Asia Becomes Top Region for French Films

Daniel McFadden - © 2014 EUROPACORP – M6 FILMS
Liam Neeson in 'Taken 3'

'Taken 3,' 'The Transporter Refueled' and animated classic 'Le Petit Prince' propelled French film to a strong year in international markets, with China exceeding the U.S. for the first time in terms of admissions.

Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp once again helped push French films to a banner year abroad, landing two titles in the top three, alongside the international animated hit Le Petit Prince.

It was the third year in the last four that French films sold more than 100 million tickets abroad, and all in all, French films earned $657 million worldwide, marking the second year there were more tickets sold outside of France than in the country itself, with China and Asia overall leading the charge.

Taken 2 was the biggest earner, taking in $286.6 million, and The Transporter Refueled came in third with $69.2 million. The English-language films did strong box office in the U.S. and in China.

They follow in the footsteps of Lucy, also an English-language EuropaCorp film, which helped push foreign ticket sales to $669 million and 120.2 million admissions in 2014. Foreign ticket sales hit their highest level in 2012 on the strength of feel-good juggernaut Intouchables, with 144.1 million admissions abroad.

China surpassed the U.S. as the leading export market in terms of ticket sales for French films for the first time last year, with 14.7 million tickets sold, compared to the U.S. and English-speaking Canada’s 14.4 million, though higher ticket prices in the U.S. mean the American market still brings in more box-office receipts. Thus, French films earned $115.7 million in the U.S. and $77.5 million in China.

The Chinese market boosted the top trio: Taken 3 earned $32 million, Le Petit Prince brought in $24 million and The Transporter Refueled grossed $18 million in the country.

Also for the first time, Asia was the top region for French films, surpassing both North America and Western Europe. The region saw 28.9 million tickets sold and accounted for a full quarter of French foreign ticket sales, with Japan and South Korea being particularly strong. 

As a result, Western Europe fell to second place at 25.6 million tickets, with the U.K. being an especially weak market. Latin America followed with 22.3 million. The growth in Latin America is also of significant note, with an astounding 116 percent increase in Colombia, 76 percent in Mexico and 44 percent in Brazil, much of it propelled by feel-good dramedy The Belier Family.

North America dropped to fourth place, in part because of the absence of a star-driven blockbuster like Lucy, with 15.4 million tickets sold for a 14.6 percent share. Taken 3, Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart-starrer Sils Maria, Oscar-nominated Timbuktu and Wim Wenders-helmed Salt of the Earth were particularly strong.

These hits point to a perception problem for “French” films. Taken 3, The Transporter Refueled and even the more art-house Sils Maria are in English and with international stars, as was Scarlett Johansson starrer Lucy.

Wild Bunch’s Le Petit Prince, directed by Kung Fu Panda’s Mark Osbourne, became France’s biggest animation hit of all time with $103 million and 19 million in ticket sales.

Those numbers are sure to climb. The English-language version, The Little Prince — voiced by an all-star cast including Jeff Bridges, Paul Rudd, James Franco, Ricky Gervais and Marion Cotillard — will be released by Paramount on March 18 in the U.S., with Canada, the U.K. and Australia to follow.

With Asterix le Domaine des Dieux coming in sixth and Mune, le Gardien de la Lune placing seventh for 2015 abroad, animation also had a strong year, bringing in upwards of 20 percent of all ticket sales.