Europe: still a land of opportunity

Though Europe is widely regarded as one of the most developed of cinema markets, as Guillaume Branders  explains, there is still growth potential, despite perceptions.


In June, UNIC published its annual report into cinema trends in Europe, accounting for 1.29 billion admissions and €8.1 billion in box office revenues in 2018 — close to a quarter of the global theatrical market for films. As always, performances varied widely from one territory to another, testament to the region’s inherently fragmented nature. Most strikingly, record-breaking figures were registered in the UK — the highest level of admissions since the 1970s — while German exhibitors suffered one of their worst ever years. Perhaps most interesting, in the context of emerging markets, is that these figures showed several areas where cinema-going continues to increase steadily, underlining the potential for growth in many European territories.

Among these, the Baltic States have delivered impressive results for the past few years. Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania all enjoyed growing admissions and box office in 2018 — and these last two have done so consistently for the past decade. Leading this trend is Estonia, where admissions have more than doubled since 2008, hitting an all-time record of 3.6 million in 2018. As a matter of fact, the country is right behind France and Ireland when it comes to admissions per capita, with 2.8 annual visits to the cinema per inhabitant. One of the main reasons — together with an increase in state support — is continued success of local productions. The most popular films in Estonian and Lithuanian in 2018 were local productions — the comedy “Class Reunion 2” in Estonia and the historical drama “Ashes in the Snow” in Lithuania. That being said, low screen density in the region indicates there is still significant potential for further growth in years to come.

The Balkans’ rise

Another region worth highlighting is the Balkans. Cinema was one of the many sectors damaged by the conflict in the region, which only formally ended in December 1995 — a few weeks after the first edition of the Sarajevo Film Festival. Since then, cinema-going has been recovering at impressive pace. Focusing on the past decade, admissions increased by 395% in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 278% in North Macedonia and 197% in Serbia and Montenegro (figures for both are often combined due to local distribution practices). There as well, the success of local content can be highlighted as an essential factor. In 2018, the Serbian film “South Wind” led the box office in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia, helping the latter increase its box office revenues by an incredible 19.9%. We were delighted to have a presentation focusing on Serbia during CineEurope as part of a session on emerging global markets, delivered by Christof Papousek, CFO of Cineplexx, one of the leading cinema operators and key investors in the region. With extremely low admissions per capita — with for instance 0.1 annual visits in Albania or 0.6 in Serbia, compared to the European average of 1.5 —there’s no doubt there is more to come for local cinemas.  

More broadly, various Eastern European countries are worth pointing out when it comes to identifying emerging markets in the region. While they can arguably be considered as more mature markets than those mentioned previously, there has been almost constant growth in Hungary, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia in recent years. First of all, these territories have all managed to break their all-time admissions records in either 2017 or 2018. The outstanding example is Romania, where admissions increased by 252% since 2008 — despite a surprising lack of successful local content and the lowest level of screen density in the EU. This last point illustrates that the cinema industry in many of those territories actually had to rebuild itself from scratch following the closure of most cinemas towards the end of the USSR and in spite of sometimes inexistent local support. It didn’t stop operators from investing significantly across the region: for instance, 124 screens opened in the past decade in Bulgaria alone, a 132% increase of its screen population. And most recently, Samsung announced the opening of an Onyx LED screen in Romania. 

Still powerful in combination

In 2017, Russia managed to become the leading European territory in terms of cinema admissions — just ahead of France, which regained the top-spot in 2018 — with over 212 million tickets sold. Twenty years ago, in 1997, there were only 55million cinema-goers in Russia (compared to 148m in France). In the same period, Turkish cinema operators went from attracting 17 to 71 million people to the big screen. Today, both territories still register admissions per capita and screen density levels below the European average. While analysts might focus interest on the markets of Africa, the Middle East and South-East Asia, one should not ignore the combined potential of many European territories. Did someone say European cinema was dead? 

Guillaume Branders is senior industry relations and research manager at the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC). Learn more about UNIC and download its latest annual report — with detailed cinema-going data for 2018 in Europe — by visiting