‘Da Vinci’ wows Italian audiences

The B.O. share for local movies remained unvaried in Italy in 2006, a lackluster year during which most Italo titles took unexpected beatings.

Nanni Moretti’s satirical anti-Berlusconi drama “The Caiman” did manage to gross the highest take in the auteur’s 14-film career, but that was an exception.

At the same time, several high-profile Hollywood films failed to fly, while others were held hostage to release dates out of sync with the rest of the planet.

Italo B.O. was up almost 2% million in mid-December, with the year expected to close on a par with 2005. That’s in sharp contrast with France and Germany, which were both blessed with double-digit growth largely thanks to homegrown booms.

Italo films were expected to reach a 24% share by the end of 2006, roughly the same as 2005.

Besides “Caiman,” which took in $8.5 million, the more mainstream local standouts were two comedies with cross-generational appeal: king of comedy Carlo Verdone’s “My Best Enemy,” the top local grosser with a $24 million take, and first-time helmer Fausto Brizzi’s “Night Before Finals,” at No. 2 with $16 million, the year’s only sleeper. The third Italo performer was trashy comedy “Really SSSupercool: Chapter Two.”

These films were released during the first half of 2006 when admissions were perky, whereas the summer, dominated by World Cup soccer (won by Italy), was followed by a fall bloodbath, which underscored the limitations of the Venice and Rome fests in September and October, respectively.

“Venice and Rome were both useless, especially in promoting Italian movies that could have acted as attendance-drivers,” says Warner Village Cinemas chief programmer Nicola Grispello.

“The Devil Wears Prada,” did decent biz ($18.5 million) after launching from the Lido. But fall launches of Emanuele Crialese’s Venice critical darling “The Golden Door” and Giuseppe Tornatore’s dark “The Unknown,” which preemed in Rome, both did disappointingly.

Hollywood titles that elsewhere had been summer films but were Italo fall releases played below par, such as “Superman Returns” ($7 million) and “Miami Vice” ($4.4 million). Even “Pirates of the Caribbean 2,” which pulled in $26 million after a September bow, was considered an underperformer in Italy.

That said, “Pirates” is the year’s second top grosser, after “The Da Vinci Code” ($38 million) and ahead of “Ice Age 2″ ($24 million).

Italy’s age-old summer release hiatus caused such a glut come September that Fox and Sony held up two hot films, “Borat” and “Casino Royale,” until 2007, exasperating exhibs.

The outlook for next year looks encouraging, though, because the majors and local distribs are gearing up to normalize the country’s release patterns. A slew of summer sequels — “Spider-Man 3,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” and “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” — are due out day-and-date with the rest of Europe.

And some promising Italo titles are coming up, including bestseller-based teen film “Ho Voglia di Te” (I Want You), which will be released by Warner Bros.

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