French films have mixed fortunes abroad

Chinese appetite for French fare up 418% over 2008

PARIS -- The world said "oui" to Gallic movies over the past decade with a 75% increase in ticket sales from 2000 to 2009, according to figures from French film promotion organization Unifrance, despite a 22% boxoffice dip for French films abroad last year.

In 2009, French films sold 62 million tickets abroad, which Unifrance estimates will reach 66 million once final stats are calculated.

The number is down from 2008's record year of 84.2 million tickets, but still relatively stable compared to previous years -- in line with 67.3 million in 2007, 62 million in 2006 and better than 2004's 50.1 million and 2003's 48.5 million.

"There were simply less films with big international ambition than in 2008. Movies such as 'Asterix' or 'Welcome to the Sticks' carry the boxoffice, and there weren't many of those this year," Unifrance president Antoine De Clermont-Tonnerre explained. He added: "There was a big diversity of titles, particularly a lot of auteur films, which is great, but it also means less tickets sold at the boxoffice."

The U.S. remains the biggest market worldwide for French cinema with 24 million tickets for Gallic titles sold in 2009. Pierre Morel's Europacorp-produced action thriller "Taken" carried the boxoffice with 20 million tickets sold for a $150 million total.

"Taken" was also the top-grossing title of the decade with 31 million tickets sold, but still behind the all-time boxoffice leader, Luc Besson's 1997 "The Fifth Element." Besson's Europacorp produced seven of the top 20 French-made films over the past decade.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet's "Amelie" remains the top title of the decade for French-made, French-language films abroad, having sold more than 23.1 million tickets when it was released in 2001.

"March of the Penguins" came in second place with 19.9 million tickets sold across the globe, followed by two "Asterix" films, "Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra" with 10.2 million and 2008 hit "Asterix at the Olympic Games" with 9.4 million.

Anne Fontaine's fashion biopic "Coco Before Chanel" sold an impressive 850,000 tickets stateside and was the big star of the year all over the world with 5.3 million tickets sold across the globe, five times the boxoffice at home in France.

Cannes Palme d'Or-winner "The Class" continued its worldwide success stateside as well with 540,000 tickets sold in the U.S. and Olivier Assayas' ensemble drama "The Summer Hours" was a surprise hit among U.S. audiences with 250,000 tickets sold.

Only 19 French films were released in U.S. theaters last year, compared to 23 in 2008, but Unifrance is looking past theatrical releases to new platforms for showcasing French on-screen talent.

IFC, for example, is ramping up its VOD platform with simultaneous releases in theaters and on VOD for titles including "The Summer Hours," Francois Ozon's "Ricky," and Cedric Klapisch's "Paris" or VOD-only releases such as "La Belle Personne" and "Cash." Unifrance is hoping other distributors will follow suite and is planning a series of initiatives to promote cross-platform content this year.

In other parts of the globe, China's appetite for French fare grew an impressive 418% compared to 2008 and Japan increased its ticket sales for Gallic titles by 90%.

"There's a real potential there," Clermont Tonnerre said in an interview about the Asian markets.

Russia, however, really felt the effects of the financial crisis and ticket sales for French films dropped 70% in that territory compared to 2008.

Italy didn't show much love for films from its neighbor with a 63% drop in sales and Brazil also saw its ticket sales drop 65%.

"There are always high and lows, it depends on the year," De Clermont-Tonnerre said of the disappointing territories.

In 2009, 90% of tickets sold were majority French productions, up from 84.6% in 2008.

Unifrance's 12th annual "Rendez-Vous with French Cinema" runs through Monday in the French capital.
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