Hot U.S. indies blast cold summer B.O.

ROME — Italy’s box office so far this year is buoyant compared to last year’s period, with Hollywood blockbusters dominating as always, some hot U.S. indie titles scoring mightily via local distribs, and local product gobbling up 20% of the pie.

Despite a particularly dud summer, Italian B.O. is up 14% to S395 million ($488 million), according to national tracker Cinetel, which monitors some 75% of the country’s screens.

But while the numbers look good, Italy still underperforms compared to its European neighbors. And the bulk of its box office goes to a handful of films. Top titles were “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” released by Medusa, and “The Passion of the Christ,” which went out via Eagle Pictures.

Aside from Medusa and Eagle, local distribs doing well with U.S. pics include BIM, which scored more than $10 million with “Fahrenheit 9/11″ and fared nicely with “21 Grams” and “The Motorcycle Diaries,” and Nexo, which did brisk biz with “Monster” and “In the Cut.”

In addition to crossover arthouse movies, horror and teen pics seem to be clicking in Italy, where “Scary Movie 3″ scored more than $10 million.

Whereas homevideo is very healthy at the moment — with numbers up greatly on both sell-through and rentals — the climate for TV rights remains rough, despite the arrival last year of Murdoch’s Sky Italia.

“The TV market is still very difficult. Free TV tends not to pre-buy, and with only one platform, pay TV isn’t as strong as it should be,” says Clare Mcardle, head of acquisitions for indie distrib IIF, which picked up “Mona Lisa Smile” at last year’s AFM.

“This year we’re looking to acquire a big-budget movie with a very strong cast, suitable for a Christmas release, along with a couple of medium-budget films with an appealing cast and story line,” says Mcardle.

Italy at a glance

B.O.: $488 million*
Top title: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (Medusa, $28 million)
Recent pickups:
“Aeon Flux” (Rai Cinema)
“Combien tu gagnes?” (BIM)
“Le Grand Voyage” (Luce)
“Hostage” (Medusa)
“Tarnation” (Mikado)

Titles at AFM
The House Keys: Gianni Amelio’s drama about a young father coming to terms with his handicapped son, has been doing boffo B.O. in Italy, after its disappointing Venice debut. Italy’s Oscar submission stars Kim Rossi Stewart and Charlotte Rampling. (Lakeshore Intl.)
The Consequences of Love: Tyro helmer Paolo Sorrentino’s stylishly surreal pic about an accountant for the mob who becomes romantically entangled with a barmaid, was Italy’s only Cannes entry this year. Stars vet stage thesp Toni Servillo and Olivia Magnani. (The Works)
Quando sei nato non puoi piu nasconderti (Once You’re Born You Just Can’t Hide): is Marco Tullio Giordana’s latest pic. Coming-of-ager, currently shooting, is steeped in the reality of contempo multiracial Italy, starring Alessio Boni and Manuela Cescon. (Capitol Films)

*through September 2004

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