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Highlights - 11/07/2014

 

France: an overview of box-office hits of the first half of the year

 

The mood was good in French cinemas in the first half of 2014. Here is an overview of the successful films in the first 6 months of the year in France, from SCHOOL OF BABEL to UNDER THE SKIN, via IDA, GODZILLA and MINUSCULE: VALLEY OF THE LOST ANTS (without forgetting all the (BAD) WEDDINGS, of course).

With more than 106 million admissions – a rise of 11.4% over the same period last year – French cinemas had good results overall in the first half of 2014. Among the 10 top films (by admissions), 6 were French, including 5 comedies that represented around 20% of admissions in the period. But over and above these films which attracted very wide audiences (some have already started their international careers), we present as exhaustive an overview as possible of the films that “found” their audience or exceeded expectations, bearing in mind their admissions, the number of cinemas that released them, their progress and the length of their runs.

To starting with the smallest productions – the documentaries – the most popular was School of Babel by Julie Bertuccelli. 190,000 viewers saw this film, which came out in 98 cinemas. At the height of its run it was screened in 229 film theatres, a sign of much interest on the part of exhibitors.

Two other French documentaries also distinguished themselves: How I Came to Hate Math, released in just 30 cinemas, attracted 77,000 viewers, while On the Edge of the World, presented in the ACID programme at Cannes in 2013, had 40,000 admissions (for 10 cinemas in the first week).

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To a lesser extent, films by Wang Bing (Three Sisters), Michel Gondry (Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?), Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet from Stardom) and Stefan Haupt (Sagrada), all with more than 25,000 admissions, also appealed to relatively wide audiences. By contrast, despite their good qualities Sacro GRA and Maidan had disappointing results.

Whereas documentaries seem to have benefited from the digital roll-out in cinemas, this is perhaps not yet the case with retrospective films. The boom in releases of restored films was not accompanied by a visible boom in box offices. In the past months, however, respectable results were had by Cleo from 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 7,000 admissions), Othello by Orson Welles (5,000) and the Bergman Retrospective orchestrated by Carlotta Films, which has now topped the 21,000 mark.

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On the other end of the spectrum, the cinemas were absolutely wild about French comedies, which look set to put admissions back at the level they were at before 2013. Serial (Bad) Weddings (almost 11 million admissions) and Babysitting (more than 2.2 million) were the unexpected successes of the first six months, the second film perhaps targeting a more selected audience (secondary school pupils and young adults) than the first. Dany Boon’s latest film (Superchondriac), with over 5 million admissions, is the other big hit, while Fiston, Barbecue and Very Bad Girls also had a certain public appeal. With a few exceptions, these films have rarely been shown in Europa Cinemas theatres.

Moving down the ranking, In the Courtyard by Pierre Salvadori and Paris Follies by Marc Fitoussi are two comedies that appealed more to arthouse audiences. The first totalled 356,000 admissions, while the second should soon top the 300,000 mark. They belong to the small group of ten or so French films that were well (even very well) received by audiences and critics alike. Yves Saint Laurent spearheads this group (1.6 million), ahead of The Finishers (653,000), Lulu in the Nude (almost 500,000), Suzanne (319,000) and Pascale Ferran’s new film Bird People (which will soon reach 150,000), one of the only films screened at Cannes that also did well in the cinemas. Finally, with around 50,000 admissions three other films deserve mention: Eastern Boys, the second surprising feature film by Robin Campillo, and two films starring Vincent Macaigne, 2 Autumns, 3 Winters and Tonnerre.

With Not My Type, Belgian director Lucas Belvaux shows a lighter touch than he displayed in his previous films, and he’s been amply rewarded (350,000 admissions). His is one of the ten or so European films that make us think 2014 will be a slightly better year than 2013 for Europa Cinemas theatres in terms of their goal of disseminating European films (2013 was not the greatest).

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In the first six months Philomena (717,000 admissions), Two Days, One Night (perhaps 600,000) and Ida (almost 500,000) were hits in the cinemas, ahead of The Selfish Giant (Europa Cinemas Label), Viva la libertà and Two Lives. Bringing up the rear, however, Nymphomaniac (Vol. I and Vol. II), Child’s Pose, The Notebook (Europa Cinemas Label), The Centenarian Who Climbed Out the Window and Vanished and Starred Up, were all relatively well received by critics despite their lukewarm results: further proof of the difficulties distributors and exhibitors can have finding audiences for our neighbours’ films.

Because the competition is tough. Starting in the arthouse cinemas, with films from countries even further away whose success delights us: the Indian production The Lunchbox and the Japanese Like Father, Like Son have had excellent runs, ahead of A Touch of Sin (China) and My Sweet Pepper Land (France/Iraq/Germany). All 4 were presented in Cannes in 2013. With Black Coal, Thin Ice (China, Berlin 2014) and The Golden Dream (Mexico), and the first films by Mexican director Claudia Sainte-Luce (The Amazing Catfish) and the Brazilian Kleber Mendonça Filho (Neighboring Sounds), they are ample proof of audiences’ unflagging curiosity for foreign cinema.

Let’s not forget, however, that for every person who went to see Ida, three saw films by Steve McQueen or Wes Anderson. 12 Years a Slave and The Grand Budapest Hotel, with more than 8,000 admissions per print and respectively 1.7 and 1.4 million admissions in France, were the most successful auteur films by American directors and were well disseminated in network cinemas. Just like the films of Spike Jonze (Her) and Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive, classed as European), with 460,000 and 306,000 admissions respectively.

To round things up, a look at the major blockbusters in the first half of the year. The last sequel of X-Men, at around 5,000 admissions per print (and over 3 million admissions), was a big success (as it was internationally), coming in ahead of several American films with more than a million admissions: Non-Stop, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Noah, Divergent and Godzilla. The Japanese animation film Space Pirate Captain Harlock joins the list with 725,000 admissions.

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Finally, a look at family films, the group that has accounted for most admissions over the last 20 years. The first half of the year saw quite a lot of diversity, with big successes for the French films Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants (1.4 million) – which will be disseminated in China on over 1,000 screens –, Beauty and the Beast (1.8 million in France and already a success in Italy) and Belle and Sebastian (almost 3 million). Miyazaki’s most recent film, The Wind Rises (769,000) and the American films Mr. Peabody & Sherman, The Lego Movie, Maleficent and Rio 2 (between 1 and 2 million admissions) complete the panorama.

Thus, in the first half of 2014 quite a few films – from many different countries – attracted large audiences.

However the drop in admissions in June, the modest results of the first Cannes films to come out in the cinemas and the scarcity of successful European films qualifies the optimism. Currently in the cinemas, Under the Skin is a bit of a paradox: this English film, perhaps the strongest film presented this year (a masterpiece?), has had a very good average for the first two weeks of its run. But the caution with which it has been disseminated (53 cinemas in the first week, despite the Scarlett Johansson argument) indicates that success is not guaranteed.

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Nevertheless European cinema has more to offer in the coming weeks, with several English films  and several French films presented at Cannes, starting with Fighters / Love at First Fight (Europa Cinemas Label), which comes out on 20 August.

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Pictures from top: School of Babel, The Seventh Seal, Babysitting, Ida, Minuscule, Under the Skin

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Jb Selliez, July 2014