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Italian Summer: an analysis

It was a crucial summer for our industry. Let's take a look at what worked and what can still be improved...

This was the most important summer in recent years, with high expectations. How did it go? Let’s start with the basics: how much did the summer of 2019 gross? Let’s check that out in our infographics, both the one comparing the last three years to the year 2011, week by week (here the interactive version), and the one showing the totals of the 2006 and 2019 summers (here the interactive version):

And while we’re at it, even the top 15 highest-grossing movies of the last eleven weeks, as shown in the infographic below (here the interactive version):

By comparison, this is the same chart of 2018 (here the interactive version):

It’s easy to spot the differences: while both years saw a movie exceeding the 10 million mark, there are three titles that passed the 4 million mark in 2019 (only one in 2018) and six titles over the 3 million mark (three in 2018). On the other hand, it’s interesting how the lack of competition allowed some of the 2018 titles to grow compared to some more prestigious 2019 properties. A prime example: The Meg doing better than The Secret Life of Pets 2.

Here we have the box office revenues divided by distributors, showing how the four major studios together accounted for more than 74% of the entire summer market (here the interactive version):

It should be noted that last year the share of the four major distributors was around 67%, a rise that can be easily explained with the higher number of American blockbusters released this year. 01 Distribution made a valuable contribution with 6% (not just thanks to Il traditore, but also The Current War and Hotel Artemis), while the other two big Italian distributors – Vision and Medusa, both with ties to television production – didn’t even make it to 1%, with 0,87% and 0,59% respectively. Notorious’s sixth place is also worth mentioning.

One could obviously argue about the time frame in question (the reasons behind it have been explained several times before, and you can still find them inside the infographic itself), but then again, in the 2018 Barcelona meetings, held in anticipation of the 2019 summer, it was decided to take into account three periods, of about 75 days each: the first before the summer (from mid-March to late May), the second covered the actual summertime (from early June to mid August) and the third after the summer (from mid-August to late October). At the end, we basically adapted the same concept of summertime.

The 61.490.241 grossed during the summer of 2019 can be interpreted in different ways, depending on whether you see a glass as half full or half empty. Let’s start with the positive evidence. It’s the best result since 2011 (which is a record not just for the last years but probably ever), slightly better than 2015 and 2016. It was a vast improvement not just from 2018 (46,6 millions, +31,8%) but from 2017 as well (52,9 million, +16%). In addition, the result achieved in 2019 is above the average recorded from 2006 to 2018, which was of 57.946.832 euros. Overall, it’s the fourth-best revenue of the last fourteen years, which I wouldn’t hail as a miracle but it’s still a comforting statistic.

This brings us to the less positive evidence. If we consider the average from the odd-numbered years (when there are no major sporting competitions and therefore revenues are higher) – which was at 63.068.474 euros from 2007 to 2017 – it’s clear that the 2019 data is lower. Several titles didn’t performed as expected (we’ll talk more about that below), but in general we could’ve hoped for a better overall result for this summer, considering how packed it was. We should also consider a key comparison with Spain: from May 31st to August 15th, the Spanish box office grossed a total of 153 million dollars, against our 73,6, meaning less than half. We should point out that the Italian total hasn’t taken the Lion King grosses into account yet (it came out on July 19th in Spain, and made 32,4 millions), and the Spain market was supported by important local products (like Padre no hay mas que, a comedy that grossed 5,1 million dollars).

In all of this, we should also report the annual figures of 2019. As of August 21st, the overall revenue sat at 352.081.227 euro, against the 321.361.583 of the same time last year (+9,5%) and the 347.359.666 euros of 2017 (a year that, as of now, saw an increase of sold tickets, thanks to the two-euros-Wednesday, 56.584.427 against the 54.837.045 of 2019).

Let’s take an up-close look at two titles that worked. Spider-Man: Far From Home has certainly been a breath of fresh air, after a May/June full of underachieving products. Also noteworthy was Annabelle Comes Home, which basically got the same result of the second episode, with worse results around the world.

What went wrong? There’s no doubt that the worst disappointments came from the world of animations, from The Secret Life of Pets 2 to mainly Toy Story 4, the latter being especially worrying, seeing how it passed the one billion mark worldwide, and it definitely can’t be considered a global box office let down, as it happened with other titles.

But, generally speaking, it’s hard to find other truly positive results, compared to the overall expectations and the data from the rest of the world. It’s true that several titles performed well under expectations everywhere in the world, but it’s also true that, among those titles, we could’ve hoped to find something that worked better for our market.

