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‘Nemo,’ ‘King’ soften Gallic ticket tumble

December hike keeps second-semester flat with 2002

PARIS — French cinema admissions fell 5% in 2003 to 175.5 million, but were salvaged from greater decline by the end-of-year box office boost from “Finding Nemo” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

Barely a month ago, gloomy Gallic exhibs had been bracing themselves for a 7% year-to-year decline in ticket sales. But December saw a welcome 4% admissions hike, narrowing the second-semester drop to less than a half-percentage point off the same period in 2002. In the first half of the year, ticket sales fell more than 9%.

The overall downturn was partially offset by a 1.5% increase in the average ticket price, bringing the B.O. gross to e991.56 million ($1.267 billion), France’s National Federation of Cinemas said Tuesday.

Parisian theaters were the least affected by the slump, with ticket sales in the capital down 2%.

Gallic exhibitors blame 2003’s doldrums on an array of factors led by less attractive French and U.S. films than in previous years.

Success on smaller scale

The 8 million admissions notched up by “Finding Nemo,” 2003’s box office champ, don’t come close to local hit “Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra’s” 14 million tickets sold in 2002, although “Nemo” continues to net Gallic cinemagoers in 2004.

Best-performing French-made pic last year was “Taxi 3,” which picked up 6.5 million admissions.

Other negative factors included the Iraq war, which made TV more compelling than anything on at the local movie theater; thea long sweltering summer that sent the French rushing to the beach; and the economic gloom.

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