A continental comeback

A big year in France as Euro admissions jump

After a double-digit downturn across most of the continent in 2005, European cinema admissions were revitalized in most major territories last year, according to the latest statistics gathered by The Hollywood Reporter.

French admissions, announced Monday, surged 7.5% to 189 million, up from the 176 million tickets sold in 2005, according to the National Federation of French Cinemas.

Despite the increase, 2006 failed to overtake the 196 million admissions registered in 2004, a 20-year high. But last year was nonetheless the second best in terms of ticket sales in the past two decades.

Germany gained 8% to reach 131 million admissions, and Italy gained 4% to more than 92 million. Neither territory made up for the sharp backslides experienced in 2005. The U.K. was flat, but that was seen as a good performance given that Britain was one of the few territories to hold its own in 2005.

In France, it was a tale of two halves, with the first soaring to 103 million admissions before the second six-month period slipped to 86 million. The World Cup soccer tournament had a marked influence on admissions, partly because the French team made it to the final, thus soaking up audiences into mid-July, but also because ? as was common across Europe ? distributors piled a lot of their prime product into spring release dates.

The FNCF said that the figures also underlined the structural trends in Gallic exhibition, which has seen more than 1,000 new screens added during the past decade.

"It's a good year, but not a record," FNCF managing director Olivier Snanoudj said. "From the exhibitors' point of view, you have to bear in mind the increase in the number of screens in recent years. Although the overall trend is good, we're struggling to break the symbolic barrier of 200 million admissions. Piracy no doubt has its part to play in that."

Last year will go down as the best for Gallic cinema in two decades, with a market share of more than 43% for French productions. Six of the top 10 movies were French, with comedy sequel "Les Bronzes 3: Forever Friends," distributed by Warner Bros., on top with a whopping 10.4 million admissions. Imports "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" (6.64 million) from Buena Vista and "Ice Age: The Meltdown" (6.63 million) from Fox followed.

The U.K. industry was celebrating piracy in a different way. Last year's boxoffice totals were bolstered by "Dead Man's Chest," one of two movies to break the sacred ?50 million barrier. The swashbuckler slashed its way to ?52.5 million ($101.7 million) by year's end, with Sony's "Casino Royale" totaling ?50.7 million ($98.25 million) and counting. The U.K. and Ireland boxoffice generated a total gross of ?840 million ($1.63 billion) during 2006, about the same when compared with the previous year's total, according to Nielsen EDI.

Film Distributors Assn. CEO Mark Batey said the figures include a resplendent performance by Ireland. "Last year was not the best year for local product, but we still managed to hold our own as the world's third-largest market," Batey said. "Only eight or nine films have ever broken through the ?50 million barrier, so for two in one year to do it is a very good one."

German ticket sales rebounded from a truly awful 2005 with total boxoffice of ?789.3 million ($1.03 billion) in 2006. That's 8% better than the ?745 million ($970.2 million) of a year ago. But '05 was the worst year in a decade for the German industry.

"After 2005, many people were sounding the death knell for movies, but 2006 was proof that cinema is alive and well," said Johannes Klingsporn, managing director of the German Association of Film Distributors. "To see audience growth in a year where Germany hosted the soccer World Cup is particularly impressive."

There were a handful of huge hits, led by "Ice Age" (8.7 million tickets), but just 10 films sold more than 2 million tickets in Germany last year compared with 18 in France, a territory with a considerably smaller population.

Local films fared well, with three homegrown titles cracking the top 10, including Constantin Film's "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer," which came in fourth overall, selling 5.5 million tickets.

The total boxoffice in Italy climbed to ?543.11 million ($707.33 million), up 3.1%. U.S. movies accounted for 62% of the total boxoffice, up from 54% last year, while Italian film was stable with a 24% share.

"At one point, it looked as if the 2006 boxoffice would be far, far ahead of the 2005 totals, but the industry is going to have to be content with a small gain," said Roberto Chichiero, director of tracking agency Cinetel.

There were four Italian films in the top 10, including "Il Mio Miglior Nemico" (My Best Enemy), which grossed ?18.6 million ($24.2 million), a whisker behind "Ice Age." Italy's numbers will be slightly out of step with the rest of Europe because big films not yet released there include "Borat" and "Casino."

In Spain, admissions dropped 2.2% to hit a postwar low of 124 million, according to EDI Nielsen. A rise in ticket prices offset the sting, however, and helped revenue climb 2.1% to ?646.7 million ($851.6 million).

Incomplete figures from the Culture Ministry showed Spanish films' share stand fairly even at about 15%.

In the Netherlands, admissions jumped 9% to 22.5 million, wiping out the drop seen in '05. The boxoffice tally of ?154.4 million ($201.1 million) was up 14%. The market share for U.S. films surged from 71.3% in 2005 to 80%, while local film slipped to 10.9%, saved only by Paul Verhoeven's "Black Book," which finished third with nearly 1 million admissions.

The only region showing consistent growth was Russia, Ukraine and the other former Soviet states, where boxoffice grew 30.4% in '06 to reach $455 million, according to industry magazine Russian Film Business Today. Admissions totaled 99 million, up 8%. Ticket prices increased throughout the region by varying amounts.

The phenomenal success of the region's top-grossing film, fantasy sci-fi adventure "Day Watch," which took in nearly $35 million, was a key driver in the improved figures. Annual boxoffice figures in the region cover the 12-month period from November to November.

Stuart Kemp in London, Scott Roxborough in Cologne, Germany, Ab Zagt in Amsterdam, Eric J. Lyman in Rome and Pamela Rolfe in Madrid contributed to this report.
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