Russia's largest multiplex opened this week (17 Sept) with a special gala screening of The Italian Job attended by its stars Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron as well as National Amusements top exec Shari Redstone.

The new 11 screen, 7500 square metre KinoStar De Lux cinema seats 3100 people and is only the second multiplex to be opened in Russia. The nine screen Russian backed Formula Kino opened last year. Located in the new Mega mall shopping centre in the south Moscow suburbs it is the first of a network of multiplexes planned by Rising Star Media.

Rising Star Media which is headed by cinema entrepreneur Paul Heth is a joint venture between National Amusements and Soquel Ventures, a California based company also headed by Heth. It is the first cinema in continental Europe for National Amusements which has a string of cinemas in the UK and is the 6th largest cinema exhibitor in the US. The opening of the cinema marks the first venture by an American exhibitor into the Russian market.

The approximately $12m cinema complex is expected to attract more than 1.5m admissions a year with ticket prices ranging from 100 to 300 rubles ($3 to $10). "We want this to be a family cinema where even grandparents will be able to afford to bring their grandchildren," said Heth.

The features all the latest amenities including stadium style sitting, wall-to-wall screens, Dolby Digital Surround Sound EX. Two special VIP halls will cater to Moscow' more up-market cinema goers.

According to Redstone there are plans for a second cinema by the end of 2004 and another five in the next two or three years.

The Russian market has been expanding rapidly over the past two or three years with the box office seeing a 35 percent increase so far this year. According to figures compiled by Russian distributors the box office is expected to top $140m this year. The number of cinemas has been increasing rapidly but with just over 300 screens for a population it is still considered to be grossly underscreened.