Hollywood rules in SEE’s cinema halls

by Trayan Koyankov

The Avengers, the smash hit that joined the elite club of movies with a global box office of above 1 billion U.S. dollars in just 19 days, is number one in the period January-July only in Bulgaria and Romania. The title positions itself at number three in Croatia, number two in Serbia and Montenegro (the provided chart combines the figures for the two countries) and number seven in Slovenia. The success of the Marvel superhero film illustrates several trends visible worldwide.

Firstly, the box office is completely dominated by movies produced by major Hollywood studios. Such titles account for 100% of the top 10 rankings in Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia and Romania, with only Serbia and Montenegro showing somewhat stronger preference for domestic film production.

Secondly, it shows that the region has not been left untouched by the worldwide tendency for cinema-goers to prefer movies either shot in or converted to 3D format. Eight of the first 10 pictures in Bulgaria and Romania came in 3D, compared with six in each Croatia, Slovenia and Serbia and Montenegro. However, their higher ranking can also be attributed to the 3D-surcharge, which lifts ticket prices.

Among the Hollywood titles, audiences in the region tend to select flicks with sci-fi elements which offer pure entertainment. This explains the success not only of The Avengers but also of John Carter (the film became a notorious flop in its native the USA), Wrath of The Titans (it also disappointed in the USA), Men in Black 3, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Prometheus, Underworld Awakening, The Hunger Games. Moreover, the excellent box office performance of the comedy The Dictator, which failed to lure many cinema-goers in the USA, is a strong example of a regional rather than a global hit.

Locally-made titles arouse greatest interest in Serbia and Montenegro where Serbia’s Professor Kosta Vujic’s Hat topped the chart with a box office result four times the figure of the runner-up.

The success of the Sascha-Baron Cohen vehicle, coupled with that of American Reunion and This Means War, also indicates that audiences in Southeast Europe cannot resist the temptation of Hollywood comedies. Furthermore, the strong results of Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, Puss in Boots and Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax means that animated Hollywood titles in 3D are also an extremely hot property in the region.
When looking at the box office performance of non-Hollywood titles in the region in the first half of this year it is obvious that they are faring much worse. Thus, the highest-ranking foreign title produced by a non-major studio in Bulgaria is Steven Soderbergh-directed Haywire at number 25. In Serbia and Montenegro and in Slovenia the honour goes to the UK drama Iron Lady at number 18 and 16, respectively, while independent comedy One for The Money ranks at number 24 in Romania.

French phenomenon Intouchables, which attracted more than 350 million U.S. dollars around the world, fares well only in Croatia where it charts at number 11 in the first six months of the year, while it is at number 37 in Serbia and Montenegro, number 31 in Slovenia, number 39 in Romania and number 44 in Bulgaria. French The Artist, the winner of the last Academy Award for Best Picture, can be found with a relatively poor ranking at number 45 in Bulgaria, number 42 in Croatia, number 34 in Serbia and Montenegro, number 46 in Slovenia and number 53 in Romania.

As a whole, non-English language films account for 10% of the top 50 in Bulgaria and Slovenia, 12% in Croatia, 20% in Serbia and Montenegro and only 2.0% in Romania.
It is interesting to see how local productions perform against their more powerful competitors produced outside of the region. Locally-made titles arouse the greatest interest in Serbia and Montenegro where Serbia’s Professor Kosta Vujic’s Hat topped the chart with a box office result four times the figure of the runner-up. Ustanicka Ulica, also a Serbian title, ranks at number 5 in the combined chart with Montenegro.

Every U.S.-made, 3D, big-budgeted sci-fi or animated movie, with one or two comedic touches, stands considerable chances to be a hit in the region.

In Bulgaria, despite the lack of box office stars such as last year’s Love.net and Operation Shmenti Capelli, and Mission London in 2010, two Bulgarian titles made it into the top 20 ranking at home – The Foreigner at number 13 and Rapid Reaction Corps at number 16.

Angelina Jolie-directed controversial Bosnian War drama In The Land Of Blood and Honey ranks at number 11 in Croatia, while the highest-charting entirely regional title Larin Izbor: Izgubljeni Princ is at number 34 (it was, however, released at the end of June). No films produced by local film makers entered the top 50 rankings in Romania and Slovenia in the first six months of this year.

The obvious dominance of Hollywood titles in the cinema theatres may be explained partly with desire to escape, briefly at least, from the tough reality of everyday life. It is thus not strange that sci-fi and comedy are the film genres that prevail in the box office. In the last few years the global financial crisis and its hardships have undisputedly made more people seek fun and entertainment on the big screen. And there is actually no one better than the Hollywood movie industry with its big budgets in providing exactly the right solution for these cinema goers. At the same time, the success of animated and comic-based flicks is a solid proof that going to the cinema hall has turned into a family-orientated entertainment rather than a thought-provoking one.

On the other hand, the economic crisis has had a negative impact on the purchasing power, which means that cinema-goers have had to limit their film selection. Therefore, many prefer to spend their hard-earned cash on titles with abundant special effects, and especially presented in 3D format as the technology continues to be a gimmick still tough to be recreated at the same magnitude at home. As a result, various independent American or European movies have a chance to break out only on blu-ray, pay TV, video on demand or during festival showings. The ever-increasing power of legal and illegal download, or streaming, is also taking its toll.

To sum it up, every U.S.-made, 3D, big-budgeted sci-fi or animated movie, with one or two comedic touches, stands considerable chances to be a hit in the region, while productions ‘Made in SEE’ have a long way to go before turning into blockbusters.

Box office results for the first half of 2012

Bulgaria (in U.S. dollars)

Croatia (in U.S. dollars)

Serbia and Montenegro (in U.S. dollars)

Slovenia (in U.S. dollars)

Romania (in U.S. dollars)