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For the first time since 1989, there were no French movies among the country’s top 10 box officers grossers, which was exclusively dominated by U.S. studio movies.

James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” led the 2022 chart with an estimated $54 million grossed from 7.8 million admissions since its Dec. 14 release, followed by “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Minions: the Rise of Gru,” “Jurassic World Dominion,” “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” “The Batman,” “Thor: Love and Thunder,” “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.”

But even these blockbusters failed to lift the French box office back to its pre-pandemic levels. It was down 28% on 2019.

Ticket sales reached 152 million in 2022, a 60% year-on increase, but that’s because theaters were shut down for more than 5 months in 2021. Comscore France says the French box office was impacted by several factors, including the threat of COVID variants, the rescheduling of several anticipated releases during the first months of 2022 and a smaller number of U.S. movies being released in the summer.

The highest-grossing French film, “Serial (Bad) Weddings 3,” came in 12th among the year’s releases with 2.4 million tickets told. The third installment of a UGC-produced comedy franchise, “Serial (Bad) Weddings 3,” widely underperformed compared with the previous two entries. The initial movie, released in 2014, sold over 12.4 million admissions and the second garnered 7 million tickets. The franchise revolves around the Verneuil family, an upper-class – and xenophobic — French Catholic couple (Christian Clavier, Chantal Lauby) whose daughters married men of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds.

“We’ve had years where only one or two French movies turned up in the top 10, but 2022 had none,” said Eric Marti at Comscore France. Marti says the big comedies that were expected to be last year’s highest-grossing locals titles, such as “Serial (Bad) Weddings,” “Super-hero malgré lui,” and “Ducobu President!” did not fare as well as expected.

“There seems to be a fatigue for formulaic comedies and audiences appear to be looking for more original movies and different kinds of stories,” points Marti, citing Cedric Jimenez’s “November,” a counter-terrorism thriller set in the aftermath of the Paris attacks in 2015 with Jean Dujardin. The Studiocanal movie ranked as the second-highest grossing local film with $2.3 million sold.

The third biggest local language hit was “Simone: A Woman of The Century,” a Warner Bros. France biopic of Simone Veil, an Auschwitz survivor who became health minister of France and championed the 1975 law that legalized abortion in France. 

While there were very few major French box office hits in 2022, several sleeper successes punctuated the year, including arthouse movies such as Louis Garrel’s romantic crime comedy “The Innocent,” Dominik Moll’s thought-provoking thriller “La Nuit du 12” and Cedric Klapisch’s “En Corps.” A few world cinema titles also proved successful, notably Tarik Saleh’s “Cairo Conspiracy,” which represents Sweden in the Oscar race and is France’s biggest (non-English) foreign-language hit since Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite.” 

Paradoxically, while U.S. movies dominated the French box office last year, their market share was slightly down due to the fact that there were less American movies released. The average box office per U.S. release was up last year. The opposite was true for French movies, whose market share was on par with 2021 despite a higher number of local releases, according to Comscore.

Besides audience fatigue and release timing, Marti says some French movies also suffered from being distributed on too many screens. “Many French distributors rolled out their movies across 300 screens and in many cases theaters were half empty — that doesn’t help to build good word-of-mouth around a movie,” says the exec. In contrast, U.S. studios opted for more contained release plans. For instance “Smile,” released on 250 screens by Paramount, packed cinemas and sold over 1.2 million tickets.

Looking ahead, the French box office could rise up during the first half of 2023, bolstered by a tide of anticipated major local language titles, for instance Gaumont’s “Father and Soldier” with Omar Sy, as well as Pathé’s “The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan” and “Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom.”