Euro exhibs upbeat on first-qtr. ’93 prospects

After a year that some would prefer to forget, European exhibs are entering 1993 in a reasonably bullish mood.

Release schedules from Christmas through Easter are stronger and better balanced than last year, exhibs say.

And tradesters point to continued cinema building and renovation in markets like Spain, Germany and the U.K. as another stimulant to B.O. growth.

The first quarter in Europe is jam-packed and screens, as ever, are at a premium, say distribs. “It’s always competitive, always tough,” says Frank Pierce, Warner Bros. VP, Europe.

While January is a “mess,” notes Andrew Cripps, United Intl. Pictures veepee, he says February-March does not look so crowded as in recent years because some of the likely Oscar contenders will already have been released.

Few exhibs rate 1992 as a banner year, as the recession took its toll and the U.S. generated only one true blockbuster in Europe: “Basic Instinct.”

“The negative is the recession,” says Stan Fishman, booking director of Britain’s Rank Odeon loop. “The positive is the lineup, which looks very strong, with something for the entire audience spectrum.”

Leveling off

Fishman says the Blighty B.O. lost a bit of momentum last year after five years of steady growth, and he reckons admissions may just have reached 100 million, about level with 1991.

Some U.S. Christmas flicks like “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,””The Bodyguard” and “A Few Good Men” have already started their Euro voyages.

Other big-ticket items are ready to launch. Columbia TriStar is launching “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” this month on 2,500 screens worldwide, of which about 1, 700 are in Europe.

WB has been keeping “Under Siege” up its sleeve for the first quarter and has slated “Forever Young” for late March.

With Oscar nominations in mind, United Intl. Pictures is slating “Scent of a Woman” and “Lorenzo’s Oil” for February-March.

Pre-Oscar hype

Also with its eye on pre-Oscar publicity, 20th Century Fox is letting rip with “Toys” in late February and “Hoffa” in mid-March.

Buena Vista Intl. is timing “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid” with the February school vacation in some territories and is readying “The Mighty Ducks” (retitled “The Champions”) and “The Distinguished Gentleman” for February-March. BV’s surprise domestic and foreign click “Sister Act” bows this month in Italy and Switzerland.

’92 holdovers

Add to the mix several titles that distribs for various reasons did not throw into the pot last year, including “Universal Soldier” (in Italy), “Sneakers” (continental Europe) and “Singles.”

From the indies come a raft of U.S. productions, led by “Malcolm X” (owned by Largo overseas), “Chaplin” (Carolco) and “Body of Evidence” (Indies), plus European films like “Damage,” German epic “Stalingrad,” Gallic comedy “Les Visiteurs” and Spanish entry “Accion Mutante.”

The majors also are looking to foreign markets to recoup on some pictures that under-performed domestically.

Un-‘Hero’ic returns

Col TriStar aims to reverse the U.S. results of “Hero,” armed with a new campaign and trailer, and maybe title.

Warner Bros. will try to resuscitate “Innocent Blood,” pitching it as a sexy vampire pic. BV sees “significant potential” in its mid-January “Consenting Adults,” per BVI president Mark Zoradi.

In France, Francis Boespflug, programming chief of the Gaumont circuit, says the first quarter contains a lot of good product that he thinks will guarantee the B.O. won’t suffer the customary post-Christmas slump.

Last month, he said, he expected 1992 admissions would be within 1% to 2% of the previous year’s 117 million.

Not a bad year

And while there were no French superclicks of “Cyrano de Bergerac” caliber, he said it was a better year for small and medium-sized indie distribs, notably Bac, which scored with “Indochine” and “Le Zebre,” Pyramide (“Howards End”) and Pan Europenne (“Les Nuits Fauves”).

In Spain, Warner Bros. managing director Ed Weinberg says 15-20 major titles are vying for screens in the first three months.

Despite the economic downturn and recent social unrest, he believes admissions this year will be at least on par with, if not up on, last year, crediting that partly to multiplex building.

The screen shortage in Italy continues to frustrate tradesters. Sandro Pierotti, who programs the dominant Cinema 5 circuit, was juggling 14 films at Christmas. He says distribs commonly wanted four Rome screens per title, which he couldn’t hope to satisfy.

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