Russia Box Office 2015: Mixed Fortunes as Hollywood Gains Share, But Ruble Falls

Avengers: Age of Ultron Hawkeye Still - H 2015
Jay Maidment

Avengers: Age of Ultron Hawkeye Still - H 2015

In dollar terms, revenue is down 34 percent despite a local-currency record for the year.

Hollywood was the big winner again at the Russian box office in 2015, dominating ticket sales even more than in recent years as revenue hit a new record in local-currency terms. 

Before data for the final days of the year is in, box-office revenue in Russia in rubles rose over 2014's levels thanks to higher ticket prices and roughly stable attendance. But a steep drop in the value of the Russian currency affected Hollywood and other foreign studios, leaving the annual box office in dollar terms down about 34 percent as of late in the year.

Based on 51 of the year's 52 box-office weeks, the country's total box office for 2015 stood at $796 million (46.9 billion rubles), according to Kinobusiness Today, compared with $1.2 billion (45.2 billion rubles) for the first 51 weeks of 2014 and 46.2 billion rubles for all of 2014, which was an all-time record until this year. In U.S. dollars, the highest box office figure ever, $1.37 billion, was achieved in 2013.

2014's biggest film in U.S. dollar terms was Transformers: Age of Extinction, which grossed $45.6 million, but, due to the ruble's fluctuations, the year's highest grossing movie in the local currency was The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (1.7 billion rubles, or $30.8 million at the exchange rate at the time of release).

The ruble began to sharply lose value against the U.S. dollar in early 2014. By late Dec. 2014, it reached an all-time low of 70 rubles per dollar, compared with 32 rubles a year before. Throughout 2015, the ruble remained unstable. It strengthened a bit to 50 rubles per dollar by mid-year, but took another plunge late in the year, reaching a new all-time low of 72 rubles per dollar on Dec. 29.

Strong Hollywood competition hit domestic movies, giving Russian producers their worst year in a decade.

The box-office share for Russian-made movies slumped to around 15 percent, and only one local-language film made it into the top 10 in terms of audience numbers, but not dollar share: Three Bogatyrs: The Horses Turn (Tri bogatyrya: Khod konem). The film, part of a popular franchise based on fairytales known to every Russian child, brought in just over $17 million on a budget of $3.5 million, putting it at number 12 in dollar terms in the charts.

Figures show local fare slipping to around 15 percent market share, compared with 17 percent in 2014 and as much as 19 percent in 2013. Kino Data said it was the worst year for Russian films in a decade.

Russia's biggest box-office week tends to be the final week of the year, but it isn't expected to change the picture too much. The period around the big New Year holidays traditionally is a bumper one for local movies, with a host of family-oriented event movies scheduled for that time.

So far this year, for the first time since 2005, only five Russian films in 2015 made a profit at the box office, according to Kino Data. An economic recession sparked by a sharp drop in oil prices, a halving of the value of the ruble on foreign exchanges and Western sanctions imposed in the wake of the Kremlin's seizure in the spring of 2014 of Ukraine's Crimea territory have all taken their toll.

The company's figures show that by mid-December, there had been 126 local-language releases in 2015, which brought in a total of $116 million out of a cumulative total of nearly $780 million.

Figures from 2014 show that 84 domestic releases took $219 million, and in 2013 just 59 local releases brought in $258 million, reflecting the damage wrought to producers' bottom line by the ruble's drop in value.

Hollywood and foreign movies, affected by the same challenge of converting ruble revenue into dollars, have in contrast had a good year in terms of market share, even though the years of billion-dollar box office seem now to be in the past for Russia.

The box-office winner in Russia in 2015, according to figures released by Kinobusiness Today, is Avengers: Age of Ultron with revenue of over $33.3 million, closely followed by Furious 7 with $33.2 million and Minions with $32.7 million.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, released in Russia on Dec. 24, has already brought in around $13 million and is likely to end the year with more, pushing it up the charts from its current position of 14th.

The movie remained at the top of the box office for a second weekend in a row for the weekend ending on Dec. 27, grossing $3.6 million (257.3 million rubles), according to data from research company Movie Research, followed by local hit Samy luchshi den (The Best Day Ever), which took in $2.1 million (150.1 million rubles) and Point Break ($1.6 million, or 115 million rubles).

"Economic conditions were the main factor that impacted ... the Russian box office in 2015," said Alexander Luzhin, executive director of research company Movie Research, adding that movie theater attendance is likely to stay at about the same level as 2014. "This is a rather good performance, given that for the retail sector, for instance, the decline reached 8 percent."

According to Luzhin, Russia's total box office in ruble terms is likely to grow by 3 to 4 percent in 2015 over 2014, thanks to increased ticket prices.

"Russians have begun to save, but not on the movies," he said.

Meanwhile, the Russian box office was also hit by demographics. "The 15-25 age group, which accounts for the most active moviegoers, contracted this year again and is set to continue contracting for another three years or so," Luzhin added.

Alexander Semenov, editor and publisher of Kinobusiness Today, said the reason domestic movies were faring so badly in 2015 was that Russian filmmakers did not have enough experience in making hits.

"Lack of experienced screenwriters is probably the main problem," he tells THR. "Often, movies that can't stand competition and are suitably for TV only, get released theatrically. For commercial success, there is a need for action adventure and sci-fi movies, and there are few of those. Comedies and dramas cannot ensure a very good gross." The situation has discouraged private investors from pumping their money in film projects, he adds.

Russian film critic Sergey Lavrentiev agrees. "Both the economy and the poor artistic and technical level of new Russian films are to blame," he says. "They are trying to copy Hollywood blockbusters or make screen versions of stupid TV shows. But producers don't understand — those who watch TV don't go to the movies."

Top Ten Movies in Russia in 2015:

1. Avengers: Age of Ultron ($33.3 million)

2. Furious 7 ($33.2 million)

3. Minions ($32.7 million)

4. Jurassic World ($24.7 million)

5. Terminator Genysis ($21.6 million)

6. Inside Out ($19.5 million)

7. The Martian ($19.2 million)

8. Seventh Son ($18.6 million)

9. Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($18.1 million)

10. Hotel Transylvania 2 ($18 million)