MADRID — The economic crisis is driving a north-south divide in the box office for the big five European countries in the first half of the year.

Per Rentrak, theatrical revenues hiked 4.7% in France to $838 million, according to its CNC film board, 4% in the U.K. to $866 million and 2.9% in Germany to $590 million.

Down south, the B.O. plunged 12% in both Spain ($350 million) and Italy ($372 million).

In London and Paris, halting recovery may help explain current hits. In Spain and Italy, theater tickets are beyond many people’s budgets.

For U.K. auds, “the films driving the market often have an element of escapism. That’s what’s needed right now,” said Danny Perkins, Studiocanal CEO, U.K.

But if the recession’s really had an effect, it’s on U.K. video retail sales, which plunged a first-half 7%, he added.

Hollywood drove U.K. and German B.O. “The Avengers” topped U.K. charts ($82.9 million), ranking second in Germany ($31.6 million).

The success of “Avengers” was “new for superhero movies in Germany: It was perceived as a real event movie,” said Arne Schmidt, at German multiplex operator Cinemaxx.

Through June 30, “Prometheus” ($35.5 million) ranked third in Blighty and “Men in Black 3” ($31.1 million) placed sixth, underscoring resilient international appetite for 3D.

Dismal summer weather gave exhibitors good cheer across northern Europe.

In France, four local comedies, led by “Houba! On the Trail of the Marsupilami” ($43.4 million) and “Would I Lie To You? 3” ($38.5 million), featured in the top five, per France’s CBO Box-Office.

British films also worked well: “The Woman in Black” punched $33.6 million, sleeper “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” $32 million.

Meanwhile, Gallic phenom “The Intouchables” topped fist-half rankings in Germany ($77.4 million) and Spain ($21 million).

“When cinemagoing is booming, as in France, it’s because of working class audiences who appreciate cinema as entertainment. So comedies and adventures account for most ticket sales,” said Marc-Olivier Sebbag, at France’s FNCF exhibitors’ association.

Italy and Spain read from different playbooks where, with few exceptions, Hollywood blockbusters underperformed. “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” pulled a mere $7.9 million in Italy.

By contrast, European pics clicked with Italian auds. “The Intouchables” made $17 million, local laffer “Benvenuti al Nord” took $33 million.

Industryites point to the economic crisis — youth unemployment runs at 49% in Spain and 31% in Italy — and a dearth of strong product, especially in summer, as causes.

Spanish cinema had just one hit, “I Want You,” which took $8.1 million through June 30.

B.O. in Spain held up pretty well early on, said David Rodriguez, Rentrak general manager for Spain and Portugal. But now, “people either don’t have money or, if they do, they’re afraid to spend it, fearing for the future.”

Robert Mitchell and Diana Lodderhose in London, Elsa Keslassy in Paris, Ed Meza in Berlin and Nick Vivarelli in Rome contributed to this report.