Teutonic titles recover B.O. ground in 1999

'Sonnenallee', 'Asterix', 'Werner' lead local pic push

BERLIN — Local clicks are on the road to recovery after a tough year in 1998.

In the first nine months of 1999, the market share of German pics rose to 13.8% compared with 10.1% in the previous year’s period.

The French-German-Italian co-production “Asterix & Obelix vs. Caesar” topped the local hit list, drawing in more than DM35.1 million ($18.6 million) and landing sixth on the year’s hit list.

Animated revival

After 1998’s lack of Teutonic animation, which partly was put to blame for the poor performance of German films last year, hit cartoon character “Werner” made a big comeback, pulling in $15.1 million for Constantin Film and placing at the top of the heap of local productions.

Dubbed as the first film about the fall of the Berlin Wall, “Sonnenallee,” which was released to coincide with the 10-year anniversary of the fall of the Wall, was one of several surprise hits that boosted local market share. Pic has taken in $10 million to date. Another good performer was Wim Wender’s docu on Cuban musicians, “Buena Vista Social Club,” which drew nearly 1 million admissions.

The box office picked up speed as the year progressed. Overall admissions until May this year showed a decline of 15.7% on the previous year with its runaway hit “Titanic.” But, by the end of the third quarter, admission figures were down a mere 3.2% from 1998.

Showing more than an average decrease in visitor numbers were the multiplexes opened between 1990 and 1997. According to a report issued by the national film subsidy board, the Film Foerderungs Anstalt, these theaters witnessed a decline of 13.5% in admissions, while plexes opened in 1998 and 1999 were credited with the overall increase in multiplex admissions, which are up by 9.7% on average through September.

U.S. pictures rosy

For Yank wares, it was business as usual, with U.S. pics continuing to dominate business. Through November, there were 11 U.S. pics boasting more than 3 million visitors compared with only eight in all of 1998, showing that individual films are once again doing better than last year.

The top-ranked pic through November was “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace,” with $52 million in revenues.

Overall, the German box office is continuing to grow, with revenues this year already surpassing those of 1997 (1998’s “Titanic” run is considered too exceptional for meaningful comparison). German pics still have some catching up to do to equal the high in 1997, when local clicks boasted a market share of 17.3%.

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