Spain 2015 in Review: Hollywood Local-Language Films Outperform, Netflix Launches

Spanish Affair 2 Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Telecinco Cinema

Hollywood shoots also came to the country, which updated its film financing system, drawing cheers from local players.

If 2014 was the year the Spanish film industry got a reprieve from financial crisis, 2015 was the year it gained momentum at the box office.

A handful of domestic hits snagged top spots at the box office, backed by the new trend of U.S. studios distributing local product. Also, new legislation addressed historic problems such as piracy and inadequate film financing models as foreign shoots increasingly found incentives to land in Spain.   

Plus, Netflix launched in Southern Europe, including in Spain, as the streaming video giant continues to work toward a global presence by the end of 2016.

Here's a closer look at key entertainment industry stories in Spain in 2015.

U.S. Studios' Local-Language Hits Outperform

Universal had a stellar year around the world and in Spain, earning $160 million (€147 million) through the beginning of December, breaking Disney’s 2004 record of €143.4 million and snagging 30 percent of ticket sales in the country for the year.

Maybe more noteworthy was the fact that four of Universal’s 24 releases through November, or 17 percent, were Spanish titles that accounted for 20 percent of its Spanish box-office revenue.

Warner Bros. local-language comedy Perdiendo el Norte ranked in the top 10 for the year as of mid-December, but the much-anticipated Palm Trees in the Snow, which opens on Dec. 25, is expected to outperform it.

In fact, local product regularly outperformed big-budget Hollywood films in Spain in 2015. Paramount had a $12 million hit with the animated film Capture the Flag, which topped its best Hollywood import, Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation, which earned $7 million in the country. And Sony's Spanish wedding disaster comedy Ahora o Nunca earned $8.5 million, beating out James Bond tentpole Spectre ($6.5 million).

Of the 20 top-performing Spanish titles in 2015, all but two were distributed by Universal, Paramount, Sony, Warner or eOne.

A Spanish Affair 2 Becomes Top Homegrown Film of 2015

Many local Spanish films made a big splash at the Spanish box office in 2015 thanks to U.S. companies throwing their muscle behind the theatrical release. 

Each successive release set a new high in 2015, with A Spanish Affair 2 landing not only the top spot by year’s end but also sitting as the highest-grossing title in Spain for the year with €28.3 million and 4.4 million tickets sold. 

Spanish movies used to hover just below the glass ceiling of €1 million, but 2015 boasted no fewer than 12 Spanish titles crossing the magic number — with the top five posting more than 1 million tickets sold.

Spanish Subsidy Changes Draw Cheers

After three years of clamoring for a new financing model, Spain’s movie industry celebrated when the government approved a decree to restructure film subsidies so producers will know how much aid they will receive before production begins. Unlike the previous system, which provided aid based on commercial success and came two or more years after a film’s release, the new rules offer financial security in advance. The rules, which go into effect Jan. 1, prioritize projects with "economic viability" in the form of deals with distributors, international sales agents and broadcasters.

The timing of the law’s approval in early December coincided with a Madrid court opening a probe into alleged fraud on the part of some Spanish producers and distributors accused of inflating ticket sales to meet the criteria for eligibility for subsidies that previously were linked to commercial success.

Meanwhile, the Spanish industry continues to fight the EU’s highest sales tax on ticket sales: 21 percent.

Hollywood Shoots in Spain

U.S. Ambassador to Spain James Costos has used his Los Angeles connections from his time as vp at HBO to forge ties between Hollywood and the Spanish industry.

Capitalizing on a groundbreaking 15 percent tax credit implemented in 2015 for foreign shoots in Spain — a number that rises to a whopping 35 percent in the Canary Islands — Spain has become a hot location for shoots like Game of Thrones, the next installment in the Bourne franchise, The Promise, Exodus: Gods and Kings and In the Heart of the Sea.

International shoots are enticed by the tax rebate, which is capped at $2.8 million (€2.5 million), or $5.3 million (€4.5 million) in the Canary Islands. But it is also the dramatic landscapes, medieval fortresses, Moorish castles and gothic churches that attract big-budget films.

Spain says it is already noticing the bump in tourism associated with the cult following of Game of Thrones.

Netflix Launches in Spain

Netflix launched in Spain on Oct. 20 to much fanfare and hand-wringing on the part of the competitors already established in the Spanish market.

After what many said was foot-dragging due to rampant piracy in Spain, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said at launch time that Spain would yet again demonstrate that people will choose well-distributed, high-quality product over piracy.  

Two months after its Spanish launch, Netflix released an internal study that ranked the best Internet service providers, with Spanish stalwart Telefonica ranking the worst. Telefonica’s Movistar TV is Netflix's main rival in Spain.

The company has so far declined to give specific subscriber figures for Spain.