CinemaCon: Overseas Expert Reveals Why Europe Wants More Original Stories and Fewer Franchises

International Union of Cinemas president Phil Clapp also weighs in on what the end of 35 mm film means for business.

This story first appeared in the March 21-28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

With nearly 70 percent of worldwide box-office returns coming from overseas, CinemaCon has become a global event, not simply a conference/party for U.S. theater owners. More than 900 international delegates will attend this year's gathering of exhibitors in Las Vegas from March 24 to 27, among its total count of about 2,900 (talk about power in numbers). CinemaCon, hosted by the National Association of Theatre Owners, is where Hollywood studios come to tout their summer slates and hottest stars. As the convention approaches, THR checked in with Phil Clapp, president of the International Union of Cinemas -- which represents more than 33,000 movie screens in 28 countries in the European Union, Russia, Turkey and Israel -- to see what Hollywood is doing right, and wrong, when it comes to overseas markets.

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Are you worried about the end of 35 mm film and what it means for countries that cannot afford to convert fully to digital?

Yes, it's a problem, particularly in Spain and to a lesser extent in Italy and Turkey. At the end of last year, Spain was 56.3 percent digital, compared to 84 percent of Europe. The U.K., Germany and France are fully digital. Last year we went to the Hollywood studios and asked them to show understanding in territories such as Spain. The response was very positive, but the truth is the end of film will result in the loss of a significant number of theaters and screens.

With the graying of European audiences -- the average age is over 40 -- does Hollywood's summer tentpole strategy still work?

There's a dearth of original stories; the last few years have seen a glut of sequels and prequels and reboots. Some of the reboots have clearly been hugely successful, such as Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight series, while others have not been so good. With the decline in home video, there's understandably desire on the part of the studios to stick to what's tried and true, but franchises aren't seeing increased returns.

To your point, The Wolf of Wall Street, 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle have done huge business during recent weeks, but RoboCop has lagged. Are you happy overall with the movies so far in 2014?

In the U.K., which is my territory, we've seen an increase in the importance of the first three months of the year, driven by the BAFTAs and the Oscars. We have an embarrassment of riches. But if you are a small cinema with only one or two screens, you are turning down films that you'd be crying out for at any other time of the year. I would like to maintain that level of diversity and quality throughout the year.

Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac is not doing well in Europe. Are you surprised?

(Laughs.) I think audiences may want to be challenged, but not challenged that much. Lars von Trier is a very acquired taste; he's almost a niche within a niche.

Why has CinemaCon become so important for foreign theater owners?

To be honest, it's the only time of year when the vast majority of the global exhibition business comes together. And there are few issues that don't confront both the U.S. and Europe.

CinemaCon runs March 24-27 in Las Vegas.