Yank Pics Get A Running Start For Banner Year In Germany

Judging by first-quarter returns, American films are heading for another banner year in a united Germany, continuing Hollywood’s perennial domination of the market.

“Home Alone” pulled a formidable 5.3 million patrons through the wickets in nine weeks, while “Dances With Wolves,” “Look Who’s Talking Too” and “Kindergarten Cop,” all topping the magical 1 million mark, gave American distribs a fast start in the 1991 b.o. stakes.

American majors and indies captured a record 70% of the market last year, a hard act to beat with pics like “Pretty Woman” (topping the list with 9.3 million visitors), “Look Who’s Talking” (5.1 million patrons) and “The War Of The Roses” (4 million). Besides the above, 24 other American films had from 1 million to 3 million admissions.

Homegrown prods falter

Gloomy predictions for the German film industry, which has seen one bad year follow another, proved all too true. In 1990, made-in-Germany pics barely reached the 10% level.

Until the fantasy pic “The Neverending Story Part II” and the semi-animated “Werner- Beinhart” based on a popular comic strip were launched last fall, German films had slumped to a paltry 5.7% of the market. Both “Story” and “Werner” at year’s end had drawn 2.9 million and 3.2 million visitors respectively, rescuing the German film from almost total disaster.

Nevertheless, a handful of German films did well in this year’s first quarter, especially the comedies “Papa Ante Portas” and “Go Trabi Go” and “Rama Dama,” a drama set in the aftermath of WWII. Director Volker Schlondorff’s latest opus “Homo Faber” (“Voyager”) since his return from lensing in the U.S. will also find its following on the art film circuit.

Producers are hoping German film will fare better than last year when only 48 domestic productions found distributors out of 79 produced. The industry’s malaise on the production side has generated much palaver already as to what should be done to amend the film support law, whose current version expires in 1993.

Warners tops in ’90

All in all, 1990 wasn’t a bad year for exhibs and especially American majors. Warner Brothers Germany topped the list with 33% of the market. UIP followed with a 22% share, Fox with 10% and Columbia/Tri-Star, 9.5%.

More than 102.16 million people went to the movies in the western part of the reunited republic, up 0.6% from the previous year. B.o. grosses last year totalled 828 million deutsche marks ($511 million) up 4.4% from the 792 million DM ($460 million) in 1989.

The number of screens in the west remained fairly constant at 3,112, down slightly from 3,261 in 1989. According to latest figures from the Federal Film Board (FFA), there was an average 21% upswing in attendance in the first two months of 1991.

B.o. returns from the five reunited states in the former DDR will not be tallied until the end of this year because of structural differences and communication difficulties. However, trade sources estimate an overall 8% to 15% increase in revenues can be expected and, in time, up to 20%. With the previous flat fee deals on the way out, distribs in the west will get a percentage split of the B.o. grosses.

Small houses folding

Theaters in the former communist state totalled 639 at the end of 1990, but the FFA expects their numbers to drop to 450 by the end of the year. Many houses in small communities, previously subsidized by the communist government, are folding, no longer able to compete in a free market economy.

Despite the sharp drop in theater-going age groups due to the contraceptive pill and competition from video and tv, particularly with the launch of a pay-tv service, American exhibitors, confident of the theatrical future, are putting their money where their mouths are.

Last month, Constantin-Warner Kino Gmbh, a new company organized for construction and operation of cinemas in Germany, opened a multiplex at Gelsenkirchen-Buer in the industrial Ruhr area. The nine-unit complex seating a total of 2,654 is the joint venture’s first project to be completed. Constantin-Warner will launch a 13-unit, 3,200-seat Cinedom in Cologne’s Mediapark in December.

United Cinemas Intl., a joint venture of Paramount Communications and MCA/Universal, is building an 18-unit multiplex center in Ruhr Park, near Bochum in the industrial area. Last October, UCI opened a stately 3,000-seat multiplex just outside Cologne.

The concept of a mammoth, luxurious theatrical complex is new in Germany.

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