European films account for third of market

MOSCOW — European movie theaters broke box-office records last year with Euros 6.4 billion ($8.26 billion) banked, with European films, boosted by popular local comedies, accounting for nearly a third of the market.

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

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.

High points of the year include: Crowd-pleasing European comedies that helped drive up European market share from 25.2% to 28.5% in 2011; a new record for European Union film production, with 1,285 features (including documentaries) produced in 2011; and continuing development of digital screens, with France and the U.K. leading the score table on new screens.

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.)

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

European films clawed back market share last year after two years in which U.S. 3D blockbusters made big advances, with a return to market shares last seen in 2008.

There were signs of a dip in market 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” (U.K.), “Kokowaah” (Germany) and “Che bella giornata” (Italy).

France was leader for European films, accounting for 10.5% of all EU admissions, with Italian second (4.6%), and U.K. and Germany equal third with 3.7% market share each.

Digital screen penetration was highest in the U.K. at 72% (2,724 digital screens); digital penetration in France is 67%, where there are 3,656 digital screens. Digital penetration in German and Russia is above 50%, but Southern European countries such as Spain and Italy are lagging behind with less than 40% digital screens in each.

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