'06 cinema ticketing up

Germany, France lead EU gains

European cinema recovered its mojo last year with a 3.6% jump in ticket sales, according to figures released Thursday by the European Audiovisual Observatory in Strasbourg, France.

The EAO's final figures for 2006 reveal that 926 million cinema tickets were sold in the European Union's then-25 member countries. However, the numbers are still about 80 million short of the highs registered in 2002 and '04.

Despite the overall rise in attendance, there was mixed news from major EU markets. While France (up 7.6% to 188.7 million) and Germany (up 7.4% to 136.7 million) showed clear signs of recovery, Italy saw only a modest rise in 2006 (up 1.6% to 107.3 million). Spain (down 4.7% to 121.7 million) and the U.K. (down 4.9% to 156.6 million) saw admissions fall for the second consecutive year.

But there were solid rises in the smaller European markets. Admissions were up 35.8% in Poland to 32 million, up 9.9% in Austria to 17.3 million, up 21.4% in the Czech Republic to 11.5 million, up 9% in the Netherlands to 22.5 million, up 8.9% in Ireland to 17.8 million and up 7.7% in Belgium to 23.8 million.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" was Europe's most popular film in 2006, just ahead of another sequel, "Ice Age: The Meltdown." Six other sequels or series found places in a chart.

The 2006 lineup also was notable for the diversity of genres and themes represented, ranging from the antics of "Borat" to the fashion satire "The Devil Wears Prada" to the Hong Kong police film adaptation "The Departed."

In 2005, no entirely European film claimed a place in the top 20, but three titles appeared in the 2006 list: "Les Bronzes 3: Amis pour la vie" finished in 10th place; "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" came in 13th; and "Volver" was 19th. The controversial Turkish film "Valley of the Wolves" reached fifth place in the European film chart (which includes non-EU members), though 91% of its 4.7 million admissions came from its national market.

Overall, European movies claimed a 28% share of admissions in 2006, compared with 25% in 2005. Indeed, a total 862 European films were produced last year, up 47 films — or 5.8% — from the 815 made in 2005.

The revival in production was led by Germany, Italy and Spain. With 174 new features released during the year, Germany registered its highest production level on record. Italy produced 117 films — up from 2005 but still lower than the 2004 record of 138 films — while Spain's 150 films last year was the highest number of releases in 25 years.

Denmark and France bucked the overall upward trend, respectively producing 12 and 23 fewer films last year — though the EAO said this was more a reflection of their high production volume in 2005. The value of investment in French production also fell by 7.4% to €865 million ($1.2 billion).

French films accounted for 11.1% of total EU admissions in 2006 and an estimated 45% of the French market. German films accounted for 5.1% of total EU admissions (up from 3.2% in 2005) and 25.8% of the domestic market. British films seem to have a low figure, at 2.8% of EU admissions.