During the Soviet times vodka and cinema were the main sources of government revenue. Not the oil and gas as today. The Soviet people were avid film goers.
After the collapse of Communism the system of film studios and film distribution was practically destroyed. Most cinema theaters were turned into warehouses or chip stores.
With economic recovery came a new interest in film production and distribution. In a historically short period Russia became one of the most promising markets for Foreign made films and a new cash cow for Hollywood.
The research company Movie Research predicts that total Russian Box office for 2013 will reach 1.4 billion US dollars which is 9.6 percent higher than in 2012 ($1.28 bln). Even with grosses of domestic films in 2013 growing to 17.4 percent from 15.1 of total in 2012 the lion share of Box office will go to non-Russian films. Mostly to American movies.
In 2013 the biggest grossers in Russia amongst American films were Iron Man 3 ($44.5 mln), Thor 2 ($35.5 mln), Fast and Furious 6 ($34 mln), Life of Pi ($30 mln and some). Even some pictures which were underperforming in the US were quite successful in Russia. After Earth made 17 million dollars and Lone Ranger 15 million.
Some lawmakers in Russian Parliament (Duma) tried to impose Value Added Tax on tickets for Foreign movies and as in China to limit the number of Foreign (read American!) films allowed in Russian theatres. But all attempts to do so were defeated.
Till late many Russian films were quite successful in International Film Festivals winning major prizes. But commercially the majority of them were miserable. But today one can notice a new trend. Some Russian Films can give American blockbusters a run for their money. War epic Stalingrad (still in theaters) made more than 55 million dollars. Nostalgic sports drama Legend#17 about the famous Soviet hockey player Kharlamov made about $30 mln. Comedy Bitter collected $25 mln.
Not bad considering that only 40 million out of 140 million Russians have access to any kind of movie theaters. And only 10 percent of them are avid movie goers.
It is not likely that Russian box office will ever surpass the Chinese one, but love fest between Russia and Hollywood will definitely go on. And on.
Chairman Foreign Film Committee HFPA