Multiplex growth and a burgeoning middle class are driving growth at the Philippines box office, which is benefiting both US and local product

The recent wave of Filipino films dotting the festival map, such as Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay, has helped draw attention to the territory’s bustling film market. A healthy box office, fuelled by the rapid expansion of malls and multiplexes, has resulted in gains for both US and local product.

Recent industry figures show strong growth in the market despite the lingering downward economic trend. From a total gross of $86m in 2005, box office climbed to $103.3m in 2008, representing a 20% increase. This steady rise is expected to continue this year aided by the box-office pull of titles such as Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, which took an impressive $4.3m in its first week.

The growth is due mostly to multiplex development and an increase in screens to 662 nationwide, which has revived admissions in this movie-loving territory of almost 90 million people. Another factor is the country’s emerging middle class, with growing disposable income.

The leading exhibitors are part of mall development groups which can place multiplexes at the heart of their new sites. The market leader, SM Cinema, is owned by SM Prime Holdings, which, with 35 malls and 206 screens, has grown far beyond the confines of Manila’s metropolis.

Exhibitors are also embracing digital technology. By the end of this year,

12 of SM’s theatres will be digital, including three Imax venues. Five more malls are set to open by 2010.

Robinsons, another major chain based at mall sites, has 87 screens throughout the country and is set to open an additional 10 theatres.

Foreign films captured a 75% market share last year, but local product is beginning to see a resurgence.

Averaging annual revenues of $31.2m and employing a labour force of 260,000, the local film industry in the Philippines is showing an upward trajectory that has defied expectations.

The country once churned out movies in assembly-line fashion, averaging 240 films a year in the 1980s and early 1990s, but output then plummeted due to piracy and competition from US product. It is now making a recovery and averaging around 86 films a year.

The increase is due in part to an upsurge in indie film-making over the past five years, driven by the introduction of low-cost digital ­film-making. In addition, local commercial output is marketed more effectively, using tentpole distribution schemes like its foreign ­counterparts.

Star Cinema, the country’s leading movie studio, had success this year with the romantic comedy You Changed My Life, which grossed $4.7m. As the film production arm of the mammoth ABS-CBN TV network, Star Cinema boasts a steady record in producing hit films, while other active production companies include Regal Entertainment, GMA Films and Viva Entertainment.

The top three US distributors are Sony, UIP and Warner Bros, with Sony’s Spider-Man 2 holding the record for the top performing film of all time, totalling $8.8m at the Filipino box office.

Despite limited resources, the government has taken steps to boost development of local films and to promote the country as a viable location for foreign productions.

The Film Development Council of the Philippines has formed the Philippine Film Export Services Office (PFESO) to facilitate international film and television production by working with different government agencies as a one-stop facility.

Meanwhile, recent awards, including Mendoza’s best director prize at Cannes, are raising the country’s international profile, which along with its expanding market, signal brighter days ahead.

Philippines annual Box Office

Year Gross

Philippines Top 10, Jan-June 2009

 Title Origin Gross $ Gross peso

1 Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen* US $4.4m peso210.2m

2 You Changed My Life Phil $4.2m peso201m

3 Angels & Demons US $2.5m peso119.4m

4 Best Friends Forever Phil $2.2m peso102.5m

5 X-Men Origins: Wolverine US $2m peso96.4m

6 T2 Phil $1.9m peso94.7m

7 Terminator Salvation US $1.9m peso92.8m

8 Night At The Museum 2 US $1.8m peso85.5m

9 Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans US $1.6m peso79.4m

10 Fast & Furious US $1.6m peso78.6m

Source: Screen International/UIP. * Still on release