Sacre bleu! France is the o'seas b.o. champ

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France is the new overseas boxoffice champion, at least for the first half of the year. Gallic cinemagoers bought $833 million worth of tickets from Jan. 1-June 30, up 27% from the same period in 2007, according to statistics assembled by Fox's international distribution department. The figures represent revenue from all films released in the market, not just American movies.

In a remarkable surge demonstrating the vitality of homegrown movies, France hit the tape ahead of the U.K., Japan and Germany. It's the first time France has been at the top of the foreign boxoffice sweepstakes in recent memory.

Also for the first time in years, Hollywood tentpoles were no match for Gallic comedies. Last year in the January-June span, U.S. films took all eight of the top spots; this year, Tinseltown placed only three in the top eight. Never before has France, whose major producers are increasing their commercial output, seen such huge turnouts for locally produced movies.

The all-time champion, the February release "Welcome to the Sticks," sold more than 20 million tickets ($193 million), while "Asterix at the Olympic Games" sold almost 7 million ($61 million). In contrast, sales of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" sold slightly more than 4 million ($39 million) since its May release, and "Iron Man" sold 2 million ducats ($19 million) since April.

"I think when it comes down to it, audiences simply prefer to laugh, and laugh at jokes made in their native tongue," one observer of the French scene said. " 'Sticks,' 'Asterix,' 'Enfin veuve' ($21 million) and 'Disco' ($22 million) are all comedies and also star major Gallic talent.

"Audiences here also seem to want to see familiar faces. 'Cash' ($11 million ) and 'Paris' ($16 million) aren't comedies, but they feature the country's biggest stars — Jean Reno and Jean Dujardin in 'Cash,' and the ensemble cast of 'Paris' features pretty much every star in the country today, including Juliette Binoche, Fabrice Luchini and Francois Cluzet."

Out of 69 countries monitored by Joe Ortiz, Fox International's executive director of sales administration, 47 showed boxoffice increases in the January-June season. The U.K. and Japan were up 1%, Germany advanced 18%, Italy rose 8%, Australia leaped 15% and Russia jumped 31%.

In Germany, U.S. films dropped 8.5% in the first half of this year, but local films produced and distributed by American companies made up for the decline. Warner Bros. co-produced and released the Til Schweiger romantic comedy "Rabbit Without Ears," the most successful boxoffice hit this year — German or U.S. — with $63 million in revenue. Disney took in about $22 million from two in-house German-language teen films, "The Wild Soccer Bunch 5" and "Summer."

In the U.K., two franchises are key to its boxoffice success: "Harry Potter" and "James Bond," both U.S.-funded tentpoles but with a homegrown flavor because they are filmed there.

The impact of local films is perhaps best illustrated by South Korea's experience, which saw a noticeable decrease: So far in 2008, Korean movies have accounted for only 37% of the boxoffice, the smallest share since 2002.

The other big boxoffice news is the steady rise of Russia, which grabbed the No. 7 slot for the January-June period with that 31% increase from 2007.

In addition, the Fox calculations show a 63% rise in moviegoing in China in the first half of this year.

Rebecca Leffler in Paris, Scott Roxborough in Cologne, Germany, Stuart Kemp in London and Mark Russell in Seoul contributed to this report.
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