Italo B.O. falls by half as H’w’d nabs coin

Ignored down home

SORRENTO, Italy — Adding a further chill to the current frosty climate for homegrown productions, figures just released for Italy’s 1999-2000 box office season show the market share for local features dropping by half, leaving Hollywood product to reap the benefits and consolidate its grip on the country’s moviegoers.

Preliminary totals for the season that began last August and which is currently drawing to a close were announced last week in Sorrento, during the Italian exhibition sector’s annual trade show. That event was marked also by an increasingly bitter division between the country’s multiplex operators and traditional single-screen exhibs.

Despite an 18.5% increase in the number of screens in Italy as multiplexing continues to transform the national exhibition network, overall admissions remained largely static, registering only a 2% increase. A total of 68.9 million tickets were sold during the season, generating grosses of $373 million and representing a minimal improvement of 3.8%.

Christmas doldrums

With no runaway local hit to dominate the crucial Christmas period, Italian films slumped badly. Admissions for national productions totaled 8.4 million, down from 17 million the previous season, with their market share sliding from 28% to a low of 14%. Decline paved the way for U.S. films to increase their lead from last season’s 57% to a current 64%.

Additional revenues are expected this year from a stronger than usual summer lineup led by May release “Gladiator,” which should continue to perform steadily over the coming months, and “Mission: Impossible 2,” which opens wide July 7. But these only stand to widen the dramatic gap between the results of local product and imports.

Top five earners for the season were “Runaway Bride,” “American Beauty,” “Tarzan,” “Notting Hill” and “The Sixth Sense.” UIP scored the highest number of admissions of all distributors in Italy, followed by Buena Vista and Cecchi Gori.

Only two Italian titles figured in the season’s top 10: “The Fish in Love” in eighth position and “Christmas Vacation 2000” in tenth. The declining success of local films is attributed mainly to the absence this year of megahits like “Life Is Beautiful” and to the subpar performance of recent entries from such proven hitmakers as actor-directors Leonardo Pieraccioni, Carlo Verdone and Francesco Nuti.

Marginalized by multiplexes

Underlining that multiplexes provide a boost mainly to more commercial product but only a marginal one to European cinema, the study showed that while the arthouse titles generated only 7% of their grosses in plexes and 93% in regular city cinemas, the mainstream pics earned 27% of their revenues in plexes and 73% elsewhere.

“An accentuated fragmentation of the public is evident from this analysis,” commented ANEC prexy Ernesto Di Sarro.

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