move to further ease the country's strict censorship laws, Singapore's Board of Film Censors is due to creates a new category of M18 for viewers aged 18 and above.

Currently there are two key categories of NC16 and R21, with many films like The English Patient, Shakespeare In Love, and One Hour Photo earning a R21 rating in the past. The new M18 category promises to offer a wider audience base to similar movies.

Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion Of The Christ is the first film rated M18 under the new system and is scheduled to open on 1 April.

Film distributors have welcomed the new classification. Ng Peng Hui, general manager of Warner Bros-20th Century Fox, distributor of The Passion in Singapore, said, said that the new rating system was part of Singapore's efforts to become a leading media hub. "It is essential for Singapore to embrace a more sophisticated rating system especially when the population is becoming more mature."

If more films are classified M18, instead of R21, cinema attendance is expected to rise. M18 allows screenings in the neighbourhood heartlands while R21 is only restricted to town halls. In light of the change, Warner Bros-20th Century Fox is increasing the print count for The Passion to 32 prints for release on 50 screens.