While Hollywood might have moved away from producing mid-budget movies for adults, Spain has moved in. Two broadcaster-backed production houses, Mediaset España’s Telecinco Cinema and Atresmedia Cine, can now create event movies that can blow even Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters out of the water in Spain.
They have snagged Academy Award nominations, including for Naomi Watts in “The Impossible,” and yielded some of the world’s highest-grossing independent movies; “The Impossible” garnered $180 million worldwide. Though all made out of Spain, given their high budgets, they attract Hollywood partners, especially if shot in English. Produced by Apaches Ent., Telecinco Cinema and Peliculas La Trini, “A Monster Calls” was financed and distributed by Focus Features, River Road, Participant Media and Lionsgate.
They also look set to yield some of Spain’s biggest international sellers, such as Telecinco Cinema’s upcoming “Marrowbone,” a Cannes 2016 sales hit for Lionsgate.
Why Mediaset España and Atresmedia Cine are leaning into event movies is another matter.
“Atresmedia Cine and Telecinco Cinema have made a virtue out of necessity,” says Pablo Carrera, principal analyst, cinema, IHS technology.
Since 1999, both are required by law, in an optional transposition of the EU Television Without Frontiers Directive, to designate a percentage of annual revenues into Spanish or European films, pre-buying or co-producing projects.
That percentage is traditionally low, just 3%. But as Mediaset España and Atresmedia Group’s yearly revenues have grown — from 2009-16, the companies’ revenues increased 51% and 45% to €992 million ($1.09 billion) and $1.12 billion, respectively, as Spain has clawed its way out of a recession — that obligatory investment has grown as well. Both are seeking to meet it by a smaller number of larger films.
“We can’t just make €3 million-budgeted [$3.3 million] comedies. Besides, we’d have to make 15 a year,” says Mercedes Gamero, Atresmedia Cine CEO. Furthermore, making bigger films is “part of our obligation to help Spanish cinema grow, getting the Spanish public used to high-end Spanish cinema.”
Big Spanish movies also play well in Antena 3’s Sunday evening movie slot. “It’s good for audiences to watch them in the same slot as Hollywood blockbusters,” she adds.
Moving into event movies, both Telecinco Cinema and Atresmedia Cine can be encouraged by recent results. From 2002 to 2010, only one Spanish movie, J.A. Bayona’s “The Orphanage,” topped Spanish box office charts. Since 2011, Atresmedia Cine and Telecinco Cinema movies have maxed out at No. 1 on five of the past six years. Two Bayona movies have seen off all Hollywood competition: 2012’s “The Impossible” ($54.5 million) and 2016’s “A Monster Calls” ($28.2 million) with Liam Neeson and Sigourney Weaver.
2014’s chart-topper, Basque Country culture clash comedy “Spanish Affair,” grossed $77.5 million, four times the take of its nearest Hollywood rival, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” ($17.5 million).
Imposing an obligation on broadcasters to invest in local movies, Jose Luis Aznar’s government copied French stipulations. But Spain’s regulations differ in two crucial aspects. There is no limitation on primetime advertising of movies, as in France. And broadcasters can not only pre-buy but also co-produce movies.
“Telecinco Cinema is embedded in a very aggressive media group willing to promote the hell out of the movies produced by its subsidiary,” says Ghislain Barrois, Telecinco Cinema CEO. “The promotion without the film behind it just doesn’t work, and vice versa.”
“A limited production slate maintains the uniqueness of each cinema event,” says Carrera.
Co-producing, Telecinco Cinema “can diversify risk across results from broadcast, theatrical and second windows in Spain and international,” Barrois says, not risking everything on broadcast, allowing for a “more varied” slate than French counterparts who can just pre-buy movies.
Barrois’ comments are borne out by both companies’ 2017 slates. Telecinco Cine’s biggest plays this year range from the Lionsgate-sold chiller “Marrowbone” to a Congo-set thriller, “Sara’s Notebook.” Atresmedia Cine’s biggest movies include “Gun City,” a 1920s Barcelona gangster movie; Conquistador epic “Gold”; and China-set fantasy toon “Dragonkeeper.”
“Both production houses have developed and nurtured relationships with key and new creative talent and Spain’s main production houses,” Carrera says.
Above all, big Spanish movies may resonate more with Spanish audiences than their Hollywood counterparts.
That could be a question of demography. As with much of Europe, Spanish theatrical audiences may skew much older than in the U.S: In France in 2015, those over age 50 represented 43.5% of theatrical audiences, the CNC estimates.
“Hollywood caters to teenagers in the U.S. and Asia. That leaves a big chunk of Europe hungry for more elaborate stories,” Barrois says.
Also, outside of sports, Spain loves to laugh at its heroes: After all, Cervantes wrote “Don Quixote” to make people laugh. Two of Telecinco Cine’s biggest upcoming titles, “Tad Jones, the Hero Returns” and “Superlopez,” indeed spoof Hollywood super-hero behemoths with their own more bathetic counterparts.
Meanwhile Spain, the world’s 13th biggest movie market, ranked just 18th in box office on “Captain America: Civil War.”
“Live-action hero movies have a lower roof in Spain than many other territories,” Gamero says. “U.S. comics are pop culture, but not our pop culture.”