Territories tell the tale

Overseas box office totals for 2005 a mixed bag

Top 250 Films of 2005

AUSTRALIA
2005 B.O.: 585 million; % change from ’04: -10

More than any other foreign market, Australian audiences agreed that funny was money when it came to American comedies in 2005.

Case in point: “Meet the Fockers” nearly matched the Oz cume for “Star Wars Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” with $26 million.

“Wedding Crashers” took in an impressive $13 million, benefitting from a star tour by Owen Wilson and the popularity of Isla Fisher, an Aussie and former soap star. “The 40-Year-Old-Virgin” and “Monster-in-Law” each earned $7 million.

U.S. comedies generally find the going tough in overseas markets but Oz remains receptive to genre. “Generally the Australian audience is well plugged into U.S. media and culture,” UIP’s Mike Selwyn observes.

Australian-born actors can also boost local results as in the case of “The Interpreter,” goosed by a preem at the Sydney Opera House and extensive media support from star Nicole Kidman.

On the local front, “Wolf Creek” stood as a solid performer in a year that lacked a blockbuster on the scale of “Lantana” from five years ago. “Creek” was funded privately and tapped finishing funds from the government’s Film Finance Corp., acquired by Weinstein Co. then sold to Roadshow for Oz and New Zealand.

— By Michaela Boland

CHINA
China B.O. grosses are delayed due to holiday.

Like most other markets, Chinese audiences supported big-budget, big-action and big-cast pictures in 2005.

But the normal rules of releasing Hollywood movies in foreign countries scarcely apply when it comes to China. Not only is there a limit on the number of pics allowed into the country, the genres with playability are very limited: The censorship process rules out anything with horror or sexual content and puts a damper on romancers.

Despite all that, a few Hollywood titles showed significant traction, led by “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” “War of the Worlds” and “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.”

“Goblet” and “Sith” benefited from being the latest installments in well-known franchises while “War” had the trump cards of Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise — both household names in China — plus the combo of apocalyptic subject and top-notch effects. “Smith” scored on star power plus its status as the last Hollywood title to open before the annual July blackout.

U.S. comedies still don’t get a release in China and distribs barely even bother to present them to import agency China Film or the censors of the Film Bureau. The premise of “Wedding Crashers” would be anathema to many Chinese auds, though “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” would have plenty of resonance in the modern-day Middle Kingdom.

Family material usually has the best chance of a Chinese release.

“Big Momma’s House” and “Cheaper By the Dozen” have been exceptions to the no comedy rule a couple of years back and their sequels will be hoping for a quota slot this year. Unintentionally, Fox’s “Fantastic Four” was the nearest thing to a comedy in 2005.

Local fare highlights included fantasy actioner “The Promise,” time-traveling martial arts romp “The Myth” starring local hero Jackie Chan and “Seven Swords,” a martial arts drama by Tsui Hark. Other notables — “Initial D,” a contempo car chase thriller, actioner “Seoul Raiders” and musical drama “Perhaps Love.”

Though Hollywood is intent on working more closely with Chinese producers, none of the six involved Hollywood majors, although there were indie connections in the case of “Perhaps Love” and “The Promise.” All but “The Promise” had Hong Kong production involvement.

— By Patrick Frater

FRANCE
2005 B.O.: 1.1 billion; % change from ’04: -10

French moviegoing fell significantly in 2005 with disappointments coming from both U.S. and local fare.

The two brightest spots came from “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” the year’s highest grossing film with $46 million, and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” with $42 million.

But “Sith” finished well short of 2004’s French flick “Les Choristes” with $54 million. That pic took in nearly double the best French performer of 2005, surfing comedy “Brice de Nice” with $27.7 million.

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “War of the Worlds” turned in decent performances in France, but a lack of sleeper hits, as well as underperformers such as “Alexander,” “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Sin City,” didn’t do nearly as well as exhibs had hoped.

Exhibs note that the fact that fewer French hits were top earners also played a part in the lower figures. Six French pics were in the top 15 in 2004, while only four made the top 15 in 2005.

— By Liza Klaussmann

GERMANY
2005 B.O.: 853 million; % change from ’04: -17

German distribs and exhibs claim moviegoing has been hit harder than anywhere else in Europe with ticket sales down by nearly 20% in 2005.

Most oft-cited factors include growth in piracy, the trend towards waiting for DVD releases and local productions being unable to match up with the big hits of the preceding year.

But officials remain optimistic that the biz can swing upward in 2006, noting that  ticket sales were still higher than they were 10 years ago.

