Despite the international box-office disappointment of Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, the sci-fi epic ushered in a stellar year for French film abroad.
Foreign ticket sales nearly doubled from 2016, with Valerian leading the charge, to 80.5 million admissions worldwide. While the highly anticipated movie was a letdown for both French cinema promoters and the company’s bottom line, the film sold 30.6 million tickets and raked in €170.9 million ($209 million) worldwide.
Overall, the increase in sales translated into $572.5 million for the French foreign box office, a jump of 82 percent in dollar amount from last year.
That number also topped the number of tickets sold in France, 78.2 million.
China surpassed the U.S as the No. 1 market for French films for the first time, with Russia coming in third. That outcome, again, was largely on the appeal of the English-language Valerian, which sold 11.6 million tickets in the territory, making it the top French production ever there.
The English-language action film Overdrive, starring Scott Eastwood, ranked third with 1.9 million in international ticket sales. It scored particularly well in Mexico and Asia.
Despite the trend of the biggest French films of the last few years, including Besson’s Taken series and the Scarlett Johansson-starrer Lucy, being English-language blockbusters, organizers noted that over 50 percent of the French box office abroad in 2017 were movies in the French language.
Omar Sy’s comedy Two Is a Family was a hit, selling nearly 5 million tickets to come in second on the list, and was particularly strong in Italy and across Europe.
And while ticket sales increased fivefold in Asia, including strong growth in Korea and Japan, Western Europe still remained the strongest overall region for French film.
General director Isabelle Giordano said the trend in international exhibition is that more films are being exported to more territories and distributed in more theaters, but have smaller release windows on the big screen.
UniFrance also kicked off the eighth edition of its My French Film Festival, which sees the online competition partner with 50 VOD platforms worldwide including iTunes, Amazon, MUBI and Google Play. The Young Pope director Paolo Sorrentino is the head of this year’s jury, alongside directors Julia Ducournau, Nabil Ayouch, Brillante Mendoza and Kim Champion.