European Admissions Hit 15-Year High on Disney, Local Titles

Serial Bad Weddings 2 - Still 1 - Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Arnaud Borrel

With 1.34 million admissions and an estimated $9.2 billion in revenue, 2019 was a banner year for Europe's theatrical business, helped by Disney blockbusters 'Lion King,' 'Avengers: Endgame' and 'Frozen 2.'

The rumors of the death of cinema have been greatly exaggerated. In Europe at least, the theatrical business has rarely looked better.

Official figures published Monday by the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC) show box office attendance figures hitting a record high last year, helped by both studio juggernauts and home-grown hits.

The UNIC recorded 1.34 billion admissions across Europe in 2019, the highest attendance figures in the European Union for 15 years. Across all the European territories the UNIC covers, including Russia, attendance soared to a level not seen since the early 1990s. Box office last year topped $9.21 billion, another record, albeit one not adjusted for inflation.

Disney's gargantuan year at the box office played an outsized role at boosting European figures, with The Lion King, Avengers: Endgame, Frozen 2 and Toy Story 4 among 2019's top performers across the continent. Warner Bros.' Oscar winner Joker was also a major hit in virtually every territory in Europe.

But, country by country, much of the box office bump came from local-language hits, with films like Serial Bad Weddings 2 in France (local box office take: $54 million) and Germany's Das perfekte Geheimnis ($50 million) making a significant impact. Arguably the most impressive regional performer was Truth and Justice, Tanel Toom's adaptation of an epic Estonian novel, which has become the most-watched film of all time in the tiny Baltic country, with more than 267,000 admissions (in a country with a population of just 1.3 million inhabitants). To compare, the previous record-holder, James Cameron's Avatar, had less than 194,000 admission in Estonia.

But there were signs of strength everywhere, from Russia, where admissions — at 216.3 million — topped the symbolically significant 200 million figure for the third time running and put the country ahead of France (with 213.3 million admissions in 2019) as the largest in terms of the number of tickets sold. Sony Pictures is currently riding the Russian box office boom with its local-language feature Ice 2, the sequel to the 2018 hit Ice. The new film, directed by Zhora Kryzhovnikov, entered at number one at the box office, taking in $8.4 million over the first three days. The Sony Pictures International Productions smashed records for the highest grossing opening day for a local language film in Russia, was a $3 million one-day take.

In terms of box office, the U.K. was Europe's top territory in 2019, with a $1.63 billion gross, a figure that was actually down slightly on a record-breaking 2018.

There was more good news in western Europe, with Germany bouncing back from a tough 2018 to see admissions jump 12.6 percent and box office leap nearly 14 percent to $1.1 billion last year. It was a similar tale in Italy, where box office jumped 14.4 percent to $689 million, with a 13.6 percent increase in admissions. 

The Spanish cinema industry enjoyed its best performance in a decade, with admissions surpassing the 100 million mark, at 105 million tickets sold, for a total box office of $676 million, 6.6 percent above 2018.

One of the continent's biggest success stories has been Poland, where admissions have grown 63 percent since 2010, hitting a record-breaking 60.9 million tickets (and $290 million box office gross) last year.

Everywhere, home-grown production has played an important role in driving the business. It's notable that in four of Europe's biggest territories — France, Russia, Italy and Germany — local titles accounted for more than 20 percent of the box office total.