'The Hobbit,' 'Hunger Games' Sequels Save 2014 European Box Office From Recession

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies' was the top grossing film in Europe last year.

Cinema revenue rises minimally, Hollywood market share falls, but the market share for European films hits a record high.

Hollywood still rules European cinemas, but homegrown cinema has the momentum.

Box-office revenue across the European Union increased slightly in 2014 to €6.32 billion ($7 billion), a 0.6 percent increase over 2013, but still below levels of the  three previous years.

Admissions were also up slightly, increasing 0.7 percent to 911 million tickets sold.

As with previous years, Hollywood sequels led the 2014 European charts. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay – Part 1 and How to Train Your Dragon 2 were the continent’s top three features last year. Only two European films – French culture clash comedy Serial (Bad) Weddings and Luc Besson’s actioner Lucy – cracked the top 10 in terms of total admissions across the 28 EU member states.

Overall, however, according to provisional figures from a report from the Council of Europe’s Audiovisual Observatory, European cinema is on the rise, and Hollywood, at least the blockbuster variety, is on the slide.

Admissions for U.S films accounted for 63.1 percent of the European market last year, down from 69.5 percent in 2013. European titles increased their market share from 26.2 percent to 33.4 percent, the highest level since the Observatory started collecting data in 1996.

The figures do not calculate market share based on box-office revenue. Presumably, U.S. blockbusters, which tend to dominate Europe’s larger multiplexes with their higher-priced tickets, would account for a larger share than their admissions figures.

The Observatory’s numbers also suggest European filmgoers might not be as wild for the new batch of Hollywood tentpoles as they once were. While Avatar sold 51.9 million tickets in Europe in 2010, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows in 2011 sold 38 million, and Skyfall 42.7 million, the latest crop falls far short. Across Europe, there were 22.7 million admissions for the final Hobbit film and just over 20 million for Mockingjay – Part 1.

Cumulative admissions for European films, on the other hand, increased last year and “became the main driver behind the overall increase in cinema attendance in the EU,” according to the report.

Other European hits include local-language comedy A Spanish Affair, Spain’s most successful film of all time, and Paddington, StudioCanal’s adaptation of the beloved British children’s book, which sold 9.3 million and 7.7 million tickets in Europe, respectively.

But most European blockbusters were only hits in a handful of countries. British comedy The Inbetweeners 2 and German period drama The Physician, for example, did the bulk of their business in their home territories, with little cross-border impact.

The report also shows a divided continent, with box office up in around half of the EU member states and down in the rest. Of the big territories, France and Spain, which both saw box-office growth of more than 3 percent, were the stand-outs, with Germany and Italy, where revenue slipped 7.1 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively, being the laggards.

Russia is not an EU country, but its market was also studied as part of the report. It continued to grow, with gross box-office receipts up 2.4 percent to 43.3 billion rubles. The sharp fall in the value of the ruble, however, has wiped out any gains for international distributors in the region. 

Twitter: @scottroxborough