French cinema saw its fortunes rise at the international box office in 2023 after three difficult Covid-19 and post pandemic years, according to the annual report of export agency Unifrance released on Tuesday.
The new figures showed that worldwide admissions for all feature films involving a French partner generated 37.4M admissions in 2023, representing a 38.5% rise year-on-year, for a 37.8% jump in receipts to $256M (€234M)
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Within this, entries for majority French productions rose 74.7% to 29.7M. French language features saw a 53.6% rise in spectators year-on-year to 30.1M spectators.
Across 2023, 220 new French films hit the international market in 2,800 separate release campaigns.
Animated feature Miraculous The Movie by Jeremy Zag led the charge drawing 7.15M spectators in 26 territories for a gross of $34.8 (€31.8M) as of December 31, 2023.
In terms of admissions, it was followed by Guillaume Canet’s Astérix And Obélix: The Middle Kingdom, with 2.74M entries for a $19.9M gross and feature animation Epic Tails, with 1.76M entries for a $11.3M
Costumes dramas Jeanne du Barry and The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan drew 1.72M and 1.65M spectators respectively for grosses of $9.3M and $9.9, with the latter movie playing in an impressive 58 territories.
Cannes Palme d’Or winner and awards season frontrunner Anatomy Of The Fall, which is still on release in multiple territories, also made it into the 2023 charts. It had achieved 1.55M admissions for a $14.6M gross as of December 31, 2023.
In spite of the encouraging numbers, overall admissions were still some 18% lower than the pre-pandemic 2019 figure of 45.9M, and way off the record years of a decade ago when they routinely topped the 100M mark.
The Unifrance report suggested the latter days were over for French cinema, regardless of the pandemic.
“There have been multiple changes that have profoundly altered the ecosystem,” it said, citing key factors such as the rise of streaming and the lack of “big budget English-language action films” [in the vein of Luc Besson’s blockbuster Lucy].
The report took Miraculous The Movie as an example of how the platforms had impacted the international box office for French films.
“Miraculous The Movie, the French leader on the international big screen in 2023, was released directly on Netflix in the Americas, Oceania, and a number of other Asian and European countries,” it said.
“This choice was made during the pandemic when it was impossible to predict when the exhibition sector around the world was going to return to normal. That’s millions of spectators who five or six years ago would have counted on the theatrical side.”
In terms of markets, Western Europe was the top market for French cinema for the eighth consecutive year, accounting for 15M admissions, with Germany coming out as the region’s biggest market with 4.21M entries.
Eastern and Central Europe was the second biggest region, mainly thanks to Russia, which was the overall top global territory in terms of admissions, with 7.09M entries, but generated a small gross than Germany.
With Hollywood boycotting Russia due to the Ukraine war, its distributors are looking elsewhere for titles.
Miraculous The Movie was released on a record 1,877 screens for a French film, selling 3.53M tickets. Maïwenn’s Jeanne du Barry, co-starring Johnny Depp, also performed well in Russia selling just over one million tickets.
Film exports to Russia are not banned under European Union sanctions and many European sales agents have continued to sell to distributors not affiliated with the Russian state.
In North America, admissions rose by 12.7%, thanks to Anatomy Of A Fall‘s 393,000 entries, and Astérix & Obélix, which was particularly successful in Canada.
Unifrance also looked at the international performance of French films beyond the theatrical box office.
It noted that 256 features with majority or minority French partners had played in the top 10 film festivals in 2023, representing 23.1% of the films selected across these events.
This was higher than U.S., which got 208 features into these festivals for a 18.7% share of the combined line-ups.
The report also looked at the distribution of French majority productions on worldwide streaming platforms.
According to its research, 5,000 separate French features or one-offs were available on international streaming platforms in 2023, for a 4.6% share of the catalogue.
This put France in fourth position, with U.S. dominating the offering with a 43.9% share, followed by India with 7.8% and then the UK with 6.7%.
The report noted that Mubi had the biggest share of French cinema in its catalogue, representing 22.4%, followed by The Criterion Channel in the U.S. with 17.4%, and Poland’s IPLa, with 12.5%.
Elsewhere, French films made up just over 10% of the offering on Spain’s Filmin, Turkey’s Tivibu and Mediaset Infinity in Italy.
On a global scale, Guidebox came in second after Mubi with 4.7%, followed by Netflix ($4.1%), Curiosity Stream (3.9%) and HBO Max (3.4%).
As per Unifrance tradition, the international box office report was unveiled with the framework of the organisations annual Paris Rendez-vous, launching a raft of upcoming French films due to hit the festival and market circuit this year.
Looking to theatrical prospects for French cinema internationally in 2024, the report noted that a raft of films were continuing overseas careers begun in 2023, including Anatomy of a Fall, Dogman, Taste Of Things and The Three Musketeers – Milady.
French films due to hit cinemas worldwide later in 2024 include recent local hit Bonnard, Pierre and Marthe as well as Daaaaaali!, Emilia Perez and Sirocco and the Kingdom of the Winds.
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