'Different but not alien' British films scoring big in US.

days gone by, the British films that played well in America tended to be refined costumed dramas (a la Merchant Ivory) or gentle comedies of manners (Four Weddings and a Funeral). Today they are more likely to feature marauding zombies, Asian footballers or spiteful nuns.

Yesterday John Woodward, chairman of the Film Council, suggested that the stateside success of films such as 28 Days Later, Bend it Like Beckham and The Magdalene Sisters had positioned the UK film industry as suppliers of an offbeat, low-budget antidote to Hollywood. "The important thing about [these movies] is that they're an alternative to the Hulk and Charlie's Angels-type film," he told Reuters.

The success of this trio of low-budget, leftfield productions this summer has doubled the British share of the US box-office, compared to the same period last year. Leading the charge is Danny Boyle's digital-video zombie flick 28 Days Later. Shot on a budget of $8m, it has already racked up a significant $40m in the US. The rites-of-passage football yarn Bend it Like Beckham, which co-stars the rising British actress Keira Knightley, has also fared well, taking $28m from the US box office. Both films are part-funded by the National Lottery.

For decades now the hunt for a homegrown production that translates well to the US market has been seen as the Holy Grail of the British film industry. Current evidence suggests that a formula may at last have been found. Woodward feels that the international success of the present crop of pictures is due to them being exotic enough to entice audiences bored by the usual high-concept Hollywood fluff, but not so different as to be off-putting. "The films that make a hit tend to be left of field," he explained. "They're different, but they're not alien."