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French Theatrical Admissions Drop in 2018, but Box Office Holds Steady

After recording its third-highest number in the last 50 years in 2017, French theatrical admissions are on track for a 4% drop this year, with an estimated 201 million sold. In dollar terms, however, the French box office is expected to clock in at about €1.3 billion ($1.5 billion), on par with last year, bolstered by the increase of ticket sales for premium large formats such as Imax, Dolby Cinema and 4DX.

While fewer Hollywood blockbusters drew in French audiences compared with last year, two domestic films managed to sell more than 5 million tickets (grossing more than $37 million each) and four ranked in the top 10. A pair of French comedies released by Pathé, “Les Tuche 3” and Dany Boon’s “La ch’tite famille,” ranked second and third, behind Disney’s “Incredibles 2,” which took in about $44.5 million.

The other top-grossing French films of 2018 were Gilles Lellouche’s “Sink or Swim” (pictured), a star-driven dramedy about a men’s synchronized swimming team, which world-premiered at Cannes out of competition and was released by Studiocanal; and Franck Gastambide’s actioner “Taxi 5,” released by EuropaCorp and ARP Selection.

Besides “Incredibles 2,” this year’s biggest U.S. hits were Disney’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” Warner Bros.’ “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” Disney’s “Black Panther,” Universal’s “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” and Fox’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

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The slight drop in admissions this year was due to the lack of a massive U.S. hit like “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” which was released at the end of last year and grossed more than $65 million, said Eric Marti, at Comscore France. Marti noted that December 2017 was powered not only by “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” but also the releases of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” “Coco” and “Ferdinand.”

By contrast, this month has been marked by France’s violent “Yellow Vests” protests against the French government, which were staged on six consecutive Saturdays and dragged down the local box office, particularly in Paris.

In spite of the riots, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Sink or Swim” and “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” – all released during the fourth quarter – managed to rank among the year’s highest-grossing films. The homegrown animated film “Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion,” released on Dec. 5, also fared well.

This year also saw several French sleeper hits, notably Emmanuel Mouret’s period drama “Mademoiselle de Joncquières,” which world premiered at Toronto; Franck Dubosc’s “Rolling to You”; Frederic Cavayé’s “Nothing to Hide”; Thomas Lilti’s “Première année,” Frédéric Tellier’s “Sauver ou perir” and Jeanne Herry’s “In Safe Hands.”

Marti called “Solo: A Star Wars Story” the biggest flop of 2018 in France, where the pic grossed about $12 million.

While four French movies ranked in the top 10, fewer French films attracted more than a million moviegoers, according to Marti. Only 10 films sold more than a million admissions, compared with 16 last year, according to Comscore data.

“Over the last five years, about 50% of French films have sold fewer than 20,000 tickets,” said Marti, who added that about 820 new films were released this year, 300 of which were French titles.

One of Europe’s most competitive theatrical landscapes, France is home to a large number of local distributors, notably Pathe, Studiocanal, Gaumont, Mars, Le Pacte, Memento and ARP Selection, which release some of the highest-grossing French and international films. Many distribution companies, however, are in dire straits. Luc Besson’s studio EuropaCorp, for example, recently folded its in-house distribution activities.

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