“The recent developments show that cinema is a cyclical business, and will remain so,” said HDF Kino topper Thomas Negele. “A temporary drain won’t be the end of cinema.”

A trio of Teutonic productions — comedy spoofs “Dreamship Surprise” and “7 Dwarves,” plus Hitler drama “The Downfall” — each attracted more than 4 million viewers in 2004. By contrast, local production “The White Massai” reached a mere 2 million in 2005.

Local productions took in 17% market share. Hollywood titles didn’t fare all that badly, some disappointments were obvious with “Fantastic Four” (partly a Teutonic production through Constantin film) and “Batman Begins,” both barely scratching the 1 million mark. “I do get the feeling that people are fed up with masked freaks,” says one cineplex booker, who also shares the belief of many colleagues that parades of sequels have become tiresome.

Reliable franchises like “Star Wars – Episode III” and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” along with “Madagascar,” highlighted the year with more than 6 million visitors each.

Optimism for local productions in 2006 centers on the sequel to “7 Dwarves” as well as kid pic “Hui Buh” with “Dreamship” helmer Michael Herbig. Big bets are also placed on Constantin’s $60 million-budgeted history thriller “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” by Tom Tykwer. 

— By Christian Koehl

ITALY
2005 B.O.: 650 million; % change from ’04: -7

Italian moviegoing in 2005 failed to come close to expectations that had been raised by an impressive 2004 with a drop of about 8%.

Nicola Grispello, film buyer and marketer for Warner Village cinemas, pointed out that only four monthly totals managed to exceed the 2004 figures — Italo comedy “Manuale D’amore” (Love Manual) brought March a 9% increase and October saw a 7.11% upswing due to Roberto Benigni’s “The Tiger and the Snow” (La Tigre e la Neve). June’s 38% increase is thanks to Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” and “Harry Potter” produced an 11% boost for November.

Italian audiences gave the most money to “Madagascar,” “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and “The Tiger and the Snow.” However Benigni’s pic came in well under expectations in what was taken as another sign of weary B.O. locally.

U.S. laffers generally delivered middling results except for “Meet the Fockers.” “American comedies do well when there are big stars and international humor,” said Domenico Dinoia, exhibitor and president of Italy’s art house theater association.

One local pic made major waves — “Melissa P,” adapted from a book on the real experiences of a sexually over active Sicilian teen. Representing Sony’s first foray into Italian production, “Melissa” performed more than respectably with over $7 million.

— By Sheri Jennings

JAPAN
Japan B.O. grosses are delayed due to holiday.

The Japanese market in 2005 will be only slightly off last year’s, despite so-so numbers for several Hollywood tentpoles.

Most bright spots have come from local product and Korean imports along with a few Hollywood over-achievers. Notable among the U.S. imports — Gaga’s “The Phantom of the Opera,”  which grossed $36 million (compared with $51 million in the US) and “Shall We Dance,” which took in $21 million to top the Japanese original as Richard Gere outdid himself in his Japan PR tour including a pas de deux with prime minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Warner took the top slot among Hollywood distribs with “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” leading the way and strong response to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,”  with Johnny Depp’s star power accounting for much of the $45 million take.

“Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” trailed only “The Goblet of Fire” at $78 million, down slightly from $80 million for “Star Wars: Episode II” in 2002. Japanese audiences also supported “War of the Worlds” with $60 million but reacted less positively to “King Kong” at the end of the year.

Hollywood comedies made little box office impression this year, but then, they seldom do, and some, such as “Napoleon Dynamite,” were not even theatrically released. The reason — Japanese are inundated with comedy shows on the tube and see little reason to pay the world’s highest ticket prices for more at the theater.

More disappointing were films that seemed tailored-made for the local market but proved a poor-to-mediocre fit. BVI saw lukewarm response to “Memoirs of Geisha” and mediocre reaction to “The Ring 2” with a paltry $2.5 million.

Among Japanese films, “Pocket Monster Advance Generation,” the latest installment in the Pokemon saga, was the leader at $37 million, followed closely at $36.5 million by “The Negotiator,” the latest spin-off from Fuji TV’s “Bayside Shakedown” comic thriller franchise. World War II drama “Yamato: The Last Battle” opened strongly on Dec. 12.

Meanwhile, Korean films have been smashing local box office records, led by Gaga’s “A Moment to Remember” ($26 million) and UIP’s “April Snow” ($23 million). The tear-jerkers are part of the “Korean Wave” (Hanryu) craze for all pop culture things Korean, a craze that shows every sign of continuing into 2006.

