European films have been raising their game at the box office recently, with their market share in the continent climbing from 25.2% to 28.5% last year, whereas the share for U.S. pics fell from 68.5% to 61.4% — the lowest share for American pictures since 2001, according to the European Audiovisual Observatory.

The share taken by local pics increased in 18 of the 29 European countries where data was available, thanks largely to homegrown comedies such as “The Intouchables” in France and “The Inbetweeners Movie” in the U.K.

The effect of local films on the box office was particularly pronounced in the major European territories. In France, for example, local films took a 41.6% share, the highest level since 1984.

Part of this growth could be the result of the rise in production in Europe, which rose from 1,226 feature pics in 2010 to 1,285 films last year. One trend behind this is the increasing number of co-productions, especially with U.S. companies. Out of the top five Euro films at the European B.O. in 2011, three were U.S. co-productions.

According to Karsten Grummitt, managing director at Dodona Research, as Hollywood has scaled back on the number of mid-range budgeted pics, that space has been filled by the European mini-majors.

“We think it’s a very important element keeping European markets moving along as U.S. studios cut back on production. It’s also almost certainly, of course, these cutbacks in low- and mid-range pictures that have created the market opportunity for European producers,” he says.

The rising role of European and other independent pics in the European box office is reflected in the schedule of Cine-Europe, with the initial day of the conference being devoted to screenings of indies — the first time this has been done.

Among the pics screening are Michael Haneke’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Amour,” which is a French-German-Austrian co-production, and Marion Laine’s romantic drama “A Monkey on My Shoulder” from France.

Jan Runge, CEO of European exhibitors’ union Unic, says, “When I listen to what my members say they certainly recognize the importance of local films, and their ability — alongside studio content — to add significant value to the cinema offer.”

However, Runge points out that changes in film funding may be about to spoil the European party. Several countries have started to cut back film subsidies, and the European Union is planning to impose tighter restrictions on co-productions.

That said, Runge reports that Unic members, who met during the Cannes fest in May, are “cautiously positive” about the prospects for box office in Europe overall.

CineEurope 2012
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