Italian distribution and production company Notorious Pictures is branching out into exhibition, aiming to have 20 multiplexes up and running within the next five years. The company has appointed former UCI Italy chief Andrea Stratta to head up a new Notorious Cinemas unit.

The company said it was already in the process of taking out a lease on a 10-screen hardtop in a mall outside Milan, which it will upgrade. Details of further facilities are being kept under wraps. The goal is to operate about 200 screens in Italy by 2023, and reach 5 million admissions that year.

Last year, admissions in Italy sank to 85.7 million, the lowest in a decade. But the market is now expected to grow.

UCI is currently Italy’s top exhibitor with 50 multiplexes and 503 screens. Stratta (pictured, right), who exited UCI last April, oversaw the company’s growth for 18 years.

“We leaped at the opportunity of bringing on board a great manager with such a vast knowledge of the market,” said Notorious Pictures founder and chief executive Guglielmo Marchetti (pictured, left).

Notorious Pictures – whose name pays homage to both the Hitchcock film and the rock band Duran Duran – has been gaining traction since its 2012 launch following the sale of distributor Moviemax, a joint venture Marchetti had set up with other partners. Notorious now has a library of more than 800 titles, and scored at the Italian box office with Antoine Fuqua’s “Olympus Has Fallen,” French children’s franchise “Belle and Sebastian,” and Pablo Escobar biopic “Loving Pablo,” among other releases.

The company is currently Italy’s ninth-largest distributor, with a 2.7% market share. Its 2019 lineup includes “City of Lies,” “The Vanishing,” and Robert De Niro-starrer “War With Grandpa.” 

Notorious, which was floated on the Milan bourse in 2014, does business with most U.S. indies and has forged relationships with local broadcasters Sky Italia, RAI, and Mediaset, and with streamers Netflix and TimVision, to which it sells ancillary rights. It is also active in producing Italian films and in long-form content production, recently inking a deal with Los Angeles-based AMBI Group to executive produce 10 web-series for the international market.

By moving into exhibition, Notorious could become Italy’s top player operating across all segments of the value chain.

Despite the drop at the Italian box office last year, Marchetti said he is confident it will start picking up this year because the Hollywood studios have finally decided to slot their blockbusters in the summer, which was previously shunned because so many Italians hit the beach at that time. The move should help unclog the pipeline throughout the rest of the year.

Marchetti also noted that Italy’s new film law, which pumps about $400 million annually into the industry, includes incentives for building new theaters and upgrading existing facilities. He said Notorious Cinemas would raise the bar in terms of comfort and state-of-the art sound and visuals.