US indie titles are struggling in Spain as local distributors’ cautious acquisitions policies begin to bite.

US indie film takings at the Spanish box office took a dramatic fall of nearly 50% in the first half of this year to $64m (€45m), compared with $113m in the same period last year.

Only DeAPlaneta’s Knowing took more than $5m in the first half of this year, although even that title was outperformed by Vertigo’s Swedish thriller The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the ninth highest grossing film of the year to date in Spain.

Part of the reason is that local distributors have reduced the number of films they release and are more cautious in the current climate about the ones they pick up. They tend to go for either projects with stars who can
guarantee box office such as Knowing with Nicolas Cage, Pride And Glory starring Colin Farrell and Edward Norton (TriPictures, $3.8m) and Daniel Craig title Defiance (Aurum, $3.6m), or small-budget dramas that do not cost much to buy and so expose them to less risk.

That said, there have still been some disappointing performances from films in Spain that have fared well elsewhere. For example, Paramount’s Ghost Town, starring Ricky Gervais and Greg Kinnear, took just $110,000 compared with $10m in the UK, and Michael Moore’s US healthcare documentary Sickomanaged just $70,000 compared with $2m in Italy and France.

While those results could be explained by the fact Gervais is a relative unknown in Spain and Sicko is an acquired taste, one of the biggest disappointments has been Steven Soderbergh’s biopic Che: Part One which took
just $1.2m in Spain.

The film is a Spanish co-production (Morena Films, Estudios Picasso and Telecinco); lead star Benicio Del Toro was named best actor for the film at the Goya awards in February; it received favourable reviews from the local press; and Fox conducted a huge marketing campaign in the territory. Piracy and the film’s weighty subject matter are likely to be blamed.

Instead, local and US comedies have proved surprisingly successful at the box office this year, with titles including Brain Drain ($9.6m), Sex, Party & Lies ($6m) and Bride Wars ($3.7m). And there are more to come later this year including Harold Ramis’ Year One(August 28) starring Jack Black, Hoyt Yeatman’s G-Force (September 2) and Greg Mottola’sAdventureland starring Jesse Eisenberg (September 25).

  Title (origin) Distributor Box-office gross
1Brain Drain (Sp) 20th Fox $35.1m
2The Girl With The… (Swe-Ger-Den) Vertigo $8.8m
3Knowing (US) DeAPlaneta $6.7m
4Sex, Party & Lies (Sp)20th Fox $6m
5Broken Embraces (Sp) Warner Bros $5.8m
 * Jan-June 2009