Make no mistake: The majors still rule in Spain, their releases scooping over 80% of total Spanish box office in 1994.

Last year, UIP powered into first place with a 10,924 million peseta ($87.4 million) take. Powering 1995 receipts are “Casper” (a strong $8.9 million to date) and “Rob Roy” (a romping $2.9 million). Fox parted ways with Spaniard Manuel Salvador, who used to co-release its titles. It now runs its own operation. Its biggest 1994 hit was “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.”

BVI continues to co-distribute through indie Lauren, which handles BVI fare outside Madrid, Barcelona and three other large cities. BVI’s “Die Hard With a Vengeance” was the fastest-grossing summer hit, dashing to $7.6 million by early September. Columbia TriStar Intl. had an excellent early 1995, rating as the top-grossing major in Spain between January and May.

Warner Bros., whose top-grossing title to date in 1995 was “Disclosure” ($6.9 million), still releases through Warner Espanola.

The most dramatic developments, however, have come on the indie scene, driven by bitter battles for cinema space as the number of releases rapidly increases – by as much as 40 titles this summer over last, by one estimate.

“The way things are, a Spanish distributor must have either good product or his own cinemas. Without one or the other, he’s dead,” says one distrib.

Distributor/exhibitor Antonio Llorens’ Lauren Films has both. An aggressive acquisition policy paid off in early 1995. Backed by excellent marketing, during the first five months of the year, Lauren releases grossed $22.7 million off 628 hardtops in Spain, representing some 65% of nationwide box office. Major money winners included titles outside the BVI deal: Miramax’s “Pulp Fiction,” Summit’s “Color of Night” and New Line’s “The Mask” (see table on next page).

Three new indies now challenge Lauren for major indie A titles. Bowing in September 1994, the Sogepaq-Polygram-owned Sogepaq Distribution aims to spend some $10 million by year’s end on foreign acquisitions. According to international acquisitions head Ana Amigo, Sogepaq Distribution will court U.S. and European blockbusters, upscale projects and edgy smaller films, especially from Latin America.

Sogepaq showed the color of its money at Cannes, closing all Spanish rights to Paul Verhoeven’s “Showgirls” for a reported $3 million. Further pickups included the Whoopi Goldberg vehicle “Eddie”; “Illuminata”; “Last of the Dogmen,” produced by Mario Kassar for Chargeurs; the $20 million French pic “Beaumarchais”; and the $40 million “Mulholland Falls,” Lee Tamahori’s follow-up to “Once Were Warriors.”

The Bertlesmann-owned BMG Video initiated video rentals/sell-through of feature films, with strong support for local production, in September 1994. Rentals, where it has a 12% market share, remains BMG’s core business. But accessing A-title features entails acquiring all rights for Spain.

To date, BMG Video has coordinated theatrical distribution and marketing with established Spanish indies, especially the Barcelona-based Filmax Group, with which it has an eight-pic joint distribution venture for Spain.

“BMG is not just a financing partner,” says BMG Video general manager Ramon Gandarillas. “It takes a hands-on interest in theatrical marketing. Acquisition interests focus on “big A-titles with major entertainment potential,” he adds. This spring, Aurum Films, the theatrical distribution arm of Antena 3 TV, created Lider, an alliance with Spanish indie producers Atrium, Cartel and Origen. Each partner feeds its film productions into the Lider pipeline. The combined film slate of Cartel, Atrium and Origen alone totals some 20 films a year.

“Large distances apart, Lider is like UIP and its partners Paramount or Universal,” says Antena 3 TV’s director of acquisitions and sales, Francisco Ramos, who heads up Lider.

Co-distributing through Columbia TriStar, the company has all-rights deals with Rysher and New Line. Via Antena 3 TV, it can promote theatrical releases heavily. Aurum Films’ first theatrical runner, New Line’s “Dumb and Dumber,” was one of the surprise hits of the spring.

Top Spanish arthouse distributor Alta Films is widening its mandate by moving into the acquisition of larger “quality” feature films.

Headed by Enrique Gonzalez Macho, Alta has doubled its release slate, from 17 titles in 1994 to 35 for 1995. Some 25 of these, says Macho, will be “quality” titles with crossover potential, released primarily in dubbed copies. Many will play at mainstream multiplexes, exploiting their ability to expose dubbed “quality” films to more mainstream audiences, Macho adds.

Julio Fernandez’s Filmax has bounced back strongly from cash-flow problems in the early 1990s. It maintains its first-look deal with rank. Recent co-acquisitions with BMG include “American Buffalo,” “Cry, the Beloved Country,” “Blood and Wine,” “Swann,” and “The Secret Agent.” Filmax’s “Circle of Friends” played strongly this summer, running in the top 10 for months.

Francisco Hoyos (Cine Company) and Javier Garcillan (Musidora) continue their joint acquisition alliance, CineMussy, and its market.

Smaller new outfits such as Wanda Films, Vhero and Vertigo have found arthouse niches.

Some traditional distribs such as Filmayer and Tripictures are aiming to diversify into film production. “Going into production is a matter of personal interest for me, but production conditions are improving in Spain,” says Angel Blasco at Filmayer, which plans to make $5 million-$10 million “European” films.

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