U.S. drives French exports

'Unknown,' 'Three Musketeers,' 'Colombiana' top French grossers abroad

Jaume Collet-Serra’s “Unknown,” starring Liam Neeson, was the top French film export last year by theatrical gross, as the U.S. once more drove Gallic B.O. takings outside France in 2011. Rolling off a $63.6 million U.S. trawl, the Studiocanal co-produced identity thriller grossed $99.7 million off 29 territories, according to stats announced Thursday by French export org Unifrance.

“The Three Musketeers” ranked No. 2 in international B.O. earnings with $74.1 million, EuropaCorp’s Zoe Saldana actioner “Colombiana” was third ($68.7 million) and Pathe’s “Nothing to Declare” ($19 million) fourth.

The U.S. accounted in all for 36% of French B.O. overseas.

In 2011, total international B.O. for French movies hit $518 million, up 19% on 2010’s $433 million but short of 2008’s record $540 million, the best result since Unifrance began tallying results in 1990.

With the La Petite Reine-produced “The Artist,” SBS’s “Carnage” and Gaumont’s “Intouchables” now catching fire in foreign locations, the Gallic film industry is riding out the recession pretty well.

2011 stats have to be qualified, however. As the Unifrance report itself points out, international B.O. on French-language pics plunged 28.5% in 2011. Gaul’s biggest two earners were English-language minority co-productions.

If the U.S. was the biggest single market for French pics last year, it was also the costliest in prints and advertising needed to launch a French film wide there.

EuropaCorp paid $30.7 million last year for U.S. P&A on “Colombiana,” it recognized in its most recent financial report.

Many French sales agents are looking to recoup from the rest of the world before addressing problematic distribution in the U.S.