How 'The Impossible' Revived Spain's Recession-Hit Spirits and Box Office (Analysis)

The Impossible Holland Watts Log - H 2012
Summit Entertainment

The Impossible Holland Watts Log - H 2012

Spain's box office figures are still suffering but following the Belon Family's example, the battered Spanish film industry is pulling itself back up.

MADRID – Moviegoers in Spain, whose reality is life in a county with 25 percent unemployment, a contracting economy and ever-more painful austerity measures – have found solace – or escape – in a true tale of superhuman endurance.

The Impossible from director Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage) stars Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts as fictionalized (and in the film British) versions of Henry and Maria Belon, the Spanish couple who, together with their family, survived the devastating tsunami in Thailand in 2004.

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The film, which Summit Entertainment will bow in the U.S. this Friday is already a cultural and social phenomenon in Spain, where it has smashed box office records, earning more than $52 million (€40 million), more than James Cameron's disaster epic Titanic in the territory. Nearly six million of Spain's 47 million people have seen the film so far.

“I wouldn't say I went to see the film because of the fact that Spain is in a crisis," said cinemagoer Susana Gonzalez, speaking to The Hollywood Reporter outside an Impossible screening in Madrid. "But it is true that it's a film that leaves you feeling grateful at the end. It's much better than seeing a movie about people evicted from their homes,” she added.

Warner Bros. Pictures, who released the film in Spain, and producers Telecinco Cinema and Apaches Entertainment decided to premiere the film here in September, two months before its U.S. bow. Given the economic crisis in Spain, where the price of a cinema ticket has become for many a costly luxury, it was a risky move. The producers also worried a disaster film might strike the wrong chord with the local audience.

VIDEO: Director and Stars Reveal How They Made 'The Impossible' Possible -- Without CGI

"We thought that maybe people wouldn't want to suffer any more than they already are -- but that wasn't it," Telecinco Cinema CEO Ghislain Barrois told THR. "The movie experience was so strong that people felt that they had to experience it [and make] the investment of time and money.”

Telecinco, and its parent company the Mediaset group launched an aggressive marketing campaign for the film, starting a full year ahead of the release. The September 27 premiere at the San Sebastian Film Festival was broadcast live simultaneously on all seven of Telecinco's Spanish channels – the sort of blanket coverage unheard of for a film debut.

It helped that The Impossible had a strong local flavor. The story of the Belon family is well-known here and the film, which shot in Spain and Thailand, featured a Spanish director and Spanish producers.

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“The story is moving and the message gets people, but that is only one part of it," explained Barrois. "The other is the colossal media campaign the Mediaset group has launched to support the movie."

The expense, and the risk, paid off. In fact, The Impossible has, in its small way, helped ease Spain's economic suffering. In the nine months of the year before the film's release, Spanish box office receipts were down nearly 10 percent. But The Impossible's success kicked off a theatrical revival, helping boost attendance for other late-year films, including Skyfall and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 2.

The Impossible heated up the market again. When there is a strong film in theaters it acts like a magnet for people to get out of their homes and get back into the habit of going to the movies," said David Rodriguez, Spanish General Manager for box office stats group Rentrak.

Spain's box office figures are still down from last year but only by a slim 5 percent. Following the Belon Family's example, the battered Spanish film industry is pulling itself back up.

STORY: 'The Impossible' Sweeps Past 'Titanic' at Spain Box Office