— By Mark Schilling

MEXICO
2005 B.O.: 534 million; % change from ’04: +6

The Mexican exhbition biz fared far better in 2005 that in many other major markets, coming in almost even with 2004 at around $580 million.

Still, the standstill performance had significant qualifications — Mexico added nearly 300 screens during 2004 (bringing total to more than 3,000) and increased ticket prices by 6% during the year. So ticket sales at theaters already open fell an average of 8%. Local pics had generally a bum year. Even though five more Mexican films were released in 2005 compared to 2004 (23 to 18), attendance for those pics was down by 2 million; Mexican films’ average gross slid 44%.

Pics aimed at the younger demo carried the show in 2005 — not surprising since 60% of the 104 million residents are under 35. “Fantastic Four” posted the year’s top gross with more than $22 million, thanks to its appeal to youth, popularity of the comic and the fact that it was the last of the summer blockbusters to open and dominated without major competition through July.

“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” ($19.6 million) and “Madagascar” ($18.3 million) took the next two slots.

Horror remained a respectable player in Mexico, particularly pics with religious angles. Alma Garcia, director of programming at Mexico’s No. 2 exhib Cinemex, noted that “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” pulled in nearly $7 million with a higher per screen average than in the U.S.

— Michael O’Boyle

RUSSIA
2005 B.O.: 340 million; % change from ’04: +27

Amid gloom in nearly every other major market, Russia and associated territories remained bright box office performers in 2005.

Box office for 2005 saw a healthy 27% gain to $340 million as of Dec. 1, according to one conservative estimate. Figures don’t include the Ukraine, a fast developing market in its own right, which is estimated to have taken more than $20 million.

Local production accounted for half the pics in the top 10, proof that 2004 hit “Night Watch” wasn’t a one-off, but rather the harbinger of rebirth of a local industry which is being strongly supported by viewers.

Top pic was Fyodor Bondarchuk’s “9th Company,” which took $23.5 million on almost 6 million tickets, followed by “Turkish Gambit” at $18.5 million. Other local hits in the top 10 — “The State Counsellor” ($7.4 million), “Shadow Boxing” ($7.2 million) and “Velvet Revolution” ($6.7 million).

“Velvet Revolution” was distibbed by a new outfit, Karoprokat, set up as a separate entity by major distributor Karo Premiere. Distribs have been bidding actively against one another to secure films.

As for U.S. product, UIP scored strongly with  “War of the Worlds” at $10.2 million, and “Madagascar” with $7.6 million. Indie distribber Central Partnership excelled to take no. 4 slot for “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” at $8.7 million, around $400,000 higher than “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith.”

Historical drama “Alexander” turned in one of its best perfs in Russia, coming in sixth place on $7.9 million, showing that Russian auds enjoy historic-epic material considerably more than most other foreign markets.

— Tom Birchenough

SOUTH KOREA
2005 B.O.: 880 million; % change from ’04: +19

Powered by local titles, South Korea showed a sturdy 19% gain in moviegoing revenues to about $880 million in one of the few international bright spots in 2005.

South Korean audiences remained characteristically fickle in 2005, with only four U.S. films nearing or passing the $20 million mark — “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” ($21.8 million), “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” ($21.5 million after four weeks), “The Island” ($21.1 million), and “War of the Worlds” ($19.8 million).

Unexpected mid-level successes included “Phantom of the Opera” at $12.3 million and “Alexander” at $10.3 million — a shade below the $10.6 million taken by “Star Wars: Episode III.” Romantic dramas continued to be a better bet than American comedies as “Meet the Fockers” ($1.6 million) was outshone by Jennifer Love Hewitt’s “About Love” ($2.2 million), for example.

Market share for Hollywood amounted to roughly 36%, compared to a boffo 57% for Korean pics.  Local titles also accounted for the four top grossers of the year: war drama “Welcome to Dongmakgol” ($49.2 million), comedy “Marrying the Mafia 2”  ($34.8 million), human drama “Marathon” ($31.9 million), and sequel “Another Public Enemy” ($24.1 million).

Despite the current strength of Korean cinema, U.S. studios have yet to seriously pursue co-financing opportunities in the territory. New Line Cinema stepped in with partial coin for $6 million martial arts fantasy “Shadowless Sword” with Taewon Entertainment, which took a mild $4.9 million on local release in November, but may have better potential abroad.

