Local films stick at French boxoffice

Hit comedy 'Welcome to the Sticks' helps drive admissions

PARIS -- Audiences showed a strong appetite for Gallic cinema in 2008, with French titles breaking boxoffice records both at home and abroad.

Thanks to local breakout hit "Welcome to the Sticks," which smashed French boxoffice records last year, admissions in the territory jumped 6.2% to 188.8 million, according to figures from state film body the CNC.

French films sold 86.2 million tickets at home and 77.6 million abroad last year, according to preliminary estimates released Friday from state-run film promotion organization Unifrance.

Unifrance hopes that international boxoffice totals will reach 80 million admissions when final figures are released. "There are almost as many admissions internationally for French titles as there are in France. It's an exceptional proportion," Unifrance GM Gilles Renouard said.

French movies proved more popular at home than U.S. films, with "Sticks" leading the pack with 20.4 million admissions, followed by the big-budget comedy "Asterix at the Olympic Games," with 6.8 million tickets sold.

Overall, French titles claimed a 45.7% market share, compared with 36.5% in 2007, while U.S. titles suffered, taking just a 44.5% market share versus 49% in 2007. French titles haven't performed this well abroad since 2005, when "March of the Penguins" took the international market by storm.

French majority co-productions continued to make gains as well, accounting for 86% of French-made fare in 2008, compared with 62% in 2007 and just 48.9% in 2006. In all, 353 French films were released across the globe in 2008.

The U.S. maintained its title as top foreign destination for Gallic cinema, with 17.8 million tickets sold. English-language titles including "Transporter 3" and "Babylon AD" were the most popular stateside, but French-language films held their own. Guillaume Canet's "Tell No One" made $6 million in the U.S., "I've Loved You So Long" has made $2.5 million and counting, "Priceless" took in $2 million and "Roman de Gare" earned $1.9 million.

French films also attracted moviegoers in Russia with 7.2 million admissions, followed by 5.6 million in Germany, 5.3 million in Spain, 4.9 million in Italy and 4.3 million in the U.K. Gallic movies also managed to attract crowds in Mexico (4 million admissions), South Korea (3.6 million) and Australia (2.2 million).

Despite catastrophic boxoffice results in France, where it sold just 900,000 tickets, Matthieu Kassovitz's futuristic thriller "Babylon AD" managed to multiply ticket sales tenfold internationally, topping the list of most-viewed titles abroad with 10.1 million admissions. "Asterix at the Olympic Games" followed with 9.1 million admissions, just ahead of Gaumont's English-language "Taken," with 8.8 million.

After breaking records in France, "Sticks" also managed to export its very French humor abroad, selling 4 million tickets in foreign markets and seeing a deal struck for a U.S. remake produced by Will Smith.

"French films that were made for international markets, including English-language titles or European co-productions such as 'Asterix,' really found their audience abroad this year," Unifrance's Renouard said.

Unifrance has high expectations in 2009 for titles including the biopic "Coco Chanel," Luc Besson's animated series "Arthur" and Palme d'Or winner Laurent Cantet's "The Class," which is still in the running for a foreign-language Oscar.