Critics rarely give much thought to the money side of the film industry. In fact, if I miss a film's national press preview or international festival debut, my desire to see it later, alongside a paying public, is generally in inverse proportion to its box-office success.

This isn't just critical petulance and snobbery; it's also the fact that, with the film already out and likely to run for weeks, there's no longer any sense of urgency. I'll get to it eventually, either some rainy Monday or when it emerges on DVD.

Box-office charts, though, are a different matter. I've always been fascinated by them. For one thing, there's the way so many hopes and dreams end; so much agony and effort can lie behind a dry set of figures. But you've hardly had time to enjoy the schadenfreude when the self-pity kicks in. Most of the films in the top 10 are entirely impervious to criticism and critics. They will steamroller their way regardless of what we write about them, and, when they finally judder to a halt, it will have nothing to do with us either.

And yet, box-office ratings offer plenty of room for critical reflection. Take Screen's international chart (see p32). The top 15-20 positions are generally occupied by a mix of Hollywood global releases and single-territory commercial debuts (often Japanese, Indian or South Korean; occasionally French, Italian or Spanish).

These local blockbusters are rarely seen by critics in other territories. They seldom work the festival circuit (they don't need to) outside of fanbase events such as the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, Udine Far East Film or the Italian Film Festival UK, and they rarely see cross-border distribution beyond a few other culturally or linguistically allied neighbours.

So there are currently no English-language reviews available, even on the blogosphere, of films such as Boys Over Flowers: Final, the Japanese manga spin-off that's wowing teen girls (and their mothers) from Osaka to Sapporo; or of Un'estate Al Mare, the latest crass summer comedy from Carlo Vanzina, the Italian director whose films aspire to the lowest common denominator - but never quite hit that height.

While watching the audience at my second, and hopefully last, Vanzina ordeal, I had a thought: perhaps they all knew the film was rubbish but they didn't care. Going to see it was a collective social ritual, like Christmas. Hence my defence against the charge that critics are out of touch. Just because 50 million people went to see the thing, it doesn't mean 50 million people liked it.

Surprise packages

It's in the lower echelons of the charts that the real surprises often lurk. It cheers me up no end to see In Bruges, for example, has taken more than $14m and counting from seven territories.

This is an appealing independent film with a crafty but warmly human script by director Martin McDonagh, fine performances from actors who appear to be enjoying themselves, clever use of a setting and - still rare in this age of co-productions - a sassy European-ness which is convincing because it is grounded in the undiluted Irishness of the main characters, and therefore not gratingly Eurovision. As a cinematic stylist, theatre director McDonagh still has some catching up to do, but that will come with time.

And yet, who knew' If I'd been writing the review (luckily it wasn't one of mine), I probably would have guessed that, despite the Colin Farrell calling-card, the film would probably be a little too stagily post-modern to break out. I might even have mentioned Sleuth, another recent po-mo film with star power (Michael Caine, Jude Law) that also had a strong tang of the theatre - which made not even the smallest dent on the international chart. I would probably not have said In Bruges would take more than $500,000 in Russia, a territory not normally receptive to Euro arthouse products.

Why did In Bruges cross over and not the compelling 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, which hardly limped into the top 20 in most territories' The Lives Of Others fully merited its breakout, but why that and not, say, Irina Palm (potentially a more commercial product), Red Road or After The Wedding'

In two weeks, I will reveal the secret formula for breakout success. Maybe.