Admissions in foreign markets rose 17% in '08

Admissions for French films abroad last year jumped 17% to a record 78 million, according to statistics unveiled Friday.

Unifrance president Margaret Menegoz told attendees at the Unifrance Rendez-Vous in Paris that the final figure should nudge past 80 million, a 23% increase.

The figures, the highest since Unifrance began collecting them in 1990, underscore the local industry’s ability to produce bigger-budget mainstream films and breakout crowdpleasers that punch significant numbers at home and abroad.

Top-ranking traveler was Mathieu Kassovitz’s “Babylon A.D.,” produced by StudioCanal, which sold 10.1 million admissions in 40 countries. Pathe duo “Asterix at the Olympic Games” (9.1 million from 31 territories) and “Welcome to the Sticks” (4.1 million from 12) also made the top five.

“Taken” ranked third abroad with 8.8 million off 23, while “Transporter 3,” also produced by Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp, has taken 7.3 million tickets in seven countries, including $31.7 million Stateside, suggesting roll-out potential in other territories.

Figures point to the strength of overseas French art films and crossover titles, said Eric Lagesse, prexy of France’s ADEF French Film Export Assn.

Upbeat performers outside France included artpics “Persepolis” (1.3 million admissions), “Caramel” (1.2 million) and Kristin Scott Thomas starrer “I’ve Loved You So Long” (1 million).

With 17.8 million admissions, the U.S. was by far France’s No. 1 international market.

Russia followed with 7.2 million spectators, Germany sold 5.6 million tickets and the U.K. clocked 4.3 million admissions.

Meanwhile, Ubifrance — the government agency for international business development — unveiled an agreement with CNC, the national film institute, to pump e380 million ($496.3 million) into 450 Gallic institutions and companies involved in the export of French films and TV programs that could create 800 jobs.

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