Even as Netflix and other platforms continued to gain ground, France’s theatrical box office broke a 50-year record with 213 million ticket sales, showing that movie-going and streaming can co-exist. Admissions increased by 6%, and the French B.O. clocked in at about €1.4 billion ($1.57 billion), a slight increase on 2018.
Hollywood titles ruled the roost, breaking a 10-year record by accounting for 59% of all theatrical admissions in France in 2019, with 125 million tickets sold. Disney alone took a 23.4% market share, with “The Lion King” topping the list of highest-grossing films and five other titles – “Avengers: Endgame,” “Frozen 2,” “Toy Story 4,” “Captain Marvel” and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” which is still in theaters – ranking in the top 10.
Overall, nine of the top 10 films came from U.S. studios. Besides the Disney tentpoles, they included Warner Bros.’ “Joker,” Universal’s “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” and Sony Pictures’ “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”
The only French film in the top 10 was Philippe de Chauveron’s comedy “Serial (Bad) Weddings 2,” with 6.7 million tickets sold. A sequel to the smash hit “Serial (Bad) Weddings,” the movie follows a narrow-minded Catholic couple and their three daughters, who have married men of different faiths.
Despite the tsunami of U.S. blockbusters, French movies managed to corner a market share of 34.6%, on par with last year. There were three more French movies in the top 10 in 2018, but 16 French movies drew more than 1 million admissions each, compared with 10 films in 2018.
In contrast to previous years, the chart of highest-grossing French movies in 2019 isn’t dominated by comedies such as “Serial (Bad) Weddings 2” and “City Hunter.” Half of the list comprises politically or socially engaged contemporary works, such as Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache’s “The Specials,” about educators from different religious faiths working with children suffering from severe autism; “In the Name of the Land,” about the struggle of French farmers; “School Life,” centering on ethnic-minority teenagers in a school in an underprivileged suburb; Ladj Ly’s Cannes jury prize-winning “Les Miserables,” about young victims of police brutality in a French housing project; and “Les Invisibles,” about social workers helping homeless women.
The French chart also includes “Little White Lies 2,” Guillaume Canet’s stars-driven dramedy about friendship; the submarine thriller “The Wolf’s Call,” with Omar Sy; Roman Polanski’s period drama “An Officer and a Spy,” about the Dreyfus affair; the family adventure “Spread Your Wings”; and Nicolas Bedos’ sophisticated romantic comedy “La Belle Epoque.”
Although B.O. was up on last year, it could have been stronger without the nationwide strike that kicked off on Dec. 4 and has been paralyzing public transportation, said Eric Marti of ComScore France. Last year, too, was marked by civic unrest on top of the World Cup soccer tournament and a heat wave, but none of those factors impacted transportation and traffic.
“The impact of the strike was particularly obvious in Paris, where the main multiplexes have suffered a 40% drop on ticket sales from Dec. 4-29 compared to the same period last year,” Marti said in a statement.
The French exhibitors association said in a release that the local box office benefited from the more than €260 million ($292 million) that was invested in 2019 to build an additional 188 screens and modernize theaters and multiplexes across the country.