Euro theaters see record share in 2011

European movie theaters broke box office records last year, chalking up €6.4 billion ($8.26 billion), as Euro films, boosted by popular local comedies, accounted for nearly a third of the market.

While leading territories, including Spain and Italy, took B.O. tumbles, losses were offset by a 6.2% gain in fast-growing Russia and 4% rises in the U.K. and in Germany.

In difficult economic conditions, B.O. takings nudged up by 0.7% from the 2010 figure of $8.22 million, with admissions flat at an estimated 962 million tickets sold last year, show figures from the European Audiovisual Observatory, which released its report Monday.

The Observatory, a European Commission body that gathers and distributes film and TV industry information, said that although the strong upward trend in European B.O. has slowed in the past two years, European exhibition and production remains strong.

Crowd-pleasing European comedies helped drive up the continental market share from 25.2% to 28.5% in 2011 while a new record for European Union film production was set, with 1,285 features (including documentaries) produced in 2011.

Top films last year by admissions were “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2″ (37.5 million tickets sold), “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” (25.1 million tickets) and “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1″ (21.9 million tickets).

The second-most-watched European film, after “Harry Potter,” was the U.K.’s “The King’s Speech,” which had 19.8 million admissions.

There was a dip in share for 3D movies, which, despite an increase in releases from 28 in 2010 to 47 in 2011, accounted for only 20% of market share last year, compared with 24% in 2010.

Market share for U.S. films fell from 68.5% to 61.4% — the lowest figure since 2001.

National market share increased in 15 of the 23 EU member countries, thanks largely to local comedies such as “Intouchables” (France), “The Inbetweeners Movie” (U.K.), “Kokowaah” (Germany) and “Che bella giornata” (Italy).

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