Category Archives: box office

Global cinema news and comment

2009 seems to have come to a rousing end in terms of cinema box offices around the world. We commented on 3 Idiots and broken records in Hindi Cinema in the last post and most of the world knows that Avatar has given James Cameron the the No2 box office film of all time already. With $1.33 billion worldwide and counting there is now an outside possibility that Avatar will catch Titanic.

Here are some other news stories that you might have missed in all the Hollywood fanfares:

China has had an amazing year at the cinema with an increase in box-office revenues of 44%. This came after 600 new screens were added last year, bringing the country’s total to 4,700. Out of the total, 1,800 are digital and nearly 800 are 3-D screens. The revenue increases came partly from higher prices in new multiplexes appearing in shopping malls. There is still a restriction on Hollywood titles that are allowed an import certificate, but 5 blockbuster US titles were in the Chinese Top 10 for 2009 – no wonder the studios are eager for more entry opportunities and co-productions.

In France, admissions are up to over 200 million making 2009 the best year since 1982 and securing No3 slot for the French cinema market after India and the US. Hollywood still managed 49.8% and French producers bagged a very creditable 37.1% leaving 13.1% for the ‘Rest of the World’.

In both the UK and France, the video industry has bounced back in 2009. In the UK, the increase in Blu-Ray disc transactions has compensated for the decline in the traditional DVD market and the sector’s overall performance expected to improve during 2010 driven by HD TV sales. In France action against pirates and a reduction in the cinema release window (i.e. DVDs released after a shorter period following the cinema release) has seen the volume of transactions rise by 30% and value by 7%.

The value of the Spanish box office also broke records and Spanish producers took 15% of their own market. Polish admissions rose to 38 million (an increase of 4 million) with 29 Polish productions generating over 8 million admissions. Three Hollywood animated films topped the box office chart. In the Netherlands, admissions were up as well with a big increase in the value of the market. Hollywood took 70% of the Dutch market. In Italy, admissions were flat but value rose – attributed to higher prices for 3-D screenings, something that has been mentioned in several territories as a cause for optimism in the industry. Anyone want to comment on that – I haven’t been to a 3-D screening yet.

(Most of this info comes from the excellent Cineuropa site – see the headlines in the left sidebar.)

¡Hola! India?


A Cinépolis multiplex in Acapulco (public domain image from Wikipedia)

The big news in the global exhibition market this week is the announcement that the largest cinema chain in Latin America, Cinépolis of Mexico, is to open up to 500 cinema screens in India. The initial launch is of 110 screens in multiplexes of 10 screens or more in eight Indian cities (Indian multiplexes are mostly less than ten screens).

Cinépolis is the fifth largest cinema chain in the world but has previously not moved beyond Central and South America. If the launch is carried through it will introduce a major overseas player into the Indian market and will potentially challenge the ways in which Indian distribution and exhibition has operated (the Indian cinema sector has recently experienced a stand-off between Bollywood producers and multiplexes with new product not reaching many screens).

The Mexican company was founded in 1947 and has recently been seen as an innovator. It has both upmarket (‘VIP’) and low-cost cinema brands that could be introduced alongside its standard multiplexes. Mexico is one of the international territories that has recently seen an increase in admissions to over 170 million per year. This is dwarfed by the 3 billion Indian admissions annually, but it still places Mexico in the Top 5 cinema markets.

Hollywood squeezing out specialised films?

Last week in the foyer of a specialised cinema I stumbled over a large standalone promotion for the new Meryl Streep film Doubt. About 8ft high, 4 ft wide and 18 ins deep, the cardboard construction struck me as physical evidence of what’s been happening to specialised cinemas in the UK. I won’t name the cinema since I’m sure the situation has been forced on them  – and anyway, something similar is happening across the country.

Since the start of the year, it has been difficult to find new foreign language films on any kind of significant release (i.e. more than 20 screens across the UK). I’ve seen one film in the French Institute and half a dozen booked for my own courses and events. I’ve also been to a special event on Cuban Cinema, but in the general film programme the films with subtitles that I’ve seen have all been UK/US productions (Defiance, Slumdog Millionaire and Che). The screens I would have visited are filled with other American product – The Wrestler, The Reader, Revolutionary Road, Milk, Rachel Getting Married, Frost/Nixon and now Doubt. These films are all showing in multiplexes, so why are they on specialised screens as well? As far as I can see, there is no reason to think that they are ‘art films’ as such. To turn it round the other way, what should have been an important release – Tokyo Sonata, a Cannes prizewinner with a growing critical reputation, opened on just three prints. The only foreign language opening (discounting Hindi and Tamil films) with more than three prints has been A Christmas Tale with seven.

