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Italy Eyes Box Office Turnaround

Box office returns in Italy suffered their worst result in a decade last year dropping about 5% to €555 million ($631 million), but the market is reacting and 2019 looks set for a turnaround.

Several remedies are considered crucial to getting local audiences back into movie theaters, the main ones being filling the gap in strong releases during summer which has historically been left wide open disrupting regular moviegoing and also causing a glut of titles the rest of the year; upgrading the country’s screens; and providing more really gripping Italian product which in 2018 made up a healthy 22% of total grosses even though no homegrown pics made it into the country’s top ten chart.

Though exhibitors have been hurting, the year kicked off with distribution and production company Notorious Pictures — the name is a homage to both the Hitchcock film and rock band Duran Duran — announcing it is branching out into exhibition with plans to operate 200 screens within the next five years prompted by a clearly optimistic outlook.

“2019 is going to be an extraordinary year in terms of box office,” says the company’s founder and chief Guglielmo Marchetti who adds: “Everyone in the Italian market —exhibitors, producers, distributors — see a significant growth prospect.”

Marchetti and others are sounding upbeat because, unlike half-hearted attempts made in the past, “the majors, and local distributors, are now really making a full-fledged effort to create continuity in release patterns throughout the year,” says Nicola Maccanico, the former Warner Bros. Italy exec who launched new Italian distributor Vision Distribution, in which European pay-TV platform Sky and several prominent Italian indie producers joined forces.

Italy’s exhibitors are now boasting a much improved summer lineup for 2019 with 10 strong Hollywood titles slotted from May to August, including “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” “X-Men Dark Phoenix,” “Men in Black: International,” “Toy Story 4,” “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” “The New Mutants” and the “The Lion King” on Aug. 21.

Vision Distribution which in 2018, its first year, scored the top Italian box office draw with social comedy “Like a Cat on a Highway,” is also “tangible proof that the Italian market can change,” according to Maccanico, who said they will be releasing an unspecified Italian chiller this summer, in their first attempt to fill that gap, as they ramp up production of a lineup of bigger Italian movies complemented by a few quite minor U.S. pics such as Natalie Portman-starrer “Jane Got a Gun” and “Destination Wedding” with Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder.

But Vision’s focus is clearly on fostering homegrown pics that can really click.

“To get Italians back into movie theaters we need better writing, better production values, but also bigger movies,” Maccanico says.

Local movies that have performed well enough at the home box office this year so far include family comedy “La Befana Vien di Notte,” starring popular comedienne Paola Cortellesi, and another laffer titled “I Moschettieri Del Re,” which is a riff on the “Four Musketeers.” Upcoming Italian movies with good box office potential include Matteo Garrone’s live-action “Pinocchio,” starring Roberto Benigni as Geppetto, which is currently shooting, auteur Marco Bellocchio’s biopic of Tommaso Buscetta, the first high-ranking member of Cosa Nostra to break the Sicilian Mafia’s oath of silence, titled “The Traitor,” and local box office champion Checcho Zalone’s immigration themed comedy “Tolo Tolo,” set in Kenya, Morocco, the Apulia region, and Rome, which is due for 2019 delivery. Zalone’s smash hit comedy about job security, “Quo Vado?” grossed a whopping $68 million locally in 2016, so no matter what else happens his latest pic should help fill more seats this year.

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