PARIS — Fulfilling expectations, after the softest year in a decade in 2016, French film exports bounced back in 2017, with box office for French films outside France near doubling the year before, as French cinema fired on its increasingly well-established three cylinders: a Luc Besson English-language actioner, animation, and comedy.
Provisional box office for French films overseas surged in admissions, up to 80.5 million, and 2016’s €257.5 million ($303.8 million) box office take rose to €468 million ($552.1 million), near exact par for the past decade or “typical” as Gilles Renouard, Unifrance deputy director, called it at the presentation of statistic at the event. The recovery will seem Pyrrhic to some, driven by Besson’s “Valerian and the City of the Thousand Planets,” whose €170.9 million ($201.6 million) outside France was not enough to save the film, nor purported franchise, nor, according to reports, the need of Besson’s EuropaCorp’s to find a new investor or owner to slash its debt load.
Figures were announced by French film promotion org UniFrance at a Friday evening event at France’s Ministry of Culture.
“Valerian’s” $62.1 million trawl in China, the best ever result for any French film there, was sufficient, however, to make the country the No. 1 French export movie market for 2017, in terms of admissions at least, a status often enjoyed by the U.S. in the past – also thanks to Luc Besson productions, such as the “Taken” franchise and “Lucy.” Total gross box office for French films in the U.S. and Canada of €74.8 million ($88.2 million) outgrossed China’s total haul for all French films released of €64.4 million ($80.0 million).
The second highest-grossing French film was a minority co-production, the animated feature “Leap!” produced out of France by Quad, as wide audience animation, such as “The Little Prince” over 2015-16, continues to give French cinema some of its biggest breakout hits.
Omar Sy comedy “Three is Family,” sold by SND and from Vendôme Production, came in No. 3 for France outside its borders, playing out as the second highest-grossing French majority co-production. The fact that the film is a free adaptation of Eugenio Dérbez’s Mexican comedy-melodrama “Instructions Not Included,” the top-grossing Spanish-language film ever in the U.S., is an indication of the upside to the burgeoning international remake business.
Five of the biggest French-majority productions movies abroad were thrillers, four comedies, and one animation: “The Jungle Bunch,” which ranked at No. 4.
Interestingly, Isabelle Huppert starer, “Elle,” featured in the top 10 both of the last two years, with it’s 2017 take placing it at No. 5, with nearly one million more admissions and another €7.8 million ($9.5 million) in box office take.
Missing from the UniFrance’s conscientiously compiled international box office statistics, some of the most thorough of any country outside the U.S., is a consideration of how well French movies performed in digital distribution. These official figures are of course not available. Attaining them in the long-run is one of the goals of UniFrance.
Unifrance executive director Isabelle Giordano recently told Variety that it is incumbent on the French film industry to showcase their technical skills: “We are really good at animation, VFX and VR. If people ask: What is French cinema today? The answer is; beyond innovative.” Her claims have been backed up by the breakdown of how films fared abroad by genre, with fantasy,horror and sci-fi accounting for %40 of admissions, once again thanks to Besson, and animation making up another %18.4.
The provisional number of French films which received international releases was up 5% from 2017, to 642 titles. Seven French films pulled in more than one million admissions while 76 managed to surpass the 100,000 ticket mark.
“French films do not have to be in English, and with big budgets to make money,” Renouard said, siting “Raw,” “Elle,” “Frantz” and “Things to Come.”
Good news for the French cinema, Renpuard said, is that French films are commanding both more, and sometimes significant box office in some emerging markets such as Brazil or Mexico – which was the No. 4 theatrical market for French films, at least in terms of admissions.
2008: €416.5 million ($491.3 million); 83.0 million
2009: €350.8 million ($413.8 million); 67.2 million
2010: €339.7 million ($400.7 million); 60.0 million
2011: €439.5 million ($518.5 million); 74.3 million
2012: €889.6 million ($1.049.5 billion); 144.1 million
2013: €300.8 million; ($354.9 million); 50.8 million
2014: €685.2 million; ($808.3 million); 120.2 million
2015: €624.1 million; ($736.3 million); 111.4 million
2016: €257.5 million ($303.8 million); 40.7 million
2017: €468.0 million ($573.7 million); 80.5 million *
FRANCE’S TOP 10 FILM EXPORTS, BY THEATRICAL BOX OFFICE
(MAJORITY-FRENCH PRODUCTIONS ONLY)
Title, sales company, film type; tix sales; €/($) B.O.
1. “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” EuropaCorp, sci-fi thriller; 30.6 million; €170.9 million ($209.5 million)
2. “Two Is a Family,” Vendôme Production, comedy; 15 million; €62 million ($67.9 million)
3. “Overdrive ,” Kinology, Overdrive Productions, action-thriller; 1.9 million €9.2 million ($11.28 million)
4. “The Jungle Bunch ,” TAT Productions, animation family adventure; 1.2 million; €5.3 million ($6.5 million)
5. “Elle,” SBS Productions, crime thriller; 0.9 million; €7.3 million ($8.95 million)
6. “Renegades,” EuropaCorp, action thriller; 0.8 million; €3.3 million ($4.05 million)
7. “Miss Sloane ” EuropaCorp, drama thriller; 0.7 million; €5 million ($6.13 million)
8. “R.A.I.D. Special Unit,” Pathé, Les Productions du Ch’Timi , action comedy; 0.6 million; €4.2 million ($5.15 million)
9. “Christmas & Co ,” Légende, comedy; 0.6 million; €2.7 million; ($3.31 million)
10. “Radin! ,” Jerico, comedy; 0.5 million; €2.9 million ($3.56 million)
*= still counting in 2017; €1= $1.23