‘Unknown’ Helps French Cinema Have an Identity Abroad in 2011

Unknown Neesen Jones 341 x 182 Newsletter only

French films take bon voyage abroad with $519 million in ticket sales.


PARIS - It was a bon voyage for French films abroad in 2011 with 65.7 million tickets sold for Gallic titles last year and a 19 percent jump in box office revenue to €405 million ($519 million), according to figures from French government-sponsored film promotion organization Unifrance.

However, the “made in France” label didn’t necessarily mean that the “French” titles were made in the Francophone tongue. Ticket sales for French language titles dropped from 35 million in 2010 to 25 million in 2011. Of the top five French films abroad in 2011, four were English-language titles, namely Unknown, The Three Musketeers, Colombiana and Carnage. French majority productions also dropped from 85 percent to 52 percent last year.

“Last year, we were happy about how French-language films performed in 2010, but everyone complained because the global figures had dropped and there weren’t any English-language titles like Taken. This year is exactly the opposite,” Unifrance president Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre told THR in an interview, adding that the lack of strong-performing French-language titles is “only temporary.”

2011 was a record year for French cinema at home, but these titles are just beginning to start their release abroad so won’t be reflected in the global box office quite yet.

Unknown topped the French-made global box office with 13.2 million tickets sold in 29 territories, followed by The Three Musketeers with 8.7 million tickets sold in 25 territories, Colombiana with 7.7 million tickets sold in 40 territories, Nothing to Declare with 2.2 million tickets sold in 14 territories and Carnage with 1.9 million tickets sold in 10 territories.

While audiences might not recognize that their favorite movies like Colombiana, Unknown, Carnageor The Three Musketeers are indeed French-made titles, Unifrance sees films like these as a positive evolution for the French film industry.

“I consider films like Taken to be films entirely made by a French production that takes advantage of the talent of French crews and show the capacity of French directors like Louis Leterrier, Alexandre Aja or Pierre Morel. Even if the actors and language aren’t French, these titles are products of the French film industry,” Clermont-Ferrand explained.

With the exception of Dany Boon’s comedy Nothing to Declare, the most successful French-language, French majority productions in 2011 abroad were continuations of films released in 2010 like Xavier Beauvois’ Cesar-winning Of Gods and Men, Francois Ozon’s Catherine Deneuve-starrer Potiche and best-selling novel adaptation Sarah’s Key, which all sold more than one million tickets abroad.

French films performed particularly well in Anglophone countries including the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, Francophone territories like Belgium, Switzerland and Quebec and in Germany. “Our worry at Unifrance is that the evolution of international multiplexes favors local comedies and blockbusters and French films tend to remain in the auteur category in theaters. It’s a phenomenon that is globally negative for us,” Clermont-Tonnerre explained. That said, 450 French titles made it into theaters across the globe last year, more than in 2010 that saw only 415 Gallic titles in theaters. 10 French films sold more than one million tickets abroad in 2011, down from 14 in 2010.

2012 is already off to a good start with The Artist opening strong stateside and France’s box office hit Untouchable already doing well in Germany. Audrey Tautou-starrer La Delicatesse, Valerie Donzelli’s War is Declared, Luc Besson’s The Lady, children’s titles A Monster in Paris and Marsupilami are also expected to perform well across the globe.

However, Unifrance isn’t sure that an awards season boost for The Artist will necessarily affect global box office results.

“Awards in Hollywood will be great for The Artist of course. But will they help French cinema as a whole? Not sure,” Clermont-Tonnerre said.

10 French productions and co-productions are in the running for 2012 Oscars.

This year’s 14th annual Rendez-Vous with French cinema kicked off this week and will run through Monday in Paris.

For four days, Paris’ Grand Hotel Intercontinental will welcome 450 international distributors who will present 80 films, half of which will be screened at the film market. A simultaneous press junket with Gallic talent is playing host 130 journalists from 25 different countries.