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Crisis slams Hollywood in Southern Europe

3D fires up Germany; local fare boosts France, U.K.

Hollywood may be buoyant in Germany and solid in France — but it’s hurting in southern Europe.

Drawing a distinct north-south divide, full year 2011 figures for most of Europe’s Big Five countries raise a clear question: Are U.S. 3D films, whose premium ticket prices are driving box office hikes in the north of the continent, too costly for cash-cautious families in the south?

German B.O. grew 3.8% in 2011 to $1.17 billion, thanks largely to 3D perfs of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2” ($74.1 million) and “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”($57 million), plus German comedy hit “Kokowaah” ($39.3 million). Eight out of Germany’s top 10 films were Hollywood fare.

France smashed all-time records in 2011. Tix sales rose 4.2% to 216 million, repping around $1.9 billion.

Goosed by a 2.5% rise in value added tax, 2011 U.K. B.O. is nearly 4% up on 2010 at around £1.1 billion ($1.7 billion).

In France and U.K., local fare — French comedies “Intouchables” ($138.7 million) and “Nothing to Declare” ($67 million); in Blighty “The Inbetweeners” ($73.4 million), “The King’s Speech” ($71.7 million) and U.K.-U.S. hybrid “Hallows, Part 2” ($118.6 million) — largely explain B.O. spikes.

“U.K. cinema has had a really buoyant year,” said Film Distributors’ Assn. CEO Mark Batey. “Local product last year has just performed out of its skin. U.K. cinemagoing has proved to be resistant to the recession.”

Italy and Spain hardly invite such optimism, with Hollywood losing significant traction.

Italy is tracking for a 10% drop on 2010’s $947 million B.O. — U.S. movie market share has plummeted from 60% to 48% while local pics reached a whopping 40%.

Clunkers in Italy in 2011 included 3D movies “Tintin” ($4.7 million) and “The Lion King” release ($5.1 million).

Total Spanish B.O. fell 2.7% last year as Hollywood perf plunged. Three U.S. blockbusters grossed north of $26 million in 2010, none in 2011.

Driven by 3D pricing, average Spanish tix prices have risen 35% since 2004 to $8.70. This discourages family film attendance, said a source at Spain’s Acec cinema circuit.

Even in Germany, Cinemaxx’s Arne Schmidt said, “The market is already partly flooded with 3D. We had ‘The Smurfs,’ ‘Kung Fu Panda 2,’ ‘Cars 2’ and ‘Rio’ very close together. It was just too much.”

The lesson for 2012? 3D hasn’t morphed from B.O. panacea to poison but it may be proving too pricey for many cash-strapped Europeans.

Nick Vivarelli in Rome and Ed Meza in Berlin contributed to this article.

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