Islamic terrorism-themed comedy breaks records

ROME — Italian cinema is hotter than ever at the buoyant local box office, which in 2010 rose 17% to $947 million in grosses, with Hollywood still commanding a more than 60% share.

And 2011 just got off to a stellar start with local laffer “Che Bella Giornata,” an Islamic terrorism-themed comedy starring TV comic Checco Zalone, pulverizing the nation’s box office records this weekend, bowing at $24 million in five days via Medusa and ousting “Avatar” as Italy’s biggest alltime opener.

In 2010 Italo admissions grew 11% to 109 million — well over the country’s 100 million admissions benchmark — with local titles accounting for a 30% share.

“Avatar” easily conquered the country’s numero uno slot last year, with an $85 million Italo haul, followed by “Alice in Wonderland,” which drew $39 million in Italy, where nearly one-fourth of the existing roughly 4,000 screens is now converted for 3D use.

But despite the 3D Yank invasion and some strong 2D Hollywood titles, such as “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” Italo pics impressively conquered four of the year’s top 10 slots, starting with “Benvenuti al Sud,” a local remake of Gallic megahit “Welcome to the Sticks,” which weighed in at number three, pulling $38.5 million in 2010, and still counting, via Medusa, making “Benvenuti” Italy’s top locally-produced grosser ever.

This positive trend for Italian cinema now looks likely to grow. Besides “Che Bella Giornata,” the tale of a security guard at Milan’s famous Duomo cathedral who becomes entangled with an Arab girl with a terrorist bent, now doing boffo biz, a slew of strong local titles is slated to follow throughout 2011, including romcom “Manuale D’amore 3″ (Ages of Love), starring Robert De Niro and Monica Bellucci, Fox’s gangster pic “Vallanzasca” and Nanni Moretti-helmed “We Have a Pope.”

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