2018 Italian Box Office Drops to 10-Year Low

Courtesy of Alex Bailey/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
'Bohemian Rhapsody' was Italy's top-grossing film of 2018.

Hollywood films failed to make waves in ticket sales, although local films are on the upswing.

It hasn’t been an easy year for Italian exhibitors. On top of the country’s massive piracy problems and low summer season, they’ve now had to engage in yet another battle, as Netflix threatened to take more and more films out of the cinemas and into Italian living rooms.

While the final numbers are still being tallied, current numbers show that the year brought in just $633 million (€555 million) in 2018, the lowest it has been in a decade. It's only 30 million euros below 2017's paltry box office, which brought in $666 million (€585 million), but fares significantly lower than 2010, when cinemas took in $837 million (€735 million).

Without a huge local hit from box office winners like Checco Zalone, the market suffered hugely this year. The Italian star whose local films consistently break box office records (with 2016’s Quo Vado? grossing $68 million) will have a new film out next year. But to hang the fate of the country’s box office on one major moneymaker just reveals the flaws in Italy’s production output.

The Italian Ministry of Culture has been stepping in with multiple efforts to keep cinemas afloat, by banning Italian Netflix films in theaters, creating nationwide discounted cinema days and other community events, like the new Videocitta festival, aimed at promoting the country's seventh art.

The summer slump, when the average Italian would much rather be found on a beach than indoors, may also improve next year with a slew of big titles coming from Disney. Indeed, top box office spots in the past few years have gone to Disney live-action films. 2019 will see live-action versions of Aladdin, The Lion King and Dumbo, all sure to bring in families in droves.

Exhibitors are already banking on a much improved summer lineup next year with 10 strong Hollywood films from May to August, including Godzilla: King of the Monsters, The Secret Life of Pets 2, X-Men Dark Phoenix, Men in Black: InternationalToy Story 4Spider-Man: Far From HomeFast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, The New Mutants and the grand finale of The Lion King on Aug. 21. 

But perhaps even more worrisome is the crash in the number of actual ticket sales for 2018, coming in at 85 million, which is the first time in ten years the number has fallen to under 90 million. While 2018 didn’t benefit from the government’s two-euro Wednesday cinema day that helped boost sales in 2016 and 2017, it’s clear that short term gimmicks will not help to mend the industry on a long-term basis.

According to initial data from Cinetel, Bohemian Rhapsody was the number one film of the year ($23.8 million), followed by Avengers: Infinity War, ($21.2 million), Fifty Shades Freed, ($16.2 million), Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald ($14.4 million) and Hotel Transylvania 3 ($13.8 million).

While Hollywood films failed to bring in huge audiences overall, the market for local films increased, with Italian films gaining a 22 percent market share, up from 16 percent in 2017. While none made the top 10 films of the year, multiple Italian pictures helped to boost the overall box office, including Gabriele Muccino’s There Is No Place Like Home ($10.4 million), Carlo Verdone’s Benedetta Follia ($9.6 million) and Riccardo Milani’s Like a Cat on a Highway ($8.7 million).

A statement from industry organizations ANICA, ANEC, ANEM, FICE and ACEC argued that the Italian box office may be much healthier than the initial numbers show, especially when compared to low 2018 numbers in France, Spain and Germany. Additionally, ticket sales for cinema in Italy far outweigh other cultural spectacles, including theater, music, dance, opera and even soccer. 

The organizations called for further transparency in 2019 from Netflix, Amazon and other streamers in order to properly evaluate the industry in a rational and coherent manner. "The number of their subscribers in Italy is unknown. The number of entries for a cinematographic and audiovisual product is unknown. It is time that the rules of transparency are valid for everyone," wrote the organizations in a statement to media.

Wanting to work with the streamers, the organizations believe transparent data can only improve the overall Italian industry. "Another reason for optimism: the supply and demand, the values and the number of spectators for cinema in various ways is growing," said the statement. 

As the industry continues to set new guidelines for streamers in the country and introduce new events to remind the country of its cinema heritage, it remains to be seen if 2019 will see cinemas get back on track.