Cinema-goers turn their backs on Hollywood

Looking back at mixed year for Swiss cinemas Keystone

Ticket sales for cinemas in Switzerland dropped by more than ten per cent last year, partly because of a lack of Hollywood blockbusters.

This content was published on February 15, 2006 - 09:57

But Swiss cinemas appear unfazed by the latest figures and are confident that domestic films will continue to attract more visitors this year.

Switzerland's 330 or so cinemas sold some 15.2 million tickets in 2005, according to provisional data by the association of cinema and film distribution, ProCinema.

The figure represents a drop of around 14 per cent compared with the previous year. Films from the United States suffered the biggest blow, but they still have a market share of 59 per cent in Switzerland.

European productions – mainly from Germany, France and Britain – did a lot better with Swiss audiences last year, while the share of Swiss films more then doubled from a very modest 2.6 per cent in 2004 to 5.9 per cent last year.

This was largely due however to the success of the Swiss-German comedy, Mein Name ist Eugen (My Name is Eugen), which was the third most popular feature behind the computer animation Madagascar and the latest Harry Potter film.

Despite the drop in the number of punters going to see US films, eight of the top ten hits still hailed from Hollywood studios.

Optimistic

The Swiss cinema sector is not put off by the weakening pull of the 2005 film harvest.

René Gerber, ProCinema's managing director, said the latest figures had to be seen in the context of the past few years.

"2004 had been an exceptional year – the best in two decades. There is no reason to be alarmed about the 2005 results, but we still have to take it seriously," he said.

Martin Hellstern, president of the Swiss Association of Exhibitors, is optimistic that the lights will not go out in the cinemas forever.

"People will still want to go to the movies in cities and enjoy an evening out together."

But Hellstern reckons that cinemas in small towns and outside city centres might come under pressure.

Complex reasons

As for the drop in the number of cinema-goers, Hellstern has identified several reasons.

"It's the absence of blockbusters from Hollywood and the strong competition from DVDs with their bonus tracks."

But looking back over some 40 years of experience, Hellstern says the cinema industry has always gone through ups and downs.

He dismisses suggestions that ticket prices are too high in Switzerland or that the standards of the movie theatres have slipped.

"Compared with other forms of entertainment such as the theatre, the opera or music clubs, you get best value for money when you go to the movies," says Hellstern, who runs the leading multiplex cinema in the city of Lugano.

Swiss films on the rise

For the first time in years, up to half a dozen domestic films are currently on show in commercial cinemas in Switzerland's major cities.

They include the comedies Mein Name ist Eugen and Jeune Homme (Young Man) as well as Grounding, a feature about the demise of the former national airline Swissair.

Hellstern is delighted by the apparent revival of Swiss films, which brings back happy memories of the box office hits of the 1950s and 1960s.

"Many Swiss film-makers have come to understand that they have to target a wide audience, instead of trying to please a small elite of film connoisseurs and critics."

Grounding set a new record during the first weekend it opened in the German-speaking part of the country in January and it has attracted more than 120,000 visitors within 11 days.

Hellstern is confident that Grounding and other mainstream productions, such as Fredi Murer's Vitus, a story about a child prodigy pianist, will enjoy a long run this year and make Swiss films a trademark for good entertainment.

For their part, the federal authorities, which fund film production, promotion and training with SFr41.5 million ($32 million), this year set themselves a target of ten per cent of the market share by 2010.

swissinfo, Urs Geiser

Key facts

Top ten box office hits in 2005:

Madagascar, US, 684,958 visitors
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Britain, 575,291 visitors
Mein Name ist Eugen, 503,726 visitors
Hitch, US, 434,974 visitors
Mr & Mrs Smith, US, 418,966 visitors
Meet the Fockers, US, 387,756 visitors
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, US, 381,287 visitors
Ray, US, 269,447 visitors
Million Dollar Baby, US, 261,367 visitors
War of the Worlds, US, 247,341 visitors

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In brief

There are 335 cinemas with 540 screens and 110,455 seats in Switzerland as well as 91 open-air cinemas, according to latest industry figures for 2004.

Switzerland has a high density of cinemas compared with other European countries.

Swiss films accounted for 5.9% of the market share in 2005, up from 2.6% the previous year.

Hollywood productions accounted for 58.9% of the market with eight out of ten US productions in the top spots. Their share dropped 10.3% compared with 2004.

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