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United Kingdom

Indies grab bigger market share

LONDON — The cake has been sliced a bit more evenly among the U.K.’s indie distribs in 2004.

For once, box office hits have been enjoyed across a half-dozen companies, rather than concentrated solely in the hands of Nigel and Trevor Green’s Entertainment Film Distributors.

But while no one is starving, no one is exactly getting fat either, as competition for the crumbs left by the Hollywood majors gets more intense.

British indies rely almost exclusively upon American filmmakers to supply their B.O. beef. The Greens still topped the indie league with a 7.7% share for the year up through September, led by “Dawn of the Dead” ($10 million) and “Around the World in 80 Days” ($7.5 million).

Icon scored big with “The Passion of the Christ” ($19.9 million) and “21 Grams” ($4.6 million), taking a 2.8% share. Momentum also grabbed 2.8%, thanks to “Lost in Translation” ($18.1 million) and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” ($9.1 million).

Pathe had “Girl With the Pearl Earring” ($6.8 million), the only British movie to figure in the indie top 10. “Fahrenheit 9/11” ($11.6 million) gave Optimum its best-ever result, while Redbus took a bite with “Open Water” ($8 million). Even Metrodome hit the charts with “Monster” ($4.6 million).

These hits have pushed the indie market share up to 16% in 2004’s first nine months, compared with 14.5% in the same period of 2003. Box office overall is up 6% to $1.01 billion. (That excludes holdovers from 2003 including “Elf” and the final installment of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, both from Entertainment.)

“It’s been nice to see one or two films work really well, but in between the hits it’s been tough,” says Sally Caplan, Icon’s prexy of distribution. “The smaller movies have a hard time in a very crowded marketplace. You’re reliant on two circuits supporting you, City Screen and Mainline, and if they don’t, you’re dead.”

“Girl With a Pearl Earring” aside, all the British movies released by indies have been flops — such as “Tooth” (Redbus), “Sex Lives of the Potato Men” (Entertainment), “Sylvia” (Icon) and “Stage Beauty” (Momentum).

Nonetheless, the strength of the DVD business, and a marginally more welcoming acquisitions policy by satcaster BSkyB, has encouraged a handful of new niche distribs to launch, including Frank Mannion’s Swipe and Julia Short and Colin Birch’s Verve.

Bollywood trade remains robust, with specialist outfits Eros Intl. and Yash Raj leading that market.

United Kingdom at a glance

B.O.: $1.01 billion*
Top title: “Shrek 2” (UIP, $86 million*)
Recent pickups:
“House of Flying Daggers” (Pathe)
“Inside Deep Throat” (Momentum)
“Kidnapped” (Icon)
“Saint Ralph” (Redbus)
“3-Iron” (Optimum)

Titles at AFM
Chromophobia: Seven disparate lives intertwine in Martha Fiennes’ (“Onegin”) dark drama, shot in Isle of Man and London. Cast includes Penelope Cruz, Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Rhys Ifans and Ben Chaplin. (Lumina)
Match Point: Woody Allen goes native in London, with Scarlett Johansson to add spice. (HanWay Films)
Henderson Presents: WWII-era dramedy with Judi Dench as the wealthy widow who brought naked flesh to the London stage, helmed by Stephen Frears. (Pathe Pictures Intl.)

* through September 2004

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