Italian films maintain hot pace locally

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ROME -- Italian films continued their hot streak in the first quarter, with six of the territory's top 10 films produced domestically and local titles claiming more than a third of the overall boxoffice, according to statistics from cinema monitoring firm Cinetel.

But history indicates that the next two quarters will tell if another record-setting year is really in the works.

A total 31.9 million tickets were sold in the first quarter -- usually a strong period for films in Italy -- just slightly ahead of 2007's record pace, when 103.6 million tickets were sold for the year, the highest level in Italy since 1978. The total value of ticket sales over the first three months was 189.5 million euros ($299.4 million), nearly 3% ahead of 2007's pace in euro terms and 13.3% higher in dollar terms.

The news for domestic productions also was strong. Italian films represented 36.5% of the overall boxoffice compared with 26.9% last year -- though it should be noted the middle two quarters of the year are generally weak for Italian films.

Last year, for example, domestic productions represented 44% of the boxoffice for the first quarter, a level that trended downward every month until October. Still, the 26.9% level was Italy's highest share of the domestic boxoffice in more than two decades.

The U.S. film industry remained strong in Italy, claiming 51.9% of the boxoffice in the first quarter. There was a steep drop-off after Italy, with France (5.1%) and the U.K. (3.3%) the only two countries with more than 1% of the entire market. The U.S. share of the market has remained at great than 50% in recent years despite Italy's gains, which have come mostly at the expense of productions from other European countries.

In terms of numbers of films, Italy was first, with 141 films in release, compared with 139 for the U.S., 40 for France and 27 for the U.K.

Warner Bros' "I Am Legend" is the top film in Italy so far this year, selling 2.2 million tickets and raking in 13.9 million euros ($21.9 million). But the Will Smith actioner was closely followed by two Italian products: "Scusa ma ti Chiamo Amore" (Excuse Me If I Call You My Love), a love story about a 37-year-old man and a woman 20 years his junior, and Carlo Verdone's comedy "Grande, Grosso e ... Verdone" (Grand, Great, and ... Verdone). Both took in 12.7 million euros ($20.1 million) on sales of about 2.1 million tickets, though "Grande, Grosso e ... Verdone" remains in cinemas and so should break the virtual tie soon.

"American Gangster" (9.9 million euros; $15.7 million) was next, followed by Italian soccer comedy "L'Allenatore nel Palone 2" (Soccer Trainer 2), with 7.7 million euros ($12.2 million) and Silvio Muccino's tragic love story "Parlami d'Amore" (Talk to me About Love), with 7.5 million euros ($11.9 million).

Oscar winner "No Country for Old Men" was the No. 7 film for the quarter, and Sean Penn's "Into the Wild" was 10th, sandwiched around two more Italian productions: "Caos Calmo" (Quiet Chaos) and "Una Moglie Bellissima" (A Beautiful Wife).

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