French Exports Flounder in Weak 2013

Dearth of blockbusters, falling European market blamed

French Exports Flounder Weak 2013

PARIS – Comparisons are odious. But even judged by average receipts abroad over the last 10 years, French films punched a lame year outside France in 2013, bereft of blockbusters and plagued by long-term structural problems shared by much of Europe’s movie production.

Starring Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones, Luc Besson’s retired goodfella action-comedy “Malavita” (pictured) exec produced by Martin Scorsese, scored €47.4 million ($64.5 million) outside France.

Michael Haneke’s “Amour” was the second highest-grossing French movie of 2013, grossing $31.8 million outside France, an exceptional result for an exceptional arthouse movie.

Box office from a Cannes Palme d’Or winner and the first movie to come out of a Relativity-EuropaCorp three-pic co-production pact were not enough to save France’s overall 2013 figures.

Total Gallic pic tix sold abroad slumped to 50 million admissions, worth €280 million ($380.8 million) in box office gross, 65% below 2012’s banner best-ever-on-record of 144.1 million tix sales, but also 30.6% down on the past decade’s average ticket trawl. 2013’s was the lowest result since 2004’s 49.9 million audience.

Ironically – and 2012, as ever, was a year of ironies – French films mostly performed above par overseas in 2013: 66 punched 100,000 admissions or more vs. an average 55 since 2000. But only “Malavita” punched over 5 million tix sales, vs. five French titles in 2012.

“In 2012, France had two films – “Taken 2” and “The Intouchables” – which grossed more than $250 million at cinema theaters outside France. It had nothing like that a in 2013,” said Laurent Danielou, prexy of France’s ADEF French Film Export film assn.

But other factors are at work, or so some sales agents claim.

As Vincent Maraval wrote in a Variety Q & A last Friday, key European pubcasters in key territories not just cash-strapped Italy and Spain but also Germany, with the U.S. the biggest national market for Gallic fare – have slashed the acquisition of European films.

Heavily financed by TV coin – to the tune of €359.0 million ($488.3 million) in 2012 – so made for a TV audience, French films export with difficulty to emerging world markets that are booming  -Latin America, Asia, Russia – whose audiences are far younger and favor family and teenage movies, Maraval argued.

2013 saw, of course, some blue sky: Rolling off an overall 27% hike in Chinese box office, French films, just seven of them, posted 5.2 million admissions in China; “The Golden Cage,” about a Portuguese concierge couple in Paris, came in No. 1 in Portugal, best “Gravity” and other Hollywood juggernauts.

Exports are of course driven by hits, not just market trends.

UniFrance analysis, to be presented by UniFrance at a Paris Automobile Club press conference Friday evening, pointed to a score or more of titles, both cross-over and arthouse, which could galvanize foreign business in 2014.

One is Luc Besson’s “Lucy,” with Scarlett Johansson, Also upcoming: Dany Boon’s “Superchondriac,” and “The Search,” from Michel Hazanavicius.

For want of a huge comedy breakout in Germany – where the low-budget Gaumont-sold “Paulette,” from Alain Goldman, was France’s highest 2013 earner – the U.S. proved once more to be world’s single biggest national market for French films, which grossed $60.5 million there last year. Overall French films’ China B.O. was $29.7 million. German B.O. was $37.4 million. Europe remained the biggest regional market for French films, however, accounting for 46.8% of admissions, vs. 17.2% for North America.

TOP 10 MAJORITY FRENCH FILMS OUTSIDE FRANCE, 2013 (title, director, sales agents, 2013 B.O. outside France)

1.”Malavita,” Luc Besson, EuropaCorp, €47.4 million ($64.4 million)

2.”Amour,” Michael Haneke, LesFilms du Losange, €23.4 million ($31.8 million)*

3.”Fly Me to the Moon,” Pascal Chaumeil, Kinology, €7.7 million ($10.4 million)*

4.”Blue Is the Warmest Color,” Abdellatif Kechiche, Wild Bunch, €7.5 million ($10.2 million)

5.”Colombiana,” Olivier Megaton, EuropaCorp, €6.3 million (8.6 million)*

6.”The Gilded Cage,” Ruben Alves, Pathe Int’l, €5.8 million ($7.9 million)

7.”On the Other Side of the Tracks,” David Charhon, Other Angle Pictures, €4.9 million ($6.6 million)*

8.”Paulette,” Jerome Enrico, Gaumont Int’l, €4.8 million ($6.5 million)

9.”Renoir,” Gilles Bourdos, Wild Bunch, €4.3 million ($5.9 milllion)

10.”Rust and Bone,” Jacques Audiard, Celluloid Dreams, €4.8 million ($6.5 million)*

*holdover from 2012