Cinema Expo preview

International boxoffice reached high

On the eve of Cinema Expo International, the annual European exhibition confab set to take place June 26-28 in Amsterdam, international exhibitors and distributors alike have reason to throw back a couple of celebratory pilsners, as the international boxoffice reached an all-time high of $26.7 billion in 2007, according to the MPAA.

That 5% increase over 2006, which saw a healthy worldwide boxoffice of $25.5 billion, was spurred by growth in nearly all regions. Numbers did dip a little in countries like France, which, according to London-based cinema-industry research and consulting firm Dodona Research, saw a decrease of 5.7% (in euros). But by and large, the 5% uptick was a worldwide boon, from the U.S., Canada and Asia-Pacific to Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

One factor contributing to the robust overseas boxoffice is the day-and-date release of Hollywood summer blockbusters like "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," which raked in more than $650 million at international ticket counters.

"Previously we would only have a few of those, and most of them would be released around Christmas because that traditionally is the stronger period in Europe," says Lauge Nielsen, managing director of Pathe Netherlands, which operates 100 screens. "But last year we had a number of films that were released day-and-date in the summer, and that made a difference. We missed those pictures at Christmas of course, so Christmas wasn't quite as strong as it would have been otherwise, but all in all, I think it had a positive impact."

Hollywood fare has continued to bolster the overseas boxoffice this year, with Paramount's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," released day-and-date on May 22, already having earned nearly $360 million in foreign receipts at press time.

But it's not only Hollywood product that is drawing crowds to the cinema. Some territories are seeing a boom in local production, which, coupled with Europe's aging demographic, seems to be rekindling interest in homegrown films.

"People love to watch films in their own languages," Dodona managing director Karsten-Peter Grummit says. "That's particularly true of older people, and the population is getting older."

"You're seeing a greater importance of local product in different markets in Europe," says Tim Richards, CEO of the U.K.'s Vue Entertainment, which operates 630 screens. "I think everyone has been caught off guard by 'Bienvenue chez les ch'tis' (Welcome to the Sticks) in France, which has done over $200 million, (making it) one of the biggest movies in French history, and it's a completely homegrown local production. So I think the local markets in Europe are becoming more and more important, and I think the studios are working very closely with the local distributors and producers and are helping to stimulate local production in those markets."

Even Holland "had a couple of local productions that did well," Nielsen says. "We normally don't have that." "Alles Is Liefde" (Love Is Everything) "surprisingly did very well," he notes. The teenage comedy grossed almost 10 million ($15.5 million) in the Netherlands. "(Love) was everywhere apparently, so that was good."

Many Central and Eastern European markets, still in their infancy, are also contributing to the homegrown production boom, with burgeoning indigenous film industries and plenty of room for new multiplexes.

While most Western markets are mature, Grummit says, "now it's about tapping new markets, which is essentially about people and places where consumer incomes are growing, anywhere from Vietnam through to the Czech Republic."

Adds Richards: "I think what you're seeing now is a lot of really exciting new product coming out of the emerging markets -- like Russia, like some of the former Eastern Bloc markets -- and that's just all positive for the industry."

But beyond even the potential of emerging markets, what everyone's been talking about for years -- digital cinema, which has long promised to carry the industry into the 21st century -- looks like it might finally be moving toward realization: Warner Bros., Paramount, Fox and Disney recently signed Virtual Print Fee-style agreements with Belgium-based d-cinema service company XDC that could result in the implementation of 8,000 digital cinema installations in 22 European countries.

"(D-cinema) will change the shape of the business," Grummit says, "not in the short term, but over the median term."

In addition to hosting product presentations by all the major studios, Cinema Expo will have no shortage of content dedicated to d-cinema and 3-D, including a European Digital Cinema Forum presentation titled "D-cinema

in Europe -- Stalled?" by EDCF CEO Dave Monk, Dutch Distributors Assn. director Michael Lambrechtsen and Odeon Cinemas digital development manager Gerald Buckle and a Nielsen PreView presentation titled "Pursuing 3-D in a 2-D World." Additionally, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg will present highlights of "Monsters vs. Aliens" in 3-D.

As always, Cinema Expo will honor a number of key industry figures, and this year is no exception: Paramount International's Roger Pollock will be named international distributor of the year, with Jocelyn Bouyssy of France's CGR Cinemas taking the international exhibitor of the year honor. Additionally, an award of excellence in filmmaking will go to Dany Boon, Jerome Seydoux and Claude Berri, the three filmmakers behind the surprise French hit "Bienvenue chez les ch'tis."

But while the honorees and various issues facing the industry are sure to make for lively conversation at this year's Cinema Expo, "the most interesting part always is, of course, the product," Nielsen says.

"That's what we hope to achieve at Cinema Expo," adds the expo's co-executive director Mitch Neuhauser. "It's exciting the industry about the great product we have coming out."