French Box Office 2017: Local Titles Soar (Even 'Valerian’)

Courtesy of STX Entertainment
Dane DeHaan in Besson's 'Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.'

Luc Besson's space epic 'Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets' flopped in the U.S. but delivered in the director's home country, part of a comeback for French-made films last year.

The French went to the movies a lot in 2017. 

Official ticket sales, as reported by France's National Film Center, the CNC, hit 209.2 million tickets last year, the third-biggest tally since records begun back in the 1950s. It was also only the third time on record that total admissions topped 200 million.

Much of the credit has to go to French movies, which were particularly strong. Luc Besson's much-maligned English-language space opera Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets may have bombed stateside, but it was a hit in France, selling 4 million tickets for a total box office take (according to boxofficemojo.com) of $36.8 million.

French audiences, familiar both with the director and Valerian's source material — the comic books created by French writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mezieres — embraced the film, starring Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne. Americans weren't so understanding. Valerian earned just $41 million in the U.S. Because of its hefty price tag, estimated at $180 million, the film won't be a money maker for producer EuropaCorp.

Another, substantially more profitable, French feature was the action comedy R.A.I.D. Special Unit  from hit maker Dany Boon (Welcome to the Sticks). The spoof, which plays like a parody of much of Besson's work, actually sold more tickets than Valerian (4.5 million to Valerian's 4 million) but because of cinema subscriptions and various discounts available for French moviegoers, Boon's comedy earned slightly less ($33.3 million).

Even this year's biggest film had a French touch.

Universal's Despicable Me 3, which was seen by more than 5.6 million people in France and earned more than $41 million in the territory, is a co-production with Paris-based animation studio MacGuff. It is a comeback for Universal, whose Despicable Me spinoff title Minions was the number one film in France in 2015.

Only one more French title broke into the top 10: Alibi.com, a comedy from comedian-director Philippe Lacheau and his comedy troupe Bande a Fifi, which earned $27.6 million at the French box office. The troupe's second comedy feature, Marry Me, Dude, which Tarek Boudali directed, also made the year’s top 20, earning just under $20 million and proving there’s a healthy market in France for locally-made, brightly packaged and juvenile humor.

In terms of market share, France managed to grow its percentage to 37.4 percent of all tickets sold, or over 78 million admissions. That number had been hovering around 35.5 percent for the last two years. Hollywood titles, on the other hand, lost ground, with U.S.-produced films comprising about 48.8 percent of all tickets, down from 52 percent or more in the last two years. It is notable that among the strongest local performers, which also include the hilarious Toronto closing film C’est la Vie, none of them are sequels or direct remakes. Quite a few, however, including Valerian and the artful genre item See You Up There ($15.4 million and counting), were adapted from previously published material.

With Despicable Me 3, The Fate of the Furious ($29.9 million gross in France) and Fifty Shades Darker ($25 million), Universal reclaimed its position as the number one Hollywood studio for the French market. But Disney, which scored the 2016 topper with Moana, had another strong year as well, with three titles in the top 10: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, released on December 13 in France, earned just over $31 million by year's end, good enough for fourth place. The latest edition of Pirates of the Caribbean came in seventh with a $28.8 million take and Disney's live-action Beauty and the Beast managed to sell over 3.5 million tickets, earning $24 million and ninth place in the admissions charts.

France's 2017 top 10 contained two more animated films: DreamWorks’ The Boss Baby ($30 million) and Sing ($22.9 million), also from Universal.