In these circumstances, cinemas have no choice but to put on the American films. OK, it’s all about getting Oscar-nominated films in front of the public, but this doesn’t wash. Where is Laurent Canet’s The Class? It is scheduled to open after the Oscar ceremony on February 27. My only other hope is Kim Ji-Woon’s The Good, The Bad and the Weird – a film I’m looking forward to seeing soon. This looks like a wide release – into multiplexes. I’m trying to find out if all the prints are subtitled.

So, am I getting paranoid? I don’t think so. True there are more foreign language films getting a release in the UK now, but when you investigate, it’s only one or two prints in order to bolster the DVD release. I don’t have anything against the so-called American ‘independents’, except that most of them aren’t – and they are crowding out what I want to watch.

Global cinema admissions by country


The 'First XI' of film markets around the world ranked by admissions

I thought it might be useful to gather together some stats on the global film market. These figures are all taken from the publication Focus 2008: World Film Market Trends, published each year as part of the Film Market at Cannes and available for download from the European Audiovisual Observatory. This way of presenting figures is my own. I’ll try to keep it up-to-date – I think there are more recent Chinese figures available. A couple of points are worth making. The high cost of tickets in Japan and the UK keeps these markets ahead of India in revenue terms. The Indian market is affected by low prices (average ticket cost of 16 rupees in 2006) and DVD piracy. The UK revenue figure will drop in dollar terms in 2008 because of the fall in the value of sterling.

South Korea also has relatively high prices – certainly in comparison with China which is currently growing at around 25% a year.

Mexico is far ahead of everywhere else in Latin America, including Brazil. Mexico, too, seems set to rise. In Europe, France and the UK are hanging on, but Germany, Spain and Italy have been disappointing in the last few years.

You don’t have to be a sophisticated observer to see that with India and China still growing new audiences, the next ten years is going to be all about how Hollywood comes to terms with Indian and Chinese industry practices. Or will they become more like Hollywood?

Updated provisional figures for European admissions in 2008 can be found here:

European Box Office Data 2007

One of our aims on the blog is to promote ‘cross border’ knowledge about films. Outside Hollywood, many films only circulate in their own domestic market or associated language markets. Films have to be sold to distributors for different territories. There are reasons why sales don’t take place for some titles, but sometimes it is just a matter of luck or timing – whereas Hollywood films are often sold to affiliates/partners of the US studio distributor.

It is relatively straightforward to discover what is happening in Europe since there is good quality data available from several sources including the Lumiere Database, Cineuropa and Focus. These sources collate data from across the EU (and sometimes beyond to the ‘Europe of 36’). The only slight problem is that UK box office data is usually expressed as box office revenue. This has to be converted into approximate admissions data to match the European convention.

Here is the Top 25 European-produced films of 2007 (taken from Focus 2008)

(Showing title, producing country, year, director and admissions)

1 Mr. Bean’s Holiday GB/FR/DE/US 2007 Steve Bendelack 15,251,106
2 La Môme FR/CZ/GB 2007 Olivier Dahan 7,225,794
3 Taxi 4 FR 2007 Gérard Krawczyk 5,334,716
4 Hot Fuzz GB/FR/US 2007 Edgar Wright 4,849,649
5 Das Leben der Anderen DE 2006 F. H. von Donnersmarck 4,057,710 (a further 1.8 million admissions in 2006)
6 Ensemble, c’est tout FR 2007 Claude Berri 3,304,303
7 Manuale d’amore 2 (Capitoli successivi) IT 2007 Giovanni Veronesi 3,134,777
8 Natale in crociera IT 2007 Neri Parenti 3,074,353
9 Atonement GB/FR/US 2007 Joe Wright 3,059,096
10 Arthur et les Minimoys FR 2006 Luc Besson 2,902,293 (a further 4.8 million in 2006)
11 Lissi und der wilde Kaiser DE 2007 Michael Herbig 2,751,339
12 Katyn PL 2007 Andrzej Wajda 2,735,777
13 Elizabeth: The Golden Age GB/FR/DE 2007 Shekhar Kapur 2,686,064
14 Die Wilden Kerle 4 DE 2007 Joachim Masannek 2,655,249
15 Ho voglia di te IT 2007 Luis Prieto 2,309,624
16 Una Moglie bellissima IT 2007 Leonardo Pieraccioni 2,306,726
17 The Last King of Scotland GB/DE 2006 Kevin Macdonald 2,250,156
18 Run Fatboy Run GB/US 2007 David Schwimmer 2,202,040
19 Notte prima degli esami – Oggi IT 2007 Fausto Brizzi 2,057,238
20 Notes on a Scandal GB 2006 Richard Eyre 2,052,873
21 Hitman FR/US 2007 Xavier Gens 2,038,333
22 Beyaz melek TR 2007 Mahsun Kirmizigül 1,995,040
23 Eastern Promises GB/US/CA 2007 David Cronenberg 1,940,419
24 28 Weeks Later GB/ES 2007 Juan Carlos Fresnadillo 1,873,720
25 Le Coeur des hommes 2 FR 2007 Marc Esposito 1,846,351

The chart does not include the UK/US films designated ‘Inward investment’ by the UKFC, so no Harry Potter or The Golden Compass etc.

