Russia's fastest-grossing film has all the ingredients of a Hollywood blockbuster but is outpacing them in the box office and was made for a fraction of the price.

Blood, action and suspense helped "Night Watch" rake in $13 million in the first three weeks after it was released July 8, almost as much as the last "Lord of the Rings" film made in two months in Russia.

The previous best-performing Russian film made $3 million.

"This is a big movie for a big audience," said director Timur Bekmambetov.

It may be a big movie, but the $4 million budget is small.

"In the United States it would have cost at least 10 times more," Bekmambetov said.

Bekmambetov says the film -- the first part of a trilogy based on books by Sergei Lukyanenko -- has benefited from a revolution in the film market, which suffered from a loss of state funds after the collapse of communism.

"The film market is growing in Russia. If our movie had appeared a year ago, we would have made maybe 30 or 50 percent less in the box office," he said.

Russia's box-office figures are still paltry compared with other countries, mainly because there are only about 400 cinemas and film piracy is rampant.

But Bekmambetov said this was changing, with about 40 movie houses opening each year and filmmakers getting better at distribution.

"We didn't have a distribution system during the '90s -- it was destroyed by perestroika," he said, referring to then-President Mikhail Gorbachev's policy to reform the Soviet Union.

"Night Watch" was shown at about 80 percent of cinemas, he said.

The film pits good against evil, features vampires and stars some of Russia's top actors.

Fans of the books have complained that it bears little resemblance to the original and many say the product placement -- lingering shots of coffee and mobile phones -- is distracting.

But others heralded it as a new dawn for the industry.

"It's our film -- a Russian film. It's a new stage for Russian films," said Sergei, a Moscow security guard.

The past 12 months have been fruitful for Russian films.

Last year, director Andrei Zvyagintsev's debut "The Return" won two Golden Lion prizes at the Venice film festival. It was made on an even tighter budget, about $400,000, but was not a big box-office success.

Bekmambetov says Russia's success at film festivals has failed to translate into ticket sales because the films have not been aimed at a wider audience.

That is what sets his film apart, he says. The special effects compare with those in Hollywood blockbusters such as "The Matrix," "Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter," and, like those films, it has broad popular appeal.

Hollywood has swooped down on the film, with firms offering to hold talks on possible future cooperation, Bekmambetov said.

Any joint project with Hollywood would concern the final part of the trilogy since the second "Night Watch" film is almost complete and scheduled to be released in March.

Bekmambetov hoped the films will help Russians shrug off a cultural inferiority complex in which they see foreign lifestyles as better than their own.

"When we produce famous Russian movies, good Russian movies . . . Russia's streets and Russia's reality will become fashionable. People will be proud that they have this kind of chair, this kind of wall or car."