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European box office erratic in 2007

Local films help British B.O. rise eight percent

MADRID Europe’s five top box office markets may be fairly close together, but their 2007 performance was all over the map.

Italian culture czar Francesco Rutelli had waxed grandiosely about a national film market renaissance, and turned out to be largely right. Total ’07 Italo box office proved the highest in a decade: 114 million admissions, good for about E600 million ($885.2 million).

And an upswing in support for local titles helped British B.O. rise 8% last year to $1.8 billion, the biggest yearly total since records began. 

But in Germany and France, the news was not so good, with drops of 7% and 5% respectively.

Spain was fairly flat, with a 1% B.O. gain — not enough, considering the overbuilt exhibition market. In September, Abaco, Spain’s second-biggest loop, filed for Chapter 11.

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In dollar grosses, what studios care about, Europe’s biggest five film markets — repping 80% of Western European B.O. — had a bonanza year.

With the Euro up 14% against the greenback over the last twelve months, total ’07 Big Five B.O. reached $6.25 billion.

But in local currencies and admissions, a surer sign of underlying trends, Western Europe told a different story.

Overall, 2007 B.O. was fairly flat, ticking up 1%. Total tix sold edged down 0.1%.

While the territories share certain global trends, performance varied due to several factors:

  • Cultural patriotism, a fixture in France, but now spreading to Blighty;

  • local pic perfs — robust in Italy and the U.K., down in France, significantly soft in Germany and Spain;

  • piracy — rampant in Spain, more tempered in the U.K.

  • the maturity of exhibition markets.

The real story behind the U.K.’s stellar numbers lies in how well local films performed.

“It’s something that’s changed so much. There’s now a domestic British audience for English-language British films who will come out when they’re catered to,” says Tim Bevan, co-topper at Working Title, which produced hit Brit comedies “Mr. Bean’s Holiday” ($43.6 million) and “Hot Fuzz,” ($40.9 million), as well as “Atonement” ($23.5 million).

Some studio-made pics with key British creative elements also posted better-than-expected numbers.

“Sometimes if a film is local or feels local, it can do disproportionately well,” says Warner U.K.’s topper Josh Berger. U’s “Stardust,” helmed by Brit Matthew Vaugh, nearly matched its U.S. cume in the U.K., with $30.3 million.

New Line’s “The Golden Compass,” based on books from Blighty author Philip Pullman, grossed $43.8 million in Britain, more than doubling France ($20.3 million), Spain ($16.1 million), Italy ($13 million) or Germany ($16.45 million).

Local pics helped drive the successful territories. Tellingly, six British films were among the U.K’s top 20, Italy had seven local top-20 pics, France five, Spain just two.

Led by “Manual of Love 2” ($28 million), Italian films built their market share from 24% to 31%. 

In 2007, big French films, such as “La Vie en Rose,” weren’t as big as in 2006. And a bevy of potential hits — “Le Deuxieme souffle,” “Danny the Dog”  — underperformed,” says Serge Siritzky, editor of Ecran Total.

According to Arne Shmidt, at Teuton exhib chain Cinemaxx, German films also failed to fire at 2006 levels, despite a late-year rally from Michael Herbig’s “Lissi” ($20.0 million) and Til Schweiger’s “Keinohrhasen” ($13.65 million).

Spain had to rely on two genre movies to rep local production: “The Orphanage” ($38.5 million), numero uno on ’07 charts, and “REC” with $11.4 million.

Spain’s struggles are due to a combination of problems.

Spain’s languishing B.O, says a studio exec, stems from “new youth leisure habits, soft local pics, and rampant piracy.

“The last factor,” he adds, “hits hardest.”

An MPA/LEC study for 2005, the latest available, suggests 32% of MPA member revenues were lost to piracy in Spain, vs. 11% for Germany, 14% in Britian, 20% in France, 22% in Italy.

“It’s clear that piracy levels are very high and appear to harm box office as well as home entertainment,” says Chris Marcich of MPA Europe.

Unlike in Spain, the Italian market suggests more potential for long-term growth.

“A key for Italy is to try to get people into cinemas over the summer period. We were pretty successful last year as an industry with ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Transformers,’ but we still have a long way to go,” says Par international topper Andrew Cripps.

Generally, Western Europe markets will be film-driven.

“To sustain Italian growth, we need more screens, but for that, we have to ensure strong year-round product,” says Paolo Protti, prexy of Italo distributors association ANEC.

For really rampant structural growth in Europe, look East.

Market growth in Eastern Europe, plus further dollar slides, could turn Europe into the world’s biggest theatrical market in dollar terms in three to four years.

Adam Dawtrey, Nick Vivarelli and Ed Meza contributed to this report.