French cinema saw its international box office receipts fall to €86.6 million ($105.4 million), a near 70% drop, in 2020, according to a study unveiled by French promotion org UniFrance during the virtual Rendez-Vous market.
The drastic decline is explained by the fact that theaters worldwide were closed for several months due to the pandemic. The number of French films released in foreign theaters fell by 30% to 611 titles.
International ticket sales, meanwhile, fell to 13.7 million, down 69.8% on 2019. The extent of the drop in overseas admissions mirrors the decline in admissions for French films at home, which were down 60.7% compared with 2019 levels. UniFrance also points to the absence of a major hit and the downturn in emerging markets such as China.
Other popular French exports included Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache’s “The Specials”; Nicolas Bedos’s “La Belle Epoque”; Nicolas Vanier’s “Spread Your Wings”; Regis Roinsard’s “The Translators”; Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “The Truth”; Manele Labidi’s “Arab Blues”; and the animated feature “Yakari, A Spectacular Journey” by Xavier Giacometti and Toby Genkel.
Four of the five French movies that sold the most admissions overseas world premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019. “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and “Les Miserables” won the screenwriting award and jury prize, respectively.
In spite of difficult circumstances, French cinema “preserved a strong foothold in theaters and festivals abroad,” argues UniFrance. Across the eight major international film festivals, as many as 163 French films were selected in 2020, representing 19.5% of the overall selection, on par with 2019.
With its rich local production, France’s theatrical market proved more resilient than in other countries that rely more heavily on Hollywood blockbusters. The dearth of U.S. releases across the world left room for local films to shine in 2020, said UniFrance.
“The absence of Hollywood blockbusters left a gap which less-high-profile output from other countries, including France, helped to fill,” said the org. “French films, unlike U.S. films, are never released day-and-date worldwide…As such, distributors and exhibitors could look to French titles to offer audiences something fresh.”
Russia became the number one territory for admissions for French films in 2020, followed by Spain and Italy. Each country recorded more than 1 million admissions for French movies.
The promotion org said it was hopeful that theaters would come through the pandemic, even if the COVID-19 crisis has hit them hard. “This unprecedented crisis forced the sector to turn more towards digital channels, […] but the reopening of cinemas [between the two lockdowns] showed that spectators hadn’t lost their appetite for [moviegoing], since admissions climbed continually until the end of October when the second wave of the pandemic hit.”