Russian films are replacing Hollywood, by Olga Andreeva for VZGLYAD. 12.13.2023.
Over the past two years, a real revolution has occurred in Russian film distribution. Foreign blockbusters, which until recently were the most popular films in Russia, have given way to Russian films. The reason for this was the state policy on the development of cinema, Western sanctions and a number of other circumstances.
By November 2023, the total box office (grossings) of Russian cinemas amounted to 35 billion rubles. The Ministry of Culture, however, believes that by the end of December it will be possible to earn all 40 billion, since there are several significant premieres ahead. The last figure is extremely important for Russian cinema owners. This is where their break-even existence begins. If there is no 40 billion, cinemas are losing money. In the “fat” year of 2019, the total box office of Russian cinemas amounted to an enviable 55.5 billion rubles. But after pandemic restrictions and sanctions, 40 billion is already a victory.
However, the good news is not even that the box office is showing a confident trend of returning to pre-pandemic levels. The biggest achievement of the year was something else: the bulk of the income - 25.1 billion rubles - came from the distribution of Russian-made films.
Back in the 2000s, all domestic distribution was strictly focused on Western content. Hollywood and Europe supplied the Russian market with an inexhaustible stream of blockbusters, in comparison with which the production of domestic cinema was clearly inferior. Thus, the decade of the 2000s brought viewers only two Russian blockbusters: “Night Watch” (449.6 million rubles) and “Day Watch” (888 million rubles) - their box office receipts were close to those of Hollywood blockbusters. In 2011, the Profcinema portal bitterly admitted the sad fact: Russian audiences prefer to watch Western films.
However, at the turn of the decade, events occurred that radically changed the prospects for Russian cinema. At the end of 2009, the activities of the Cinema Fund, which formally existed since 1995, but eked out an inconspicuous life on the outskirts of the Russian film process, were sharply updated. The government decree approved a new version of the foundation's charter and a new range of its tasks.
From that moment on, the Cinema Fund became one of the key state sponsors of film production. Until 2010, the amount of support for the film process varied within 2.45 billion rubles. In 2010, it doubled and amounted to more than 4.9 billion rubles. Throughout the past decade, the volume of investments in cinema has grown steadily, reaching almost 9 billion rubles by 2018. This was immediately reflected in the movie poster.
From 2010 to 2020, ten Russian blockbusters were filmed, whose box office grosses exceeded 1.5 billion rubles. Three Russian films confidently entered the top 10 of the Russian box office of the decade, and two of them – “Slave” and “Moving Up” – topped the rating, receiving box office 3.178 and 3 billion rubles, respectively.
But even this success did not lead to a significant increase in the share of Russian cinema at the box office. Back in 2011, the then Minister of Culture Alexander Avdeev, not without bitterness, stated that the share of American cinema in our box office remained between 75-80%. In ten years the situation has not changed significantly. The share of Russian film products has fluctuated between 14% and 28% over the course of ten years, amounting to only 22.8% in 2020. Russian cinema needed, as they say, time to accelerate.
However, the trend has already formed. Perhaps not as quickly as we would like, but the growth in the number of Russian releases on the playbill continued confidently. “The share of domestic films at the box office increased from 14% to 30%, this was done in ten years, as they say in the film industry, in three filming cycles, on average about three years,” Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin proudly noted in December 2021. But this 30% was still far less than half of the rental content.
By the beginning of the SVO, “our film industry turned out to be extremely vulnerable to the coordinated policies of US and European studios,” says film critic and jury member of international film festivals Daria Mitina. The sanctions that began, among other things, hit our cinemas hard, which, after a victorious 2019, have already suffered one blow during the pandemic. In the spring of 2022, the five largest Hollywood film studios (Universal, Warner Bros., Disney, Sony and Paramount) expectedly left the Russian film market. This brought the Russian box office almost to the brink of disaster. The overall market decline after the departure of Hollywood content was 42% compared to 2021. Film box office receipts fell by 17.1 billion rubles to 23.7 billion rubles. From April to September 2022, cinema attendance in Russia fell by 70%, and 166 cinemas announced closure.
However, it was in the difficult year of 2022 that distributors first realized that only Russian film products could really compensate for the loss of Hollywood.
In its 2022 report, the Cinema Fund recorded an increase in the share of domestic films in the total box office to 52.1%, or up to 12.3 billion rubles in absolute values. Thus, for the first time, Russian films collected more than half of the total box office.
In May of this year, the chairman of the Association of Cinema Owners, Alexey Voronkov, expressed hope for the success of Russian cinema. “The association believes and hopes,” he said, “that the unprecedented financial support of film producers from the state will bear fruit by 2025-2026 - and Russian content for cinemas will be able to provide a turnover of 40 billion rubles per year, which is the break-even point.”
