PARIS – Powered by Luc Besson’s “Lucy,” comedy “Serial (Bad) Weddings” and Christophe Gans’ redo “Beauty and the Beast,” French films punched the second-best year outside France on record, scoring €640 million ($768 million) from 111 million admissions at the international box, Gallic promo org UniFrance announced Friday in Paris.
Last year was only the second time in over two decades that French movies passed the 100 million international tix sales benchmark. Past decade average is around 80 million.
Scarlett Johansson starrer “Lucy” broke all-time records for a French film abroad, running up €302.8 million ($363.4 million) at international cinemas by year-end. But 2014 was more than a one-movie wonder. “Weddings” grossed €55.2 million ($66.2 million), “Beast” €25.0 million ($30.o million).
In 2012, Liam Neeson starrer “Taken 2,” produced by Besson’s EuropaCorp; “The Intouchables”; and Academy Award winner “The Artist” drove international territory box office for French movies to a total 144.1 tix sold and some $1.2 billion in box office. That record remains. But, UniFrance prexy Jean-Paul Salomé observed, 2014 saw very broadly the same combo of top performers drive France’s foreign market trawl: “an English-language thriller with U.S-based stars”; a breakout social comedy with a touch of blue sky”; and a big arthouse play. Rather than a one-off, 2014 suggests France is developing new structures for global box office that can hopefully drive recurrent revenue returns, at least in cycles, Salome added.
“This is a huge year. Two years ago, we said the results were a miracle. Well, the miracle’s happened again. Europe’s cultural exception has driven cultural diversity that has driven this box office. This is one big reason why we want to have cultural diversity,” Salomé added. “And in 2015 we can look forward to the results of ‘Taken 3.’”
French cinema still faces multiple challenges abroad, Salome acknowledged, citing contracting theatrical arthouse markets and screen access. But this is still a great opportunity to take French cinema to the next level, he added.
One game changer: Overseas markets’ appetite for popular comedies starring, for instance, Dany Boon and Christian Clavier, Salomé said. “There may be too many romantic comedies. Audiences might be wanting to see something new, such as ‘Serial (Bad) Weddings,’ which is grounded in today’s reality.”
France still has producers – Thomas Langmann with “The Artist,” Pathé with “Beauty and the Beast” – that take risks, producing big or bold art films. Punching big numbers in Japan, Brazil and Italy, “Beast” “is a huge story with a high-level cast” starring Vincent Cassel with Lea Seydoux, part of a finally emerging younger generation of French stars, Salomé added.
Sara Forestier (“The Names of Love”), Adele Exarchpoulos (“Blue Is the Warmest Color”), Celine Salette (“La French”) and Adele Haenel (“Suzanne,” “Love at First Fight”) also bid to swell this building new generation’s ranks.
“One reason for the success of French cinema abroad is new faces, new filmmakers; there’s a kind of ‘New New Wave,’ said Isabelle Giordano, UniFrance CEO.
French films scored multiple fest berths: 41 were selected for Toronto. Rolling off France’s feeding fever for top foreign directorial talent, which French companies go on to co-produce, 13 French films or co-productions were submitted from around the world for 2015’s Foreign Language Oscar. One, “Timbuktu,”made the final nom cut this week.
Other top French performers included Futurikon toon pic “Miniscule: Valley of the Lost Ants,” family adventure tale “Belle and Sebastien,” Dany Boon’s latest laffer “Superchondriac,” retro comedy “Nicholas on Holiday” and bio “Yves Saint Laurent,” the report said. A clutch of movies with strong international potential underperformed, the study added, citing “The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet,” “Amazonia,” “Blood Ties,” and the EuropaCorp production “Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart.”
Seventy films punched over 100,000 admissions abroad, vs. an average of 56 since 2000. In terms of markets, 2014 saw a new record for ticket sales in China with eight releases chalking up 17 million-plus tix sales. In both admissions and box office receipts, China is now France’s second-biggest market in the world, its €75.8 million ($91.0 million) box office grosses for Gallic fare only bettered by €123.0 million ($147.6 million) from the U.S. and English-speaking Canada. Germany ranked third with a total €63.3 million ($76.0 million) gross for French fare.
In contrast, French films faced an “alarming situation” in the U.K., where releases are becoming increasingly rare and on ever-fewer copies.
TOP 10 MAJORITY FRENCH PRODUCTIONS ABROAD, 2014
Euro, dollar box office, 2014
1.”Lucy,” €302.8 ($363.4 million)
2.“Serial (Bad) Weddings,” €55.2 million ($66.2 million)
3.“Beauty and the Beast,” €25.0 million ($30.o million)
4.”Grace of Monaco,” €18.5 million ($22.1 million)
5.“Belle and Sebastian,” €10.55 million ($12.7 million)
6.”Miniscule: Valley of the Lost Ants,” €9.65 million ($11.6 million)
7.”The Family,” €7.8 million ($9.3 million)
8.”Superchondraic,” €7.7 million ($9.3 million)
9.“Yves Saint Laurent,” €7.2 million ($8.7 million)
10.“Nicholas on Holiday.” €6.7 million ($8.0 million)