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French box office on track for record

'Arthur,' 'Avatar' set to push gross to new high

Merci Luc, merci James. France is a few weeks away from its biggest box office trawl in history.

Takings from Luc Besson’s “Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard” and James Cameron’s “Avatar” should ensure 2009 rewrites Gallic record books.

Forecasts for this year point to a final 200 million admissions worth €1.2 billion ($1.76 billion) in theater receipts, Gaul’s biggest B.O. gross ever.

Gaul sold 179 million cinema theater tickets through November, 4% up on last year, according to new CNC figures.

Thanks to “Maltazard,” tracking at a two-week $18 million plus previews, and “Avatar,” released Wednesday in France, Gaul should easily beat the record.

Expectations for “Avatar” are huge. “Avatar” is “going to take the French box office by storm. It’s been praised almost unanimously by critics, and James Cameron has been heavily promoting the film as revolutionary,” said Wild Bunch distribution topper Jean Philippe Tirel.

Hollywood drove France’s B.O. boom this year. Fox’s “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” tops Gallic charts with $68.5 million. WB’s “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” ranks second, with $54.2 million. Third is French period comedy “Le petit Nicolas,” distribbed by Wild Bunch, which grossed $47.1 million.

U.S. pic market share stood at 47.6% through November, up from 43.8% last year. French pics’ share has dropped to 36.8% from 45.9% for last year, when it received a huge leg-up from “Welcome to the Sticks.”

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