Gallic B.O. up 3.4% as 'Nicholas' thrives

France, Europe’s biggest movie market, has a shot at recording its biggest B.O. year in modern times — thanks in part to a schoolboy.

Through September, Gallic B.O. was up 3.4% over 2008, with 188.82 million tickets sold, according to just-released figures from France’s CNC film board. Box office revenue was E879.6 million ($1.3 billion).

Produced by Fidelite Films, the 1950s-set Gallic family comedy “Little Nicholas,” turning on the adventures of a boy and his schoolmates, grossed $18.4 million in the 12 days following its Sept. 30 release.

Based on a beloved comicbook by Rene Goscinny and Jean Jacques Sempe, “Nicholas” dropped only 10% over its second weekend, distributor Wild Bunch reported.

“Marketing buzz from multiple March celebrations of ‘Little Nicholas’ ’ 50th anniversary really helped,” said Jean-Philippe Tirel, Wild Bunch distribution topper.

The year-on-year French B.O. rise is already a large feat: Early 2008 saw the release of “Welcome to the Sticks,” whose $184.5 million B.O. take made it the highest-grossing French film ever at Gallic hardtops.

“Nicholas” is also mainstream enough to perform well in medium- and small-sized cities, which have 40% of French theater screens.

Analysts have now upped B.O. expectations for “Nicholas.” Telerama’s Aurelien Ferenczi forecasts a total cume of $36 million-$45 million, while Ecran Total forecasts $41 million. These estimates would make “Nicholas” the highest-grossing French pic to date in 2009.

If “Nicholas” meets expectations, France would have a chance of notching the biggest B.O. year in modern times. That record stands at $1.8 billion in B.O., registered in 2004.

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