Korea’s Screen Quota system, which allocates 30% to 40% of annual screenings to local pics, is seen as a key factor in tilting the market towards Korean entries.

— Darcy Paquet

SPAIN
2005 B.O.: 735 million; % change from ’04: -10

Spanish exhibbers spent 2005 pining for another “Lord of the Rings.”

No such luck. “Almost every high-profile film made significantly less than in other major international territories,” notes Yelmo Cineplex development director Pablo Nogueroles.

Key reason — many big films didn’t connect with Spanish audiences, according to cinema booker Roberto Bayon. And young Spaniards are turning to alternative leisure options, such as vidgames and the Internet, notes Nielsen EDI Spain managing director Jose Manuel Pimienta.

So Spain’s B.O. plunged. Per Nielsen EDI Spain, full year B.O. will fall 10% vs. 2004 to around Euros 613 million ($716.5 million). Admissions will drop 14% to 121 million, compared to 2004, and way below 2001’s 146 million.

Underperformers included “Hitch” ($8.1 million), “The Island,” ($8.9 million) and “Batman Begins” ($8.4 million, despite upbeat word-of-mouth). Overperformers were few-and-far-between: “Meet the Fockers” ($16.1 million), “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” ($15.0 million), “Kingdom of Heaven” ($14.1 million) and “The Fantastic Four” ($15.0 million) while “Madagascar” ($16.2 million) and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” ($20.3 million) lived up to expectations.

U.S. comedy hit “Wedding Crashers” ($3.8 million) was lukewarm after being released against local blockbuster “Torrente 3” ($20.9 million). Exhibitors expected more from “The 40-Year-Old-Virgin” ($3.5 million).

Spanish films were steady with a 2005 market share up to 15%. Besides “Kingdom of Heaven” (co-produced by Spain’s KanZaman) and “Torrente 3” ($20.9 million), eight other Spanish pics grossed $3 million plus.

Despite the downbeat news, Spain’s moviegoers showed a continued taste for upscale and speciality titles including “Million Dollar Baby,” ($14.8 million), “Match Point” ($6.7 million), “The Merchant of Venice” ($3.2 million) and “The Constant Gardener” ($5.5 million). “A film with content, quality and some commercial heft, has an audience in Spain,” notes Bayon.

— John Hopewell

UNITED KINGDOM
2005 B.O.: 1.4 billion; % change from ’04: +1

Final box office figures for the UK/Ireland market reported Friday by statistics trackers Nielsen EDI showed the territory improved on 2004’s record box office by 1%.

Though 2005’s final take slid slightly from 2004, family pics and comedies kept the British box office from tanking on the same scale as other Western European markets.

The Nielsen EDI results for the official box office year – measured from January 7, 2005 to January 5, 2006 – showed the UK year finished on $1.44bn (£840.35m).

These figures include the Republic of Ireland. Final figures for Ireland are expected early next week but throughout the year Ireland has seen figures more in line with the rest of Europe suggesting that without Ireland’s box office, which was approximately 11%-14% down year-on-year, the UK would have seen a more significant rise.

An odd pair of titles — “Meet the Fockers” ($50.3 million) and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” ($65.5 million) — represented the standouts among pics that smashed expectations in 2006 as both doubled original forecasts.

Adult comedies such as “The Wedding Crashers” ($23 million) and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” ($13 million) disproved the theory that U.S. comedies without big stars don’t travel well.

Family-skewed pics with strong UK components also performed well, notably “Wallace And Gromit” ($55.9 million) and “Nanny McPhee” ($28.6 million). Both triggered an admissions boom needed from October to the end of the year, notes Andrew Turner, head of film buying for Cineworld.

Other pics performing well on a more modest scale — “Crash” ($10.4 million) “Closer” ($14.7 million), “White Noise” ($11.3 million) “Monster-in-Law” ($11.1 million) “Pride And Prejudice” ($25.5 million) and “The Interpreter” ($12.6 million).

Among the flops — Guy Ritchie’s ill-fated return to the gangster genre “Revolver” ($3.15 million), “Cinderella Man” ($3.98 million) and Ice Cube starrer “XXX2” ($4.7 million.)

Exhibitors were hoping for better perfs from local productions “Kinky Boots” ($5.3 million), “Mrs Henderson Presents” ($4.89 million). Neil Marshall’s horror vehicle “The Descent” ($4.7 million) opened amid sensational reviews and strong industry support but faced the misfortune of opening July 7, the day of the terrorist attacks on London.

— Archie Thomas

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