While cinema admissions fell last year in France, Germany, Spain and Italy, the UK was the only major European market to see growth in ticket sales - and by a hefty 10%-plus.

Although official figures are yet to be released for the territory, the UK is likely to register at least 176m ticket sales for 2002 - a steep increase on 2001's 156m admissions.

The UK became the second biggest market in Europe in terms of admissions half way through last year, when the country saw a leap of 25% to 87.7m for the first six months, overtaking Germany for the first time since the 1970s.

In terms of gross box office, the UK is far and away the European market leader with an estimated total gross of some $1.2bn (excluding Ireland) for 2002. This compares with France's $915m and Germany's $977m for the year.

Meanwhile, French admissions fell 0.4% to 185.1m in 2002, according to latest estimates, and German ticket sales fell 5% to 154.5m for the year. In Spain, admissions stood at 120.7m at the beginning of December, compared to 2001's full year tally of 146.8m, while in Italy admissions dropped by more than 2% to 82.3m from 84.1m

One other European territory is already known to have experienced an upbeat year (although many countries have still to report their figures): the Netherlands saw admissions increase by 5% to 24m, with the local market share for Dutch films reaching an all-time high of 10.3%.