‘Volver’ turns heads and bests ‘Borat’

Pedro Almodovar’s “Volver” notched up a hometurf career best for the director with $13 million in grosses. That was, for example, much better than “Borat,” which pulled in a measly $2.7 million.

A handful of other local films also did decently.

Swashbuckler “Alatriste,” with Viggo Mortensen, topped Almodovar’s take with $22 million, while Emilio Martinez Lazaro’s “The 2 Sides of the Bed,” a 2005 holdover, grossed $10 million.

Still, only eight Spanish films, including co-productions “Pan’s Labyrinth” ($9.4 million), “Perfume” ($7.5 million) and “The Borgias” ($8.6 million) were definable as hits.

Of Spanish producers, only broadcasters have the financial muscle and marketing clout to turn out films with high production values without facing large financial risk.

Partly as a result, Spanish films’ total domestic grosses are usually too small ($110 million-$150 million), and their market share too modest (13%-17%) to noticeably impact American movies.

If there is a link between Spanish and U.S. fare, recent stats suggest it’s not a win-win scenario.

Since 2002 every year that Spanish films’ total B.O. has risen (2003, 2005), B.O. for U.S. movies has fallen — and vice-versa (2002, 2004, 2006).

On the other hand, Hollywood does benefit from vibrant local films: This year, four of the six highest-grossing Spanish films were distributed by major studios.

The bad news is that folks are not rushing to movie theaters the way they used to.

“There’s now an apparent limit to people’s interest in seeing movies in theaters,” says cinema booker Roberto Bayon.

If they can’t get into the Spanish film they want to see, rather than spilling over into a neighboring theater, they may just choose to catch it free on a peer-to-peer Internet site. (Spanish piracy levels are the highest of Europe’s “big five” countries.)

Some exhibs even blame the lack of enthusiasm for moviegoing on global warming. “With a summery fall, people prefer to take their children to parks or shopping malls rather than to cinemas,” Bayon points out.

Still, a 5% hike in ticket prices helped push total B.O. to $754 million through Dec. 7, 3% up on 2005. Maintaining that uptick, it would come in at $850 million, the second best monetary result in history.

But total tix sold through Dec. 7 reached just 109 million, 2% below 2005.

The country’s challenge is to better last year’s 128 million tickets sold, currently the worst tally since Spain’s 1936-39 Civil War.

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Main story: Hollywood vs. home movies

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