UGC is thinking European. The French production, distribution and exhibition major, which already has 259 screens in France and Belgium, is now looking to expand its exhibition activities by buying or building screens in other territories.

If successful, the move by UGC –one of France’s top three film companies–will mark the first time the major has moved into European exhibition since rival major Gaumont unsuccessfully attempted an exhibition and production outlet in Italy during the early 1980s.

UGC president Guy Verrecchia last week confirmed that the possibility of establishing screens in Madrid is currently being studied.

Verrecchia said that the only territory UGC has definitely ruled out is Italy , but that in general, “We will be looking at cities which have a population of more than 1 million and where there is either not enough cinema coverage or perhaps a large area of the city (that) could house a new complex.”

UGC, a privately owned company (although unit UGC D.A. is quoted on the French stock exchange), was developed totally around exhibition. But Verrecchia reports that with its growth in production (it bankrolled “American Dream,” recently released in France, starring Johnny Depp, Faye Dunaway and Jerry Lewis) , distribution and its UGC D.A. activities, exhibition now brings in just 50% of overall revenue.

Although Verrecchia did not disclose details, recent experience suggests that UGC will look to set up ultramodern multiplexes.

In France, UGC is working to increase the size of its exhibition circuit. Last month, UGC opened a 10-screen site in Lille at a total cost of approximately 100 million francs ($ 18 million). An 18 to 20 screen complex in the Paris district of Bercy will cost $ 36 million.

UGC also snapped up indie exhibitor Jean Pierre Lemoine’s Forum Horizon, which will be transformed into a modern 15-screen multiplex, and Forum Express sites in Les Halles, along with a prime site on the Champs Elysees.

Outside Paris, the exhibitor is set to build a massive 14- to 16-screen complex in Lyons, and in the Paris suburb of Rosny-sous-bois, a 10- to 12-screen multiplex is planned.

Driving the UGC expansion program is the belief that the decline in cinema attendance has finally halted. Entries were 117 million in 1991, but are expected to be slightly up when ’92 figures come out.

“The idea is not to take people out of rival circuits but to bring in a totally new audience,” said Verrecchia.

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