Across Europe, conditions ideal for red-hot summer

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LONDON -- A perfect storm of bad weather, no World Cup soccer and, oh yes, tentpole studio releases, saw cinema seats across Europe fill up in record numbers this summer.

It seems that the sentiment of "If we book them, they will come" played a major role in filling up theaters from June to the end of August in all five major territories -- the U.K., France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

In June at Cine Expo in Amsterdam, Italian exhibitors were complaining that no one ever goes to the movies in the summer because the Hollywood studios never release big titles because everyone's at the beach.

Studio executives from Paramount and DreamWorks, Universal, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Disney and Sony told those Doubting Tommasos that this year they would have no such complaints and to prepare their movie houses for a "big summer."

Boxoffice revenue in Italy from June-August hit €78.3 million ($107.3 million) this year, up 24% year-over-year, according to Italian cinema monitoring company Cinetel.

Medusa spokesman Claudio Trionfera said that a blockbuster is still a blockbuster, no matter when it's released.

"I've never heard of a film that would have succeeded in the winter, fail in the summer. But there are differences," Trionfera said. "You might figure that a big film could gross 15% or 20% less in the summer, but then there are some films that in the summer will have more chances to gain traction because they will screen for two months rather than two or three weeks when cinema owners have more to choose from.

"But the original summer problem in Italy is the beach," Trionfera added. "Almost every big city in Italy is within a 30-minute drive of the sea (Milan and Turin are exceptions), and when the weather is nice they want to go to the sea. It's ingrained in the culture."

Cinetel chief Roberto Chicchiero said Italy is beginning to adjust to going to theaters in the summer. "There is a debate among distributors about whether it's a good idea to release big films in the summer, but I think Italy is proving that it can support a big film in the summer months," he said.

Not everyone agrees. "All things being equal," one Italian distributor said, "if we can choose to release something in the summer or not, we'll generally choose not to."

In the U.K., the wettest British summertime on record, heavily backed tentpole rollouts and nothing on the telly resulted in a record-breaking summer.

June-August in the U.K., boxoffice totals reached £281 million ($569.1 million) for 2007, a rise of 34%, according to exclusive research from Nielsen EDI. The Film Distributors' Assn. CEO Mark Batey described July alone as being "unprecedented" in modern times.

One-third of the entire U.K. population went to the cinema that month.

"In the heart of England, it was as wet as it has ever been, a complete washout this summer. So during the school holiday weeks, there were millions of people looking for entertainment under cover," Batey said.

The early summer bomb scares played no part in boxoffice fortunes, either, with the British stiff upper lip coming to the fore. "I think everyone just thought, 'Fuck it, we're going out anyway,' " Batey said.

Vue Cinemas CEO Tim Richards, whose company oversees one of the U.K.'s largest circuits, said the boxoffice could have been even better.

"The only thing that was frustrating was that a number of the movies were so good that they deserved a lot more time on the screens. If they'd have had more breathing space, I think some titles would have broken more records, he said.

In Germany, the summer boxoffice was up a scorching 27%, hitting €205.8 million ($280 million). Most of the credit has to go to the absence of the World Cup, which Germany hosted. June revenue shot up 204%.

And day-and-date release strategies for tentpole titles paid off despite naysayers who believed Germans prefer a beer garden to the multiplex when the weather's hot.

"The summer used to be our weakest season, because the big studio films would all come out later, in the fall," said Johannes Klingporn, managing director of German distributors association VdF.

"Now, because of piracy fears, we are seeing more and more day-and-date releases. Many people were very skeptical that it would work -- especially with 'The Simpsons Movie.' But, as we saw, it took off like a rocket."

Klingsporn sees the trend toward day-and-date increasing across Europe but not just because the studios are worried about Internet piracy.

"Because Europe has a single market, it makes less and less sense for a film to come out in the U.K. a few months before it hits screens on the continent," he said. "The theatrical business isn't affected, but when the DVD comes out in England, anyone in Europe can buy it, months before it gets released in their home territory. With 'Harry Potter,' for example, I wouldn't be surprised if we see significant sales of the U.K. DVD coming out of Germany."

Spanish boxoffice totals reached €172 million ($236 million) in June, July and August, a rise of 12%, according to Arturo Guillen of Nielsen in Madrid. Guillen said he couldn't remember a summer with so many big releases so close.

"But the fact that it was a colder summer than usual, the coldest ever, isn't really the cause. It helps in winter if the weather is bad, but not in summer," he said. "Even so, the end-of-the-year figure will probably be down from last year because we were below last year before the summer began."

In France, the rainy summer turned out to be bad news for tourists but good news for Gallic distributors. Admissions during the three summer months leapt 23% to 44.4 million.

"I think that the rise in ticket sales had a lot to do with the weather. It was the worst weather we've ever had all over France," Sony France president Eric Brune said. "There were also a number of American blockbusters, which is important -- more than usual."

In contrast to previous years, distributors didn't wait for the French population to return from summer vacation and released blockbusters almost concurrently with their U.S. releases.

"It's always the film that makes the audience," Gaumont topper Francois Clerc said. "Just look at 'Harry Potter 5' for example. The Fourth of July was considered to be a terrible release date, but it was the best opening ever."

Eric J. Lyman in Rome, Rebecca Leffler in Paris, Scott Roxborough in Cologne, Germany, and Pamela Rolfe in Madrid contributed to this report.
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