Despite a slow start to the year, the UK could once again see its annual box office record broken in 2003.
With a host of high profile titles including the final instalments of The Matrix and The Lord Of The Rings franchises still to debut this year, 2003 could become the fifth consecutive year that admissions have risen in the territory and the third consecutive year that box office revenues have exceeded those of the previous year.
Box office to date this year stands at $1.003bn (£599.8m), compared to $1.03bn (£615.7m) for the same period last year. 2002's UK box office total stood at $1.135bn.
Cinema advertising agency Pearl And Dean predicts admissions for the year to reach 180m, putting it just ahead of 2002's 176m. Despite lagging 9% behind last year at the end of September Pearl And Dean suggest a strong line up in the fourth quarter should make it the most successful quarter of the year and provide the necessary boost.
Latest figures from The Cinema Advertising Association (CAA) for September show admissions for the month at 10.7m, a 0.9% jump on the same month last year.
Box office for the month, provided by leading industry data tracker Nielsen EDI, stood at $79.3m (£47.4m), a 1% rise against September 2002. The rise was thanks largely to the success of UK comedy drama Calendar Girls, which opened on a platform release on Sep 5 before going wide on Sep 12. The Buena Vista International (BVI) film has grossed $27.6m (£16.5m) to date.
The September rise follows a weak first half of the year. Four of the first six months of the year saw box office stumbles against 2002, followed by a 20% drop in July.
Since then, however, prospects have been looking up. The Aug 8 launch of BVI's Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl, the third highest grossing film of the year with $46.2m (£27.6m), helped the box office to 12%, 63%, 28% and 23% rises year-on-year for each of its first four weeks.
October is already proving strong, seeing a 21% jump in box office receipts for the Oct 3-9 week year-on-year when Columbia TriStar's Bad Boys II launched and BVI's Finding Nemo platformed on two digital prints. This was followed by a massive 44% improvement against the same week in 2002 for the Oct 10-16 week when Nemo blanketed the country with over 900 prints. After just 17 days on release, and just 10 of those wide, the animated hit is already the 10th highest grossing film of the year and will continue to build as schools around the country go on half-term this week.
CAA president, Debbie Chalet, comments "September was a good month with product attracting an increasingly broad audience and the best is yet to come. Finding Nemo and other high profile releases such as the final parts of the Matrix and Lord Of The Rings ensure the year will end on a high".
These films alone are likely to be enough to push the year's box office up against last year. It currently stands just 2.6% down on 2002. The second instalments of the Matrix and Rings trilogies currently rank as the two top grossing films of the year with $55.5m (£33.2m) taken for The Matrix Reloaded and $47.2m (£28.2m) for The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers - during 2003 only, Two Towers grossed $96.5m (£57.7m) in the UK and Ireland after opening in December last year.
The franchises have ample back up, with children's titles Holes (BVI) and Secondhand Lions (Entertainment Film Distributors) likely to benefit from half-term this weekend. There is also a horror double opening for Halloween, with Entertainment's remake of 1974 classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Fox's Director's Cut of 1979 title Alien are both released on Oct 31. Not to mention Kill Bill Vol.1 which got off a great $4.5m (£2.7m) start last weekend and has yet to figure in official figures.
November will see high expectations for Richard Curtis' all-star directorial debut Love Actually (UIP) on Nov 21, while family film Elf (Entertainment) and Russell Crowe high-seas adventure Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World (Fox) both go wide on Nov 28 following platforms.
In December The Return Of The King will be supported by Columbia's S.W.A.T. starring Colin Farrell and Samuel L. Jackson, as well as family titles Brother Bear and Freaky Friday (both BVI), Good Boy! (Fox) and Boxing Day release Peter Pan (UIP).