While most of Europe reported a downturn in ticket sales in 2007, the UK (along with Italy and the Czech Republic) bucked the trend. British cinema-goers generated nearly $1.8bn (£904.9m) in ticket sales last year, up 8% from 2006, while admissions rose 3.7% to 162.4 million.

Case study: St Trinian's

Even though this number, the highest total since records began in the territory in the early 1980s, was largely spearheaded by US blockbusters and sequels, UK-produced films accounted for 21.2% of the market share.

This included the number one film of the year, Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, which took a robust $98m (£49.4m), but excludes co-productions such as The Bourne Ultimatum, The Golden Compass and Fred Claus. Removing Harry Potter (a Warner Bros UK co-production), UK product represented 15.7% of the 2007 box office.

Highlights last year included three Working Title productions, Mr Bean's Holiday, Hot Fuzz and Atonement, which took a combined total of more than $108.2m (£54.6m), while Ealing Studios served up a surprise end-of-the-year hit with the $13m (£6.5m) St Trinian's, which has taken $24.8m (£12.3m) and counting.

The market share is not that impressive compared with the hefty slice of the market enjoyed by local films in other big European territories (for example, 36.5% in France and 33% in Italy), but the good performance of UK films at home and abroad provides much hope for this year.

UK titles or UK co-productions that have already performed well in 2008 include The Bank Job ($5.7m), Penelope ($6.4m) and The Water Horse: Legend Of The Deep ($9.1m).

A love affair reignited

The box-office numbers are telling - UK audiences are reigniting their love affair with films reflective of their own culture.

'It is clear there is an appetite for very British properties,' says Cameron McCracken, managing director of Pathe UK, which distributed Outlaw ($3.2m), Eastern Promises ($4.3m) and has The Duchess and Hush coming out this year.

'Internationally, home-grown movies that are very much rooted in the local culture are performing well and, while historically that has always been the case in Italy, France or Germany, it is now spreading to the UK. People are better appreciating and serving the hunger for productions that reflect the national identity.'

Zygi Kamasa, chief executive of Lionsgate UK, suggests one of the reasons some British films have disappointed at the box office is because they try to emulate American product. 'British films do have to offer the audience something different to Hollywood that embraces our culture,' he says.

'That is why British period films do so well, as we have such a rich history, which is something that the US finds appealing.'

Indeed UK audiences warmed to Atonement ($23.5m), Miss Potter ($13.9m) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age ($9.9m).

Matthew Vaughn's Stardust, a fantasy film aimed at a family demographic, also drew crowds last year, taking $30.4m (£15.1m) at the box office.

The thirst for local product is not limited to high-end period films or fantasy adventure adaptations. Shane Meadows' Bafta-winning This Is England, which cost $4m (£2m) to make, earned theatrical revenues of $3m (£1.5m) in the UK.

Peter Carlton, head of production at Film4, which worked on This Is England with Warp Films, notes the appeal of a new kind of lower-budget film. 'What we're seeing is a resurgence in very low-budget, smartly made films,' he suggests.

'For a few years, films have been made in the $4m-$8m (£2m-£4m) bracket, which are really arthouse films that don't have an identifiably broad audience and they've suffered very badly at the box office. What you're now seeing is British film-makers making films on a scale that is targeted for niche audiences.'

Joe Oppenheimer of BBC Films, the executive producer of forthcoming titles including Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel and The Edge Of Love, agrees. Last year, BBC Films signed a deal with low-budget digital studio Slingshot to co-develop and co-produce 12 projects. 'It's tough to make a film for under $4m (£2m) in any conventional way these days,' he says. 'There are imaginative ways, which is why the BBC has teamed up with Slingshot.'

Audience-friendly films

Carlton suggests that targeting a particular demographic could be the reason these films are breaking out to a bigger audience. 'They are just more audience-friendly,' he says.

Vertigo's $7m (£3.5m) crime thriller Outlaw, which was marketed towards director Nick Love's core young-male audience, took more than $3m at the box office for Pathe, making it the twelfth highest-grossing UK film of 2007. Meanwhile, Ian Curtis biopic Control, positioned toward the arthouse crowd by Momentum Pictures, earned $2.4m (£1.2m) in theatres. Both are also poised to do well on DVD.

Working Title, the UK's most successful production company, triumphed again in 2007 with Hot Fuzz, which grossed $41.7m (£21m) for Universal Pictures International.

David Livingstone, worldwide head of marketing and distribution at Working Title, says the film's success was largely down to director Edgar Wright's cult status in the UK. 'Wright is a unique talent, as are Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (who also starred in Wright's 2004 $12.4m-grossing UK hit Shaun Of The Dead),' he says. 'They are creating something that no one else is producing - British action comedy. They're British comedians doing it in a British way, which is naturally and organically appealing.

'Hot Fuzz would not have been the success it was if it were not for Shaun Of The Dead. There is certainly an awareness of them and we had to sell it very aggressively and confidently based on their cult status,' Livingstone adds.

A film such as Hot Fuzz undoubtedly benefited from the Universal/Working Title push and the built-in awareness of the Wright-Pegg-Frost franchise. But there is also a dynamic independent distribution sector in the UK, with newer players such as Contender, Dogwoof and Delanic, which could mean a number of smaller home-grown films could hit British screens.

Sue Bruce-Smith, head of business development at Film4, says: 'If the films are good, then smaller distributors such as Revolver will help distribute them. But they will have to have an interest in home talent and target a clear market.'

Clogging up the market

But Paul Webster, head of film at Kudos Film and Television, who also produced Atonement, and Eastern Promises, says: 'I am certainly no longer in the business of making small British films if I can help it because I think it is too competitive. There are too many local films being made, which have no market, but nevertheless clog up the market. The films that we should be making should be responding to what the market can bear.'

However, a number of bigger independents are pre-buying UK titles, saying the fashion for local films with very British subject matters is not just a bandwagon trend. Pathe pre-bought Adulthood, the Noel Clarke follow-up to Kidulthood, and has also picked up the worldwide rights (excluding North America) to Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire and Stephen Frears' Cheri.

'We're always looking to pick up the UK distribution rights for British films,' says Pathe's McCracken. 'It's a key part of our operation. The truth is, year on year, UK independent distributors usually share about 20% of the total UK box office so there is always that chunk of the market that is available outside of the studio system. We can increase that 20% by servicing that local market as strongly as possible and I think most of us have woken up to that fact.'

Top 10 UK Films At UK Box Office In 2007
Title (Origin) DistributorBox office gross
1Harry Potter And The... Phoenix (UK-US) Warner Bros$99.9m (£49.4m)
2Mr Bean's Holiday (UK-US-Fr) Universal Pictures International$44.7m (£22.1m)
3Hot Fuzz (UK-US-Fr) Universal Pictures International$42.4m (£21m)
4Stardust (UK-US) Paramount Pictures International$30.4m (£15.1m)
5Atonement (UK-US) Universal Pictures International$23.5m (£11.6m)
6Run, Fat Boy, Run (UK-US) Entertainment Film Distributors$22.3m (£11m)
7Miss Potter (UK-US) Momentum Pictures$13.9m (£6.9m)
8St Trinian's (UK) Entertainment Film Distributors$24.8m (£12.4m)*
9Notes On A Scandal (UK-US) 20th Fox$11.9m (£5.9m)
10The Last King Of Scotland (UK-US) 20th Fox$11.4m (£5.7m)
Source: Screen International, Nielsen EDI, UKFC * includes 2008 box office (figure was $12.6m at close of 2007)