Films earn $1.8 billion off 200.85 million admissions

France smashed the all-time box office record last year, notching up Euros1.2 billion ($1.8 billion) off 200.85 million admissions.

The last time Gaul saw more tix sold was 1982, with 201.9 million admissions.

Two factors drove the record trawl: 3D and the strength in depth of hits.

Fox provided France’s biggest titles: “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” ($66.8 million) and “Avatar,” which grossed $53.5 million through Dec. 31, for the best 2009 territory take outside the U.S.

But WB’s “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” wasn’t far behind with a $52.8 million take. Fourth-ranking title “Little Nicholas” took $48.2 million for French distributor Wild Bunch.

According to the French film board, CNC, 51 movies notched up more than one million admissions (around $8.6 million in B.O.), a decade record.

By its own high standards, France’s production sector did not have a stellar year. However, it was a good year for popular French comedies led by “Little Nicholas” and “LOL: Laughing Out Loud.”

The marketshare for U.S. pics stood at 47.6% through November, up from 43.8% in 2008. French pics’ share has dropped to 36.8% from 45.9% for the whole of 2008, when it received a huge leg-up from “Welcome to the Sticks.”

But some pics still made numbers that producers would kill for.

Luc Besson’s “Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard,” distribbed by EuropaCorp, was tracking at $29.3 million through Dec. 29; and French coming-of-age dramedy “LOL,” distribbed by Pathe, grossed $28.9 million.

“This year, the box office was much more homogenous than last year. We had four films that sold more than five million admissions,” explained Olivier Lebraud, marketing and promotion topper at SND, distributor of “New Moon” in Gaul. “It was boosted by big 3D titles like ‘Avatar’ and ‘Ice Age,’ and also a ‘Harry Potter,’ which always delivers.”

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