Annual box office revenues for Italy's new generation of multiplex cinemas appear to be growing at roughly the same rate as the decline in the profitability of the country's traditional theatres, according to latest industry estimates.

Italian box office revenues rose by 4.89% to $384.6m in 2001 compared to $366.6m in 2000, with admissions climbing 3.67% to 77.2 million against 2000's 74.5 million, according to local trade body Cinetel which monitors around 70% of the country's screens. At the same time, however, trade journal Il Giornale dello Spettacolo estimated that total admissions, including screens that are not monitored by Cinetel, reached 107 million compared with 110 million in 2000.

The number of screens in Italian key cities monitored by Cinetel increased by 104 between 2000 and 2001 to 1,856, with the vast majority being multiplex screens.

Confident interpretation of Italy's cinema data, however, has always been problematic due to the complex dynamics of the market. Despite the aggressive development of the multiplex concept, by Warner Village Cinemas amongst others, virtually no films are released in the country during the summer months between May and September - a throwback to the time of non-air-conditioned theatres.

In addition, and further complicating significant trend analysis, the 2001 Christmas season was unusually disappointing. Christmas is traditionally the highest-grossing period of the year in Italy, when a raft of local comedies are guaranteed to perform extremely well. This year, however, total figures were down 8.5% between December 21 and January 6 compared to 2000, with Harry Potter and local comedy Merry Christmas the only two seasonal releases to make it into the year's top 10.

Last year, local comedy Ask Me If I'm Happy grossed a massive $24.8m within two weeks of its December 15 release, becoming the year's top success.

Alberto Francesconi, president of national exhibitors' association ANEC said: "One of the problems is that a large number of films were released at Christmas this year. If they had been released at a different time, and particularly in the summer, they would certainly have been more successful."

While local films fared well in the first part of the year, with hits including Gabriele Muccino's The Last Kiss, Ferzan Ozpetek's Ignorant Fairies and Nanni Moretti's The Son's Room, few Italian pictures managed to make more than a fleeting mark at the box office in the second half of the year and US fare continued to dominate the local market.

Harry Potter took the year's number one slot with Euros 19.87m, followed by Castaway (Euros 13.83m), and Bridget Jones's Diary (Euros 13.54m).

Local picture The Last Kiss was the only Italian film in the top five, coming in fourth with Euros 13.10m. It was followed by Hannibal (Euros 12.34m), What Women Want (Euros 11.63m), Italian comedy Ask Me If I'm Happy (Euros 10.67m), Meet The Parents (Euros 10.48m), local comedy Merry Christmas (Euros 9.80m) and Pearl Harbor (Euros 9.31m).