ROME – Yearly box office in Italy dropped 7 percent in 2014 to $666 million, as both local and Hollywood pics lost market share. But 2015 has kicked off strong largely thanks to Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper,” which has now cumed more than $18 million on Italian screens since making a killer opening as the year started.

And solid bows this weekend of both “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and “The Theory of Everything” also bode well for Italo moviegoing to bounce back this year.

“Exodus” bowed this weekend in Italy at $3 million of 649 screens via Fox; “Everything” took $1.5 million from 308 via Universal.

“Sniper,” which launched in Italy on January 1, prior to any other country on the planet, is being cited by a Warner Bros. statement as testimony that Italy remains an important movie market. Since the start of 2015 Italo box office intake and admissions are both up more than 10 percent year-on-year.

After smashing all previous box office records for an Eastwood-directed pic in the country and shooting to number one, the Bradley Cooper-starrer is now ensconced in Italy’s number two slot, having scored a $2.5 million third frame, according to national box office compiler Cinetel.

Meanwhile Cinetel figures for 2014 reveal that Hollywood’s market share of the Italian box office dropped last year to 49 percent from 53 percent in 2013, in terms of ticket sales, largely due to the dearth of strong summer studio blockbusters. The tally for total ticket sales was 91 million.

The market share for homegrown movies also dropped in Italy in 2014, down to a still strong 27 percent, from 31 percent in 2013. According to producer Francesca Cima (“The Great Beauty”) who heads Italy’s producers’ org, that dip is due partly to the fact that Italy had a low-profile presence at Cannes last year. And also because in 2013 one title, comic hitmaker Checco Zalone’s “Sun in Buckets,” pulled more than $30 million. With new films due out in 2015 from heavyweights Nanni Moretti, Paolo Sorrentino, and Matteo Garrone – all in contention for Cannes – the local share should not suffer.

The real 2014 standout is Italo auteur Mario Martone’s “Leopardi,” a classic biopic of Italian Romantic poet and thinker Giacomo Leopardi, which took a surprising $7.6 million via RAI Cinema’s 01 Distribution becoming a success story and proving that Italo producers should stop dumbing-down local auds. 

Cima also noted that ticket sales for European movies, excluding Italian titles, grew 7 percent to 17 percent of total in Italy last year, a rise she said was dictated by a need for “diversification.” The country’s motion picture association ANICA and other trade orgs are also pushing for more summer releases, the lack of which is a longstanding sore spot that causes a glut the rest of the year.