H’w’d pix keep Gallic B.O. on upswing in ’96

PARIS — Spurred on by a rash of multiplex openings, French box office results for 1996 rose 4% to 135 million admissions and exhibs are now confidently predicting that the watershed 150 million mark will be hit by 2000.

The upswing in Gallic box office has now been continuing for three consecutive years, following a decade of re-peated decline. The exhibitors’ industry body, the Federation Nationale des Cinemas Francais (FNCF), comment-ing on the state of play, noted “It is reasonable to hope for 140 million entries” in 1997.

Not for the first time, U.S. pics dominated the top 10 box office performers for the year, with Fox’s “Independence Day” comfortably outdistancing Disney’s Christmas toon “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” for the No. 1 spot. Of the top 10, seven pics are U.S., with France providing the remaining three in the form of comedies — “Pedale Douce,” “Le Huitieme Jour” and “Le Jaguar.”

However, 1996 proved a mixed year for Hollywood blockbusters. Despite topping the results list, “Independence Day” didn’t provide the kind of stratospheric score of other territories. Neither did “Twister,” which grossed $17.3 million, nor “The Rock” with $12.7 million. In fact, many of last year’s hits came out of left field, including local comedy “Pedale Douce” ($28 million), Jaco Van Dormael’s “Le Huitieme Jour” ($24.4 million) and the still-strong bug doc, “Microcosmos” ($13.3 million).

For the distributors, the alliance between French major Gaumont and Disney’s Buena Vista Intl. continues to flourish, spurred on last year by “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” ($35 million), “Toy Story” ($18 million) and lo-cal laugher “Le Jaguar” ($15 million). The other major distribution marriage between Hollywood and Paris — Fox and UGC’s UFD — scored with “Independence Day” and “12 Monkeys” but little else.

Two French indies continue to perform well. The Chargeurs-owned AMLF survived “Showgirls,” “Cutthroat Is-land,” “Diabolique” and “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls” to end the year with some $102 million in box office grosses, surpassed only by Gaumont/BVI and UIP. If AMLF’s U.S. acquisitions proved less than lively, the re-spected distrib hit payday with local pics such as “Pedale Douce,” Depardieu-starrer “Le Plus Beau Metier du Monde” ($8 million) and another comedy, “Les Deux Papas et la Maman” ($6.8 million).

The second Gallic distrib to hold its own is Jean Labadie’s Bac Films, which financed and distributed the surprise hit of the year, “Microcosmos.” Labadie has benefited from his ongoing relationship with hot local producer Char-les Gassot, who provided 1995 holdover “Le Bonheur est dans le Pre” ($19 million in 1996), “Beaumarchais” ($13 million) and current sleeper “Un Air de Famille” ($10 million).

Elsewhere among the distribs, Polygram’s eclectic mix of “Le Huitieme Jour,” “Sleepers” ($11 million), “Ridicule” ($11 million) and “Trainspotting” ($6.6 million), gave incoming distribution chief Jean-Paul Rougier a solid start. Samuel Hadida’s Metropolitan scored with New Line’s “Seven” ($33 million), although recent New Line fare has proven far less robust for Hadida.

As for veteran distribbery MK2, which is pacted with Lazennec in distribution entity MKL, 1996 was something of a calamity. The distrib saw its entries slump by 90% last year.

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