This brings us to a range of data based remarks that are inevitably subjective and disputable. The first is a key question: can we sell “summer” to the audience? Meaning, rather than selling a specific movie (or a franchise or even a universe, like Marvel’s), can we sell the idea that going to the movies is still a great experience even when it’s hot outside (bearing in mind that one could easily take advantage of rain periods, as done with this campaign)?

It’s not easy, and not because it’s wrong, but because it’s complicated from a marketing standpoint, and maybe even conflicting. For example, it’s impossible to reconcile the summer offer from the big American blockbusters with the – almost commercially nonexistent – offer made by the Italian cinema in the same time frame (we’ll talk more about the national scene below). And most of all, it’s hard to convince the viewer to not just simply go see the movies they’re interested in, but to “support” an entire period and the efforts made by distributors and exhibitors (which are commendable endeavors, but ones that the general public has trouble understating, or is simply not interested in, its main concern being to find a title that fits its interests).

It’s seems like there’s a limited number of movies that viewers deem worthy to be seen indoors during during the summer (a number that can rise, and this is the main goal we all have for the 2019-2021 summers, which will hopefully be achievable). This means that maybe we’re going to the movies 2-3 times during these months (at the very best, in the case of frequent moviegoers anyways), and mostly to see highly anticipated titles.

It’s no surprise that blockbusters coming out in June and July do well at the box office, just think of what Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 did in 2011 (with more than 22 millions under its belt), or what other major titles have done since Mission Impossible 2 (which came out twenty years ago). This leads me to believe that the summer box office works best when we have several mid-range movies with really good revenues, rather than putting all the focus on overall grosses and/or big results from a couple of titles. In this respect, the only one worth mentioning might be Arrivederci professore (almost 1,5 million).

Then there’s the real danger of wanting to change the audience and its habits not matter what (a risk that our industry takes often, as you can read here). As a matter of fact, we are the only industry that would rather change its viewers than try to satisfy them (an industry that, for more than a century, has had no problem addressing a very wide and non-elitist audience, as opposed to the opera industry or art in general). Of course, summer requires a different approach from the public, but certain “pedagogic” language (on this and other aspect of our cinema) are at risk of having a boomerang effect, and alienate a younger audience in particular.

This brings us to Italian movies. We can obviously highlight the excellent performance by Il traditore, but it’s important to remember how, for years now, the Italian titles screening in competition at Cannes have also been released in Italian theaters at the same time. Basically, the mobilization that came with the American products didn’t convince Italian producers and distributors to take a couple of real risks.

Though here, to be honest, we are faced with a giant Catch-22. On one hand, it could be crucial to enrich our cinematic summers with a national product (especially a comedy), so as to make them more packed and varied. On the other hand, the worries that follow are understandable: in an already tricky time of the year, and with a landscape full (starting from 2019) of major American movies, the risk is to find ourselves slaughtered by this fierce competition. In addition to all this, the movies’ run (meaning the ratio between their first weekend and the total grosses) can’t be the same one we got used to this past few summers, when there was only one blockbuster per month.

Needless to say, we’re dealing with an age-old dilemma: apart from a few praiseworthy exceptions (like Riccardo Milani’s Ma cosa ci dice il cervello, which came out on April 18th), the most important Italian titles will continue to come out between October and March, in a scenario in which the number of produced (and more or less efficiently distributed) movies is likely to increase thanks to tax incentives. For now, the share of our cinema in 2019 is 17,01%, an obviously low percentage (in 2017, the annus horribilis of our production, it sat at 17,04%).

There’s another important paradox that’s worthy of attention. For a long time it was believed that a packed summer would be followed by a less crowded fall. Well, looking at the current competition, it doesn’t look like that. Gabriele Salvatores’ Tutto il mio folle amore and Downton Abbey will come out on October 24th, as well as genre products that could work like One Piece, Ready or Not and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. October 31st (taking justifiable advantage of the November 1st holiday) looks even worse: L’uomo del labirinto (the new movie from Carrisi), Terminator, Il giorno più bello del mondo directed by and starring Siani, The Addams Family and Doctor Sleep. And the movies that come out a week earlier will obviously still be in the running by then, which will turn the weekend into a fierce battle for theater tenures. Besides, if September and the fist part of October are left with only a few movie events (It, Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Joker), weirdly enough the result will be an empty slate, for a season that can and should grow substantially.

At this point, one might as well consider whether, for the market as a whole, the strategy of the day-and-date should become a potentially damaging dogma, or if, for example, there’s nothing wrong with strengthening September with an animated feature, even if it comes out two months after the US theatrical release. Because some of the results (that could’ve been way different in September) are not helping anyone.