Releasing gap hurts box office

ROME — Will Italo auds be forever confined to being out of synch with hot pics as they galvanize the rest of the planet?

As “Borat” and “Bond” are putting smiles on Euro exhibs’ faces, Italians have been forced to make do with local laffer “Anplagged” — an intentional misspelling of the word “unplugged.” The Italian box office is hurting, and local industryites don’t think it’s funny.

Until August, Italo box office was up 15% compared with last year. But after a bloodbath that started in September, grosses are now only up 4%, and the year is not likely to end with a plus sign.

“Is it possible that we are always the last?” bemoans Warner Village Cinemas Italy commercial director Nicola Grispello, pointing to the fact that by the time “Casino Royale” bows on the Italian boot, on Jan. 5, it will have been seen already in more than 70 countries, including Egypt and Estonia.

For “Borat,” Italians will have to wait even longer, since they won’t be getting the Fox comedy until February.

“We just can’t keep on being different from other European territories,” Grispello warns.

The root of Italy’s distribution dysfunction lies in its summer release hiatus, an age-old problem in this beach-blessed nation. It pushes releases forward and creates a ghastly glut.

The summer lull also sparked a windows spat recently, after Universal announced that “Miami Vice” would be going out on DVD in December, in time to stuff stockings, but also just eight weeks after the Michael Mann pic — a summer title elsewhere in Europe — had opened in Italy in October, and was still playing on local screens. Fierce protests forced U to reverse its decision and prompted a pact for a 15-week window, narrower than most other Euro territories, but one local industryites can live with.

“The life of a movie in theaters rarely goes beyond three months,” says UIP Italy topper Richard Borg, who was instrumental in brokering the gentleman’s agreement.

Incidentally, UIP is releasing “The Holiday” in Italy in February, after the holidays are over “because of the Christmas glut,” Borg says. The Nancy Meyers romantic comedy goes out in most other European territories in December, more or less day-and-date with the pic’s Stateside release.

Italy’s Christmas glut is due to the usual onslaught of trashy comedies.

For “Borat,” other considerations have contributed to the releasing gap.

“Italy isn’t ready for Borat yet,” says Fox Italy topper Osvaldo De Santis. “Sacha Baron Cohen until very recently was totally unknown here. We have a precise marketing strategy to build up his character, which I think is going to work well.”

As for “Bond,” Sony Pictures Releases Italia topper Paulo Simoes says the late release date was the norm. “Traditionally, Bond usually comes out in February in Italy,” Simoes notes. “So we’ve actually anticipated the date.”

Meanwhile, the majors and local distribs are gearing up to get rid of the anomaly.

Come next summer, Italos will be getting an onslaught of pics including Sony’s “Spider-Man 3,” Buena Vista’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” UIP’s “Transformers,” and Fox’s “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” day-and-date with the rest of the globe. Finally.

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