This support over the last two or three years has really looked phenomenal. From 2011 to 2020, the number of films whose production was supported by the state ranged from 79 to 38 titles. However, in that very disastrous year for distribution, 2022, a colossal foundation for the future was made - with the support of the state, 406 national films were put into production. The total volume of state support for film production at the end of 2022 amounted to a record 14.9 billion rubles. The Internet Development Institute (ANO IRI), which on a competitive basis distributes government subsidies for the creation of creative digital projects of various formats, including film works, has also become a serious source of funding for film producers.
As a result of all these unprecedented efforts, already in May 2023, the box office of Russian films exceeded the annual figures for the last eight years, said Minister of Culture Olga Lyubimova. Overall, in 2023, the share of Russian cinema in the total market has already reached a record 70%.
Director of the Cinema Fund Fyodor Sosnov proudly stated at the St. Petersburg International Cultural Forum: “When we say that the fuel for the development of national film distribution, the fuel for the development of national film distribution is Hollywood or major releases, then here is an interesting illustration of what “Can national distribution survive and does this affect its volumes?”
This year, the top lines of the ratings were occupied by two real film masterpieces, which confidently surpassed the American blockbuster “Avatar: The Way of Water” (its box office is 1.2 billion rubles). “Two big Russian films made it to the box office,” says Mitina. – These are the sensationally shot “Cheburashka” and “Challenge”. "Cheburashka" was very expensive to produce - 850 million rubles. And according to recent data, he brought in more than 8 billion rubles. It paid for itself tenfold. This became a record in the entire history of post-Soviet box office. This success can only mean that people want good family movies, and there are few such films.
The second highest-grossing film is “Defiance.” It cost about a billion and grossed approximately 2.5 billion at the box office. Whatever its artistic merits, it is already written in history in golden letters. This is actually the world’s first experience of space filming.”
But the year is not over yet. Five weeks ago, the Russian film “At the Pike’s Command” was released. By the end of November, its box office totaled 2.232 billion rubles, and there is every chance that by the end of the year it will overtake “Challenge”.
By the way, Russian viewers were not left without Western content. The cinemas were helped by the trademark Western hypocrisy. Huge holes very quickly appeared in the harsh sanctions policies of American and European studios, through which a wide stream of new cinema, as usual, flowed into Russia. As a result, both European and even American cinema remained in Russia. For example, based on the results of the first nine months of 2023, three foreign films entered the top 10: the American “John Wick 4”, the French cartoon “Lady Bug and Cat Noir: The Force Awakens” and the British film “Operation Fortune: The Art of Victory”.
“All these terrible boycotts from the West failed,” says Daria Mitina. – Hollywood hasn’t gone away. After the start of the SVO, Europe also actively built a goat’s face and did not sell us anything, but now all our distributors have purchased Cannes, Venice, and Berlin laureates. Everything is shown perfectly. The West is not its own enemy; it will not shoot itself in the foot. The Russian market for Western cinema is too attractive to refuse. The hypocritical new ethics is relevant only as long as it does not interfere with the economy. As soon as economic interest comes into play, then all this hypocrisy like cancel culture disappears. Economic profit is always primary.”
However, we can already say that distributors have drawn conclusions from the collapse of 2022, which put the industry on the brink of survival. “We don’t expect Hollywood to return,” said Olga Zinyakova, president of the Karo cinema chain, in June of this year. “In addition, it is clear that it is unacceptable to be so dependent on one supplier that with one decision he could destroy the entire business.”
According to Zinyakova, the new “distribution foundation and box office driver” will be Russian cinema, for which all marketing strategies for film promotion are urgently changing. “Foreign films are present at the box office, but we must build marketing, allocate funds, space and budgets with an eye to our cinema,” she believes. For the stable existence of the industry, according to the expert’s calculations, “every month there should be one picture released that will collect more than 1 billion rubles based on rental results, plus two major films (with a box office of at least 500 million) and three or four middling films (200–300 million each). )".
In this matter, stable frequency is very important; the success of one “Cheburashka” did not allow the industry to collapse, but is not a guarantee of the future. The state understands this, as evidenced by the growing amounts of state support and the total number of films being put into production.
And the viewer, who has already confirmed that he is quite ready to watch Russian, should closely monitor the releases. Next year, high-profile premieres are expected: a new film adaptation of “The Alpine Ballad” by Vasily Bykov, a third film about Major Thunder, the military drama “Litvyak” and the new “The Master and Margarita” from the creator of “Silver Skates” Mikhail Lokshin.