While many territories see colossal returns on films released in summertime, Italian box office returns in July and August often mirror the arid weather. A long held disagreement between local exhibitors and Hollywood distributors has depleted the summer months of primo titles while cinemas squeeze major films into the remaining three quarters of the year.

This 'pile up' is responsible for myriad problems plaguing the Italian box office. Excessive competition between titles, shortened theatrical runs, clashes over windows between theatrical and DVD release in addition to increased damage from piracy all contribute to the problem.

The Mediterranean climate and, until recently, an obligatory summer holiday schedule for many Italians have traditionally sent individuals to the beach rather than a multiplex. But just as the month long vacation is increasingly becoming a thing of the past, many successful attempts to create a summer market have been made on both sides. Multiplexes have been raised and big titles have been successfully released in May and June. However, few distributors opt for July release.

The summer of 2007 may see the first mega-Hollywood blockbuster released in the hotly debated mid -July slot. Warner Bros's Harry Potter And The Order of the Phoenix is being positioned for a day to date July 13, 2007 release. The last blockbuster to be released in July in Italy was Mission Impossible II (July 7, 2000). That film grossed $13m (Eu10m), up $4m (Eu3m) Mission: Impossible which was released in September 1996, and double the Mission: Impossible III May 5, 2006 release.

The summer of 2006 was particularly dismal and local box office ground to a halt. Even Greece and Turkey saw Superman Returns before Italians did - despite Italy's rank as fifth territory on the continent.

President and CEO of Warner Bros Entertainment Italia Paolo Ferrari said the distributor plans to release Potter around the same time as the US, hopefully bucking the trend of waiting around for Hollywood's best products.

'We intend to release Potter on July 13 - the same time as the US release,' he said. 'That time of the year is hot, but 70% of the city population remains (in town). Even the vacation schedules are not what they used to be.'

In fact, many companies now operate on a rotation schedule for holidays rather than opting to shut completely.

Milan-based exhibitor and two time president of Federation of Art House Cinemas (FICE) Domenico Di Noia says the possible July release of Potter is the best thing for summer business.

'I am convinced [it is the best date],' he said. 'It has been shown many times that blockbusters have no competition and they last longer if released in the summer.'

But Potter trends have revealed that winter fares better returns at the Italian box office. Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone (Dec. 2001) raked in $33m (Eu25m); Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets (Dec. 2002) took $27.7m (Eu21m) and Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire (Dec. 2005) earned $26.4 (Eu20m).

Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban - the only edition yet to see a summer release in June 2004- earned $21m (Eu16m). One exhibitor said the date of the release was not the problem and it was more down to yearly competition - that year, The Passion Of The Christ earned Eu29m ($30m) in the territory.

According to Italian ticket compiler Cinetel (which calculates approx 85% of the market), blockbusters released in May and June have typically shown stellar returns. Spiderman (June 2002) earned $25m (Eu19m) and Matrix Reloaded (May 2003) took $18.5m (Eu14m). Bruce Almighty (May 2003) also outperformed expectations earning $18,5m (Eu14m) while War Of The Worlds (June 2004) took $17.5m (Eu13.2m).

Di Noia dismisses Italian summer temperatures as reason for low returns.

'The summer heat is a false problem,' he said. 'More trust is needed in the market. The real problem is product scarcity - there are cinemas that are forced to close in the summer which is interrupting with the audience and damaging to cinema.'

Di Noia believes that release of major films like Harry Potter in summer months 'will completely resolve' the problem of summer releases in Italy and it will also help to battle piracy.

'We can't have a film that has already been released for six months and yet are still waiting for it in Italy. At this point, they will just hurt themselves. What point does it have to [stagger releases] in a market that is completely global''