‘Ice Age’ heats up lukewarm industry

The only local film to catch on bigtime was the animated “Una pelicula de huevos” (The Egg Film), distribbed by Televisa’s film arm Videocine. Based on an Internet toon that had grown virally, “Huevos” racked up $13 million, making it the second highest grossing local film ever, behind the Gael Garcia Bernal sleeper “El Crimen de Padre Amaro.”

“Huevos” bested “Scary Movie 4″ in its opening weekend, two weekends after “Ice Age 2″ melted hearts in March. “Ice Age 2″ was the top grosser for 2006, with $30 million, and the new all-time top earner for Mexico; “Huelvos” became the seventh top grossing film of the year.

Unfortunately, the local film industry as a whole is struggling to stay alive.

” ‘Huevos’ was a big hit, but we are still pretty far from having a big participation from local films on the national level,” said 20th Century Fox managing director Juan Carlos Lazo.

But as in many other territories, Hollywood is coming to the rescue on the local front. Warners, Sony and Disney produced their first films since staffing local offices.

The first to hit the theaters was Warner’s “Side Effects,” co-produced with Videocine and funds from the government. (That’s right: The same majors that went to the Mexican Supreme Court to knock down a 10-cent B.O. tax to fund local films are not above taking government cash to make their own films.)

“Side Effects,” the directorial debut of scribe Issa Lopez, became the second biggest grossing domestic film of the year, with $4.3 million.

Excluding “Huevos,” average B.O. take for the other 27 local releases was less than $500,000.

The past year showed, once again, that local films don’t have a chance if they aren’t backed by a major publicity campaign. Warner spent $1 million promoting “Side Effects,” Fox did the same on “Mundo” and Televisa used its entire media apparatus to push “Huevos.”

Majors have also been pushing up the average number of prints for tentpoles. Local films that don’t hit big aren’t left up on screens for more than a week, two at best, leaving little time for word of mouth to build.

So, while Hollywood has seen little crimping of its grosses, local producers bemoan bomb after local bomb. They snipe at the quality of one another’s films, saying poorly executed projects drive Mexicans away from local fare in favor of Hollywood films.

Still, Mexicans this year didn’t like their American superheroes to be bland: “Superman Returns” for one slumped at local wickets.

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