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Hollywood Takes on Italy’s Vacation-Heavy Summer Season With Blockbusters

With upcoming movies such as “Toy Story 4,” “Men in Black: International” and “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” Hollywood studios are finally taking the plunge this year and slotting their blockbusters in Italian cinemas during the summer, a time when residents traditionally hit the beach en masse.

For decades, the studios withheld their films from Italy in the summer season for fear of a dearth of cinema-goers, throwing the country’s release patterns out of kilter with the rest of Europe. The subsequent glut of movies during the rest of the year has turned Italy into a fast-burning market, with admissions plunging in 2018 to just shy of 86 million. It was the first time in 10 years that the number dropped below 90 million.

To help stop the hemorrhaging, the studios are changing course. At least 10 big releases have been set for the months of May through August, including “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (May 30), “X-Men” sequel “Dark Phoenix” (June 6) and “Spider-Man: Far From Home” (July 10). Luigi Lonigro, chief of Italy’s distributors association, calls the decision a “turning point.”

“We are the only evolved country in the world that wasn’t getting Hollywood summer blockbusters day-and-date,” Lonigro says.

Italians have also gotten a number of titles straight from Cannes, such as Pedro Almodóvar’s “Pain and Glory,” followed by local auteur Marco Bellocchio’s “The Traitor” and Paramount’s Elton John biopic, “Rocketman,” which launched in Italy on May 29.

The real potential game changers for the Italian market are considered to be Universal’s “The Secret Life of Pets 2” and Disney’s “Toy Story 4,” both scheduled for June. Box office analyst Robert Bernocchi says that having “two animation blockbusters in the critical part of summer” in Italy is “the biggest novelty,” adding that, in his estimation, the performance of “Toy Story 4” will be the most important result in terms of the future of summer releases in Italy.

Disney global distribution chief Cathleen Taff says the company is looking forward to being able to spread out its release pattern. “We are very supportive of the efforts to create robust year-round moviegoing opportunities for Italian audiences, and we are looking forward to our highly anticipated summer releases of ‘Toy Story 4’ in June and ‘The Lion King’ in August,” she notes, adding that “one of the first international offices set up by Disney was in Italy.”

However, the fourth week of June, when “Toy Story 4” comes out in Italian cinemas, is considered particularly challenging because schools will have just let out and children either head to the beach or go off to summer camp. Asked how great a risk Disney is taking in Italy with the film, Taff says she believes “it can be a great success” and that it will “help drive more attendance this summer.”

The studios have committed to trying out summer releases over the next three years. Fox Italy chief Paul Zonderland says the success — or failure — of the new
initiative should not be judged immediately, after just one season, but after the three-year period. He says that the “can-do mentality” of both distributors and exhibitors working to deliver summer releases has been the strongest he’s seen from them during his 20 years in Italy.

Italy’s motion picture association, ANICA, recently launched an awareness campaign called Moviement. The country’s new film law also provides incentives for exhibitors to upgrade screens, and subsidies that they can apply to the P&A costs of distributing Italian movies in summer. These support mechanisms are considered integral to making the summer push work.

“Everybody is doing their part,” says Warner Bros. Italy chief Barbara Salabè.

However, one sore spot is that no notable local titles will be hitting Italian screens this summer except for Bellocchio’s Cannes entry. “As [Hollywood] studios, we’ve decided to help,” says Salabè. “And our product is the one that helps most because it goes out to a wider audience. But if Italian cinema doesn’t follow, it will be a sterile effort.”

She notes that between October and February, the Italian market is flooded with 200 domestic movies. “Titles get taken down because every week you’ve got 14 releases,” she says.

Lonigro, who heads RAI Cinema’s 01 Distribution unit, says that releasing domestic titles in Italy in summer is complicated. An Italian film “often needs to recoup 100% of its investment on the Italian market, whereas a Hollywood blockbuster must make something like 2% of its global grosses in Italy,” he says.

“It wasn’t easy to convince Marco Bellocchio, after he made a great film, to release it day-and-date” with its Cannes launch, Lonigro adds. “But we managed.”

Box office analyst Bernocchi says that having all these big U.S. blockbusters in summer makes Italian producers even more reluctant to risk releasing their movies during that period. Also, he and some others in the Italian industry are not convinced that the push will succeed.

“It’s certainly something worth trying,” he says, “but we can’t be sure it’s going to work.” 

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