Why Germany Could Set Another Box Office Record This Year (Analysis)

Strong local titles such as "The Break-Up Man" and a resilient 3D market should keep Germany on top in 2013.

COLOGNE -- 2012 was a banner year at the German box office. Official figures, expected early next month, should confirm that theatrical revenues topped the €1 billion ($1.3 billion) benchmark for the first time ever.

2013, however, could be even better.

STORY: 'Break-Up Man' Set to Topple 'The Hobbit' in Germany

To be sure, a lot went right in 2012 for German exhibitors. Mega-tentpoles including Skyfall (closing in on $90 million for the territory), Peter Jackson's The Hobbit – an Unexpected Journey ($82 million and counting), and Ice Age: Continental Drift are helping to fill coffers. Then there was the out-of-left-field success story of French comedy The Intouchables, which grossed an astounding $82 million for indie distributor Senator -- a return that both juiced the country's overall box office performance and rocketed Berlin-based Senator into the major leagues.

Despite an impressive 2013 lineup that includes award season favorites Silver Linings Playbook and The Master, as well as Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects and Lasse Hallstrom's Nicholas Sparks adaptation Safe Haven, Senator CEO Helge Sasse doesn't expect to top 2012, which was the best year in the company's history. But the overall German market, he thinks, might be heading for another record. "We could easily top €1 billion again," he says. 

“2012 was a fantastic year, especially when you consider we had two major sporting events -- the European Soccer Championships and the London Olympics -- which drove down attendance in the summer months,” said Vincent de La Tour, managing director of 20th Century Fox in Germany.

The lack of a similar major sporting event in Europe this summer is one reason German distributors are so optimistic 2013 could top last year's box office record. Another is German audiences' appetite for 3D. Unlike similar mature territories such as the U.S. and U.K., which have seen growth in 3D revenues flatten, in Germany, 3D continues to pull them in.

3D titles performed incredibly well last year -- just look at Life of Pi, where almost 90 percent of the box office revenue in Germany was for the 3D version,” said de La Tour. Much of Fox's success last year was built on 3D titles, including Ice Age: Continental Drift ($69 million in Germany) and successful 3D re-releases of Titanic and Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace.

That bodes well for 2013, with a release schedule that includes such tentpole 3D titles as Sam Raimi's Oz: Great and Powerful, Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, not to mention animated fare including Dreamworks' The Croods and Tarzan 3D from local mini-major Constantin Film.

In general, German productions, which underperformed in 2012 despite the overall boffo box office, also look stronger this year. Hit-maker Matthias Schweighofer is riding high with his latest local-language rom-com, The Break-Up Man, which grossed more than $5 million on its opening weekend for Fox. Actor/director Til Schweiger, whose film Guardians, a venture into the action genre, performed below some expectations, is on safer ground with Kokowaah 2, the sequel to his 2011 hit, which earned more than $40 million for Warner Bros.

2013 already has its first local art-house hit as well in the form of Margarette von Trotta's Hannah Arendt. The biopic, which stars Barbara Sukowa as the titular German-Jewish philosopher, who coined the term “the banality of evil,” has been a surprise sleeper for local distributor NFP, grossing more than $600,000 so far on limited release.

Another, likely larger, home-grown hit could be on the way. Constantin's 3096 Days, the story of the notorious Natascha Kampusch kidnapping in Austria, bows wide here on Feb. 28.

Predicting another record year for the German box office has to come with a few caveats. There won't be a James Bond film this year and the Twilight Saga franchise has run its course. Distributors are hoping to sate the appetite of teen audiences with the second The Hunger Games feature and similar youth-skewing fantasy fare, such as Harald Zwart's The Mortal Instruments – the first in a planned franchise from Constantin Film and zombie love story Warm Bodies, directed by Jonathan Levine and released in Germany through Concorde. If the teen audience turns out in force in 2013 to embrace these new franchises, another box office record should be in reach.