As studios vie for a chunk of an increasingly globalized business, the importance of local-language films that reflect homegrown audiences has been among key talking points for exhibitors and studios here at the CineEurope conference in Barcelona this week. Local films simply help all boats to rise. It’s notably on folks minds amid a box office downturn in some European majors, particularly Germany where underperforming local titles have contributed to a sizable drop in the first part of the year.
Tim Richards, chief of Vue International which operates in major European markets, including Germany and Italy (as well as Taiwan), tells me a local hit “turns a good year into a great year.”
Fox’s President of International Theatrical Distribution Andrew Cripps confirms the importance of local which “brings an audience to movies that don’t normally go, then they see trailers and marketing materials” which have the effect of whetting appetites and driving further footfall.
During a panel on globalization this week, Bret Kim of Korean powerhouse CJ CGV said, “When we go into a market, one of the key things is the quantity and quality of local content. If the market is very mature, there’s a high penetration and viewership.” That means even “the more the Oscar type movies can do well,” he said noting that titles released in January and February “can do very well in Korea. In less developed markets like Vietnam they don’t work, it’s only tentpoles.”
In markets where the film industry is very active, Kim said, “people want to watch their own stories, lots of times more than half the box office is the rise of local content.” He pointed to Korea, China and Turkey as examples. In 2017, according to numbers published by trade org UNIC, Turkey grew 25.9% in box office and 22.1% in admissions with national productions dominating. (ComScore stats through the first week of June this year in Europe and parts of the Middle East show a 1.1% overall increase versus 2017.)
Germany in 2017 saw a slight increase, but the market is down so far 18% this year. Not all the blame goes to local, though. Constantin Film chief Martin Moszkowicz tells me, “It has not been a good year so far for both U.S. and German films, although probably a bit more on the local titles. Nearly every title has been coming in below industry estimates. As always, I think the major reason are the movies. We also had the warmest spring period since ever. Starting in March and continuing after a very cold winter. It is hard — especially for family films as those play mostly afternoons.”
And with the World Cup approaching, he doesn’t expect things to get much better — Germany are the defending champs. Instead, “Hopes are with summer and fall. Constantin Film, which is a key driver for local titles, has scheduled most of our strong titles for summer, fall in winter.”
Fox, along with Sony, Warner Bros and Universal have been among the biggest studio purveyors of local content in foreign markets. WB has Jim Button And Luke The Engine Driver, from Mechanic: Resurrection director Dennis Gansel in Germany which is the highest grossing local title through the first week of June.
France, coming off a 50-year record 2017, has some strong local performers this year including The Magic Tuche and La Ch’Tite Famille. Universal’s local pick-up Campeones is the No. 1 local title in Spain, and No. 2 overall, with about $18M. Also released by Uni, Benedetta Follia in Italy is the No. 5 film of the year. In Russia, Sony has the No. 2 film of the year with Ice which in February set a new industry record as the biggest opening day for a local title ever.
Cineworld boss Mooky Greidinger noted during the globalization panel that in general, “There is a big influence of local product which plays a big part of the box office.” But “the days of pushing our audiences to the smaller movies is gone. Here and there there is of course overflow, but in general the opening weekend dictates. We should give a chance and try to give as large as possible a combination of movies. It’s good for the industry, but we cannot really force our audience to see what they don’t want to see.”
On the same panel, IMAX Global Chief Marketing Officer JL Pomeroy said, “People want to see representation. They want to see themselves in these films.” She pointed to China where last year’s Wolf Warrior 2 became the biggest movie ever in the market with $854M. The films that are working today in the Middle Kingdom “have a nationalist topic and the Chinese hero which they hadn’t seen before. It’s not just the language but the contet and message that prevails.”
In the reverse vein, Vue’s Richards was bullish on studios understanding overseas markets better. “One thing has changed in the last 25 years: Studios are now producing for a global audience. I can remember pleading with the studios ‘no more baseball movies.’ Now with local talent coming into films and common themes, we’re seeing very different appeal to films generally.”