In many ways, the chart offers what you might expect with most of the films coming from the four biggest economies – Germany, France, Italy and the UK. There is no Spanish entry, which signals the recent decline of Spanish domestic production. (However, there must be a mistake in compiling the chart as the horror film El Orfanato was released in October 2007 attracting over 4 million admissions – nevertheless, Spain has recently seen a real decline in domestic successes.)

What is perhaps surprising is the relatively high position of the Italian entries, signalling something of a resurgence in domestic production. Note also the high position for Andrzej Wajda’s Katyn and the entry of a Turkish film, Beyaz melek, which made money in Germany and the UK as well as Turkey and some other non-EU countries.

There is some American money involved in European majority co-productions, but it is significant that several of the films here are co-productions involving UK, France or Germany.

The real importance of the chart for our purposes is to note how many/few of the films have been released widely in Europe. A rough calculation suggests around a half of these titles have been released in more than two or three European countries.

The films that are assumed not to travel are usually comedies. Manuale d’amore 2 (Capitoli successivi) is, as the title implies, a sequel to a previous hit in Italy. IMDB describes it as a ‘comedy romance’ and lists it as opening in Spain in 2007 and Greece (and South Korea) in 2008. At the moment, it is only showing Italy on the Lumiere database. (The film does have a star known acroos Europe in the form of Monica Belucci). Much the same goes for Natale in crociera. The other three Italian films are all comedies. The two German films at nos. 11 and 14 are also comedies, but only released in Germany and Austria. IMDB rates all these films very low on the 10 point scale, but presumably somebody out of the millions who saw the films enjoyed them? How do we take account of these productions in terms of European Cinema?

The Turkish film Beyaz melek is rather different. It appears to be an ‘epic drama’ about people in a retirement home in Eastern Turkey and is the first directorial effort by a Turkish singer. The film played to diaspora Turkish audiences in at least Germany and the UK and possibly other European countries as well. In the UK, the screenings were at Wood Green Cineworld and Lee Valley Odeon in North East London. I for one would be very interested in seeing this film with English subtitles.

The crunch film in the list is Katyn. Poland has both a potentially large domestic market and a large number of Poles both temporarily and permanently overseas. In the UK, Dogwoof has imported Polish films (see our review of Wesele). However, Andrzej Wajda is not only the doyen of Polish filmmakers, but also a world figure. There was some dismay when a rumour began that the major arthouse distributor in the UK did not want to buy Katyn, seeing it as ‘old-fashioned’. Now it seems it will be released in the next few months. The story, about the massacre of Polish Army officers by the Russians in 1940, is both a ‘national story’ for the Poles and a personal story for Wajda (whose father was one of the officers killed). The UK has missed out on similar films before (e.g. Wajda’s Pan Tadeusz in 1999).

The distributors may well be correct in their commercial judgment about how films will travel, but Hollywood has persevered and sold us dross. Perhaps European distributors could be more adventurous?

(As of 3 August, I have been unable to confirm that Katyn has got a UK distributor, so the statement above should be ignored until further notice.)

Going domestic in East Asia

In the week that Pirates of the Caribbean opened to record business on 17,500 screens in 102 territories, it’s worth noting that it isn’t all going Hollywood’s way. In 2006, Japan and China joined India and South Korea as major territories in which the domestic film industry managed to achieve 50% of domestic box office. If you want to know what kinds of films these industries are producing, a good starting point is Leung Wing-Fai’s review of the 2007 Far East Film Festival in Udine, which we are honoured to present on the in the picture website. Fai wasn’t that impressed with what was on offer, but “telling it like it is” is part of her style. What’s clear is that these industries function much like other commercial industries and we need to keep track of the range of their ouputs.

2007 looks like a good year for Hollywood, but it is increasingly looking towards East Asian markets — the Pirates franchise brought in Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun-fat for the latest instalment. The latest MPAA figures suggest that Hollywood’s share of the global market has been falling. Partly this is because some territories are growing fast (e.g. Russia) and partly because the difficulties of collecting box office figures in many territories have led to an underestimation of some national totals. In 2006, MPAA quotes a global market for cinema of $25.8 billion with US on $9.49 billion and East Asia on $6.32 billion (an increase of 15% over 2005-6).