ROME – Box office in Italy dropped 6% in 2016 to 618 million euros ($648 million) despite a slew of strong local titles, especially smash hit “Quo Vado?”, which single-handedly accounted for more than 10% of the year’s total haul.
Ticket sales were down 3% to 99.4 million, just under the 100 million admissions benchmark below which the year is considered a negative one.
The figures were released Thursday by comScore. ComScore uses an “industry year” definition which starts from the first Thursday of the year – January 7, 2016 – and includes all play weeks that start within the calendar year of 2016. Their end date is therefore January 4, 2017.
“Vado,” which stars local sensation Checco Zalone as a Southern Italian slacker hellbent on holding on to his parasitic government job, hit a national nerve amid rising unemployment. The timely comedy pulverized all records for an Italian movie at local turnstiles, making 65 million euros ($68 million),
The No. 2 title of 2016 was also locally produced: “Perfect Strangers” (“Perfetti Sconosciuti”), a high-concept dramedy in which friends at a dinner party decide to place their cell phones on the table and make all their texts and calls public. It pulled in $19.5 million. “Vado” and “Strangers” were both released by Medusa, the film arm of TV company Mediaset, in which the family of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi holds a roughly 40% stake.
“2016 is an extraordinary year for Italian cinema,” said Giovanni Cova, head of Milan-based entertainment marketing company QMI. He noted that “the top two films are Italian, whereas in 2015 the Italian film that performed best weighed in at No. 8.”
But Cova pointed out that the country’s scarcity of movie releases during summer months, a historic sore spot, continues to prevent Hollywood titles from realizing their full box-office potential in Italy.
As in other international territories, Hollywood pics that clicked best in Italy targeted family audiences. Disney’s “Finding Dory” came in at No. 3, scoring $17.3 million, followed by Warner Bros.’ “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” with $15.4 million. Fox’s drama “The Revenant,” toplining Leonardo DiCaprio, came in at No. 5 with $14.4 million.
But these numbers are below par for a top European territory with a population of nearly 60 million.
“Dory,” for example, earned $18.6 million in Spain, significantly more than in Italy. Spain, with a population of 46 million, had slightly lower total grosses ($634 million) than Italy this year, but it broke the 100 million admissions barrier.
“In Italy you can still basically release movies only eight months out of the year, whereas distributors in other European territories work on an 11- or 12-month calendar,” said Cova. “This creates a glut which remains the country’s biggest structural problem.”
The low number of summer releases was attributed in the past to the fact that many Italians hit the beach in summer, and also to a lack of air-conditioned venues. But now that Italians have less holiday time and venues have improved local exhibitors are increasingly blaming distributors, including the U.S. majors, for being unwilling to take the risk needed to gradually get more Italians into the habit of going to see more movies in summer, as audiences do elsewhere in Europe.
In May last year, 20th Century Fox came under fire from Italian exhibitors for moving the release of “Independence Day: Resurgence” from its announced July 6 bow to a Sept. 8 slot.
Piracy is also a major plague. Italy has long been on the U.S. government’s watch list of overseas countries where film piracy is worst.
TOP 10 BOX OFFICE HITS, ITALY, 2016
1. “Quo Vado,” Medusa, €65.3 million ($68.4 million), cumulative figure includes 2015
2. “Perfect Strangers,” Medusa €17.3 million ($18.1 million)
3. “Finding Dory,” Disney €15.1 million ($15.8 million)
4. “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them,” Warner Bros. €14.7 million ($15.4 million)
5. “The Revenant,” Fox €13.8 million ($14.4 million)
6. “The Secret Life of Pets,” Universal €13.2 million ($13.8 million)
7. “Inferno,” Warner Bros. € 12.3 million ($ 12.9 million)
8. “Suicide Squad,” Warner Bros. €12.09 million ($12.6 million)
9. “Zootopia,” Disney €11.27 million ($11.82 million)
10. “Captain America: Civil War,” Disney €11.26 ($11.81 million)
Source: comScore, Cinetel