French pix strong at home, surging abroad

PARIS — French box office fell 1.5% to 183 million admissions in 2002 to notch up its second-best score in 20 years after last year’s record-breaking 186 million.

French-lingo pics also forged ahead on foreign turf, selling a record-breaking 40.2 million tickets during the first 11 months of 2002, mostly thanks to the enduring success of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Amelie.”

Admissions were down 6% in Paris, but rose 4% in the rest of France. Alain Chabat’s “Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra” was the No. 1 pic in France in 2002, notching up 14.5 million in ticket sales.

But in contrast with a spate of Gallic blockbusters last year, there was only one other local pic in the top ten: Francois Ozon’s ninth-placed “Eight Women” with 3.7 million admissions.

The rest of the top slots went to Hollywood pics, led by “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” (7.7 million), “Spider-Man” (6.3 million), “Star Wars: Episode 2″ (5.7 million) and “Ocean’s Eleven” (4.7 million).

France’s National Federation of Cinemas said the home box office results would have been better if more local pics had been released during the summer, a period traditionally shunned by distribbers. Not one of the top 50 French pics was released in the six weeks between June 19 and August 28. Gallic pics sold well around the world. The 40.2 million tally, up 2.8 million over 2001, would hardly have seemed feasible two years ago, when Gallic pics sold a measly 16.6 million tickets in all foreign territories.

An increase of $114 million to $228 million in two years has been built around the kind of crowd-pleasing pics Gaul is not always associated with, including “Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra, “8 Women,” “Wasabi” and “Tanguy.”

Most significant of all was “Amelie” which picked up where it left off in 2001, selling a further 10 million foreign tickets in 2002. “Amelie” eventually ended 2002 with over $150 million in foreign B.O.

French-lingo pics made significant inroads in eastern Europe and the U.S. where their market share went up by 13% and 14% respectively.

The one off-note was sounded in U.K. where only 470,000 tickets were sold.

However, it was not such a good year for French co-productions in foreign languages despite encouraging showings from “The Pianist” and “The Transporter.” There was a 50% drop-off from 25 million tickets sold in the first 11 months of 2001 to 11.8 million sold in 2002.

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