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Italy Box Office Up 3.86% in 2016 Calendar Year, Driven by Local Films

ROME — Italian motion picture association ANICA on Tuesday announced figures for calendar year 2016 showing a 3.86% increase in box office grosses to a total 661 million euros ($706 million) and a 6% rise in ticket sales to more than 105 million admissions.

The result is being touted as decent despite the fact that one local movie, smash comedy hit “Quo Vado” (pictured), accounted for nearly 10% of the year’s haul.

Previously, Variety reported that box office in Italy had dropped 6% percent in 2016, based on data from comScore. The discrepancy is due to the fact that ANICA looks at the calendar year for its totals, while comScore uses an international “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. Both ANICA and comScore use numbers provided by Italian national box office compiler Cinetel.

The difference between “calendar year” and “industry year” data is normally negligible. But “Quo Vado,” starring comedian Checco Zalone, had a supersonic Jan. 1, 2016, scoring 22 million euros ($23 million) on its opening weekend. It went on to earn almost 39 million euros ($41 million) during its first week before breaking all records for an Italian movie at local turnstiles, making 65 million euros ($68 million) in total.

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The so-called “Zalone factor” was a major talking point at Tuesday’s news conference by ANICA in Rome, which was packed with Italian industry heavyweights, including ANICA’s new president, Francesco Rutelli, a former Rome mayor and deputy Italian prime minister.

Downplaying the fact that a single smash hit played such a large part in total Italian box-office receipts, Rutelli noted that the No. 2 title at the Italian box office, high-concept dramedy “Perfect Strangers,” was also Italian. Other homegrown movies, including Paolo Virzi’s “Like Crazy,” which went to Cannes, and first-time director Gabriele Mainetti’s offbeat superhero sleeper hit, “They Call Me Jeeg,” played well in Italy last year. All told, domestic movies in 2016 accounted for 28% of the market, up from 21% in 2015.

The market share for Hollywood movies in Italy dropped five percentage points, from 60% to 55%, in 2016, a difference that can largely be ascribed to the “Zalone factor.”

Still, U.S. movies occupied 17 out of the top 20 spots on Italy’s 2016 box office chart. Disney’s “Finding Dory” came in at No. 3, scoring $16.2 million, followed by Warner Bros.’ “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” with $15.8 million. Fox’s drama “The Revenant” came in at No. 5 with $14.8 million.

Warner Bros. was Italy’s top 2016 distributor, scoring 123 million euros ($131 million) and an 18% market share.

The other big talking point at the annual industry data presser was the scarcity of summer releases in Italy, which causes a glut of product the rest of the year and is considered the main impediment to growth in a market stuck in a rut for the past two decades. “How is it possible that our market has not grown in 20 years?” lamented Nicola Borrelli, head of the Italian culture ministry’s film department.

“The most critical point is that within the industry we haven’t found a way to ensure that movies play on Italian screens for 12 months out of a year,” said Rutelli. “There is a much too long stretch — which can be up to five months long — during which programming is very limited. This is a sore spot that we can no longer afford.”

Some U.S. majors have been blamed 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.

“The problem is caused especially by American movies, which are released day-and-date in the rest of the world,” said Lucky Red chief Andrea Occhipinti, who heads Italy’s distributors’ organization. “When these movies are moved into different slots, it makes the the most visible difference,” he added. “Other countries with similar [hot] climates to us have solved this problem.”

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.

Warner Bros. has instead been praised for making an effort to get rid of Italy’s summer box office blues. Last summer, in mid-August, when the country practically shuts down and almost everyone hits the beach, they released “Suicide Squad,” which scored more than 12 million euros ($12.8 million) in Italy, on a par with the pic’s intake in Spain.

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