French Cinema 2014: Boom due to Local Comedies, not Hollywood Blockbusters

French film market boom:  There was increase of 7.7% in attendance in 2014 to a 206 million paid admissions, Rentrak France announced Friday.

That’s the second biggest figure since 1967, only topped by 2011’s historical high. Admissions translate to a total box office gross of €1.339 billion ($1.6 billion), per Rentrak.

But it was French films, not Hollywood tentpoles that made the running in 2014, placing first, second and third in Gaul in a triple whammy unprecedented in the last twenty years.

“The good result is mostly based on the first half of the year with the tremendous success of French comedies,” said Eric Marti, at Rentrak in France.

Multi-National Comedy

Distributed by UGC, this year’s huge French breakout was “Serial (Bad) Weddings,” a satire centering on an upper-class provincial couple with deeply-rooted racist prejudices who are severely discomfited by their four daughters marrying Chinese, Jewish, Muslim and black partners.  This funny comedy sold 12.2 million tickets (€78.8 million: $98.5 million).

Superchndriac

A Pathe Distribution release in France, Dany Boon’s “Superchndriac,” a buddy comedy between a crazed germ-phobe and his doctor, notched up 5.3 million admissions (€34.o million: $42.5 million).

Lucy

Luc Besson’s Scarlett Johansson-starrer “Lucy,” not a comedy but a fantasy-thriller-actioner, made by EuropaCorp Distribution, had 5.2 million ticket sales (€33.6 million: $42.0 million).

Fourth-placed, Warner-New Line “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” ran up a 4.1 million (€26.3 million: $32.9 million) attendance, and still counting; Fox’s ”Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” netted 3.8 million spectators (€24.4 million; $30.5 million).

With nine titles in France’s top 30, per Rentrak, French films took a 44.0% market share, according to the CNC, their best performance since 2008, U.S. movies a 45.1% share, their second-worst result from 2009. 103.6 million in 2013, total admissions for American fare plunged to 94.0 million, per the CNC, which also counts free tickets issued, for instance, to schools.

“U,S. films did ‘business as usual,’ but we can’t help noticing that they didn’t get a big hit in summer, which was dominated by ‘Lucy,’” Marti commented. “Though U.S. summer blockbusters did well – for instance, ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, ‘’How To Train Your Dragon 2,’ and ‘X Men: Days of Future Past’ – none of them were strong enough to pass a four million admission ceiling.”

“In 2015, although the U.S. will offer very strong titles and reboots with ‘Fast & Furious 7,’ ‘Minions,’ and ‘Mad Max: Fury Road,’ plus many other superhero titles, in contrast to ‘mini-serial’ titles such as ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Hunger Games,’ there’s always a doubt about how these sequels and franchise reboots will actually perform,” Marti continued. “It’s a smart way to control risk but also a good way to miss out on a big hit.”

One year certainly isn’t enough time moreover to substantiate a long-term decline in attendance for U.S. fare in France, especially after a notable uptick in tix sales for American movies in most years since 2009 and huge franchises on the horizon, kicked in with “Star Wars 7,” which bows next year in Gaul on Dec. 18, and “Mission: Impossible 5,” which opens Dec. 25.

But with France’s cinemagoers skewing ever older –more than 65% of cinemagoers were 26 or over in 2013, per CNC stats – there is a question mark about how apt Hollywood’s predominantly youth and young-adult targeted fare can now be for France, as well as other ageing countries in old Europe, such as Spain.