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Box Office - France

Industry Report: Distribution, Exhibition and Streaming

French cinemas report 96.17 million admissions in 2021

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Despite strong headwinds, French cinemas achieved the best attendance figures among the various European markets

French cinemas report 96.17 million admissions in 2021
Kaamelott – First Instalment by Alexandre Astier, which was the 4th most popular film at France’s 2021 box-office

The glass could be seen as half-empty or half-full, depending on how you look at the analysis, but despite dealing out some heavy blows, the pandemic hasn’t totally annihilated French cinemas, which closed 2021 having recorded 96.17 million admissions, according to the estimations of the CNC. Although it’s a figure up 47.4% on the dark year that was 2020, these attendance levels actually reveal a 55% decrease on 2019. However, if we only take into account the period in which French cinemas were open, from the beginning of June to the end of December, this drop falls to 23.2% compared to 2019, while December (boosted by Spider-Man: No Way Home) recorded viewer numbers markedly close to the usual monthly figures. They’re results which make of France the most resilient European country in the big-screen market.

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That said, the situation is clearly anything but straightforward, over and above the twists and turns of the healthcare predicament (the surge of the Omicron variant we’ve been seeing over the New Year will inevitably impact attendance rates, which have more or less stabilised, but, unlike the previous episodes we’ve seen, cinemas are staying open this time round). Distributors have been forced to "destock at all costs", releasing films which were previously blocked during the long periods of cinema closures, a backlog worsened by the arrival of new productions (owing to the fact that French film sets got back up and running quickly in 2020, which we’re thankful for). Not only has this rush of new films placed a great number of titles targeting the same audience in direct competition with one another (especially in terms of arthouse cinema, notably movies approved by major festivals and first feature films), but the demographics of returning audiences have further amplified the problem because, unlike young people who haven’t shown any reticence in finding their way back to the big screen, the over-40s, who account for the lion’s share of aficionados of arthouse film, have shown themselves to be far less enthusiastic to return (either due to worries over Covid, the new habit of staying at home and the associated growing addiction to SVOD platforms, or the choice of other going-out options – restaurants, outdoor eating and drinking spaces, etc.).

The result of this is an increase in the “winner takes all" phenomenon across a market which is battling it out for a reduced pool of viewers. A guesstimate circulating among professionals is that "blockbuster films" have underperformed by 20-30% compared to the usual market result, "mid-sized films" by 50% and small ones by 70%. But given that arthouse works mainly reside within the latter two categories, their distributors (who are, generally speaking, independent) are paying a very heavy price at present, given that they must pay the Minimum Guarantees which were promised to producers on the basis of admissions forecasts made before the health crisis and whose actual results fall far below expectations. It’s a heavy loss which is clearly having an impact on their financial wellbeing and their ability to invest in new projects. So, whilst cinemas have held up relatively well in France throughout the successive waves of the health storm, many of the vessels flanking the main ship are having to improvise and their crews are plugging gaps and baling out in the hope of better days.

In terms of market shares, French films accounted for 40.8 % of cinema admissions in 2021, as opposed to the 42.4 % enjoyed by American productions and 16.8 % by feature films from other countries.

American productions dominated France’s 2021 box-office podium, thanks to Spider-Man: No Way Home (5.6 million admissions), No Time to Die [+see also:
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(4 million) and Dune [+see also:
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(3.1 million), while three French feature films stand out in the year’s Top 10: Kaamelott – First Instalment [+see also:
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by Alexandre Astier (4th place -  2.64 million admissions), The Stronghold [+see also:
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by Cédric Jimenez (6th – 2.2 million) and Les Tuche 4 by Olivier Baroux (7th - 2 million).

In total, nine French films exceeded the one-million-admissions mark, including OSS 117: From Africa With Love [+see also:
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by Nicolas Bedos (14th place – 1.6 million), The Bodin’s in the Land of Smile by Frédéric Forestier (15th – 1.54 million), Eiffel [+see also:
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by Martin Bourboulon (16th – 1.46 million), Aline, The Voice of Love [+see also:
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by Valérie Lemercier (20th – 1.28 million), Black Box [+see also:
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by Yann Gozlan (21st – 1.18 million) and The Wolf and the Lion [+see also:
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by Gilles de Maistre (22nd – 1.16 million).

Other French productions’ results worth mentioning are those of Xavier Giannoli’s Lost Illusions [+see also:
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(22nd – 803,000), Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta [+see also:
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(326,000 entrées), Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or winner Titane [+see also:
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(303,000), Marie Amiguet and Vincent Munier’s documentary The Velvet Queen [+see also:
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(302,000 since its release on 15 December), Leos Carax’s Annette [+see also:
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(283,000), Catherine Corsini’s The Divide [+see also:
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(265,000), François Ozon’s Everything Went Fine [+see also:
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(255,000), Patrick Imbert’s animated title The Summit of the Gods [+see also:
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(203,000) and Jacques Audiard’s Paris, 13th District [+see also:
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(182,000).

The category of non-national European feature films is dominated by Florian Zeller’s majority British production The Father [+see also:
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(38th – 586,000) and Parallel Mothers [+see also:
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by Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar (41st – 548,000). Likewise worth a mention are The Worst Person in the World [+see also:
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by Norway’s Joachim Trier (202,000), the animated film Wolfwalkers [+see also:
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by the Irish duo Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart (184,000), and Compartment N°. 6 [+see also:
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interview: Juho Kuosmanen
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by Finland’s Juho Kuosmanen (154,000).

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(Translated from French)

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