Theatrical admissions in Europe fell 0.9% last year to 1.29 billion, according to the European Audiovisual Observatory.
The decline was 2.4% in the 27 E.U. countries, with 943 million admissions recorded, continuing a downward trend in E.U. ticket sales, which have fallen at an average rate of 1.2% a year since 2009.
The top four E.U. markets declined by 2.8% in 2012, despite gains in the U.K. (0.5%) and Germany (4.2%), due to steeper drops in France (5.9%) and Italy (9.9%).
Summer events including the European Soccer Championship in June and the London Olympics (July 27-Aug. 12) proved a distraction, with many markets reporting weak admissions in the usually bumper summer season.
But the final quarter delivered a raft of hits, including “Skyfall,” “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2” and “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” which made a positive difference to many territories.
“If you look at the last four months of the year, only a handful of films took a lot of money, but clearly people wanted to come to the cinema. We need to look at the overall picture,” Niels Swinkels, managing director U.K. and Ireland for Universal Pictures International recently told Variety.
“For 2013 the slate overall looks very strong both amongst the studios and the independents and the distractions of last summer are not there. I can only imagine summer will be better than 2012.”
France remained the biggest European market for ticket sales with 204 million admissions, ahead of the U.K. (173 million), Russia (which saw ticket sales up 5.8% to 169 million), Germany (135 million) and Italy (101 million).
Strong growth continued in Eastern European states with Bosnia and Herzegovina (37.9%), Romania (16.1%), Latvia (10.9%), Croatia (5.3%), Estonia (4.7%) and Czech Republic (3.6%) all seeing significant rises in ticket sales over 2011.
The Nordic countries also saw impressive growth, led by Finland’s 19% jump to 8.5 million admissions. Danish admissions hit 14.2 million, a 14.2% year-on-year rise; Sweden remained biggest in the region with ticket sales of 18.4 million, gaining 11.8% over 2011; and Norway saw admissions up 4% to 12.1 million.
Despite a late surge, led by “The Impossible,” in Spain a lack of big local successes in the first half of the year saw the major market down 7.3% to 91.2 million tickets sold. Neighboring Portugal saw an even steeper decline (12.3%) to 13.8 million.
In Turkey tickets sales rose 3.9% to 43.9 million, with local titles accounting for two thirds of the top 12 films of the year and a 46.6% market share.
The Nordic markets also benefitted from local hits. Denmark (28.5%), Finland (28%) and Sweden (22%) all saw a year-on-year rise in local market share, while Norway’s biggest selling film of the year was local hit “Kon-Tiki.”
For Europe as a whole national market share saw a marginal drop from 15% to 13.4%. The share of U.S. titles is estimated to have remained at around 66%. More complete estimates will be published in May.