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French Films’ 2016 Box Office Nosedives Abroad; Is Besson’s ‘Valerian’ 2017 Savior?

Deadline logo Deadline 1/13/2017 Nancy Tartaglione
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In 2016, French film admissions at home hit their second-highest number in 50 years — including an increase of 3% for local pics versus 2015. Abroad, it’s a different story. Unifrance, the organization that promotes French film overseas, reports today that ticket sales in foreign markets dipped to 34M, down 69% on 2015, and the lowest since at least 2000. The drop is a reflection of having no major English-language French-made blockbusters (à la a Taken or a Lucy) in foreign play. With that, hopes are high that another film involving Luc Besson, Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets, will boost figures in 2017 when it begins rollout in July.

Overall, the 540 French films released offshore in 2016 grossed 230M euros ($245M), a 63% drop compared to 2015. Leading the pack was The Little Prince with 3.1M admissions for 29.5M euros. The same film, which in 2015 became France’s top animated export ever, was also the No. 2 exported film that year. Coming in 2nd in 2016 was EuropaCorp’s Shut In with 1.8M admissions for 10M euros.

Speaking of the big box office performance abroad in recent years, Unifrance’s Gilles Renouard said, “We have taken for granted numbers which we thought might be the norm… This year is disappointing but not alarming” with expectations that next year will jump up again.

He cited the biggest title set to come out of France in 2017, Besson’s Valerian, a fiscally- and creatively-ambitious sci-fi pic from the French hitmaker (which received a standing ovation following footage screened at Comic-Con in July). STX Motion Pictures Group recently made a three-year deal with EuropaCorp Films USA to release and market the upcoming films hatched by Besson’s production entity. That includes Valerian.

FilmsDistribution co-founder Nicolas Brigaud Robert, a vocal presence amongst major French sales agents, tweeted tonight: “Let’s bet that Valerian will do some good to French cinema in 2017.”

But he also told me at the Unifrance press conference unveiling the 2016 numbers, “It’s not a catastrophe, but as soon as they started adding in English-language films and animation, it skewed the figures.”

Anticipated French-language pics on deck for 2017 include comedies R.A.I.D. Special Unit from box office champ Dany Boon, and Omar Sy-starrer Knock which should perform well in Europe. There’s also the English-language Overdrive starring Scott Eastwood, and sequel March Of The Penguins 2 – The Call.

Overall in 2016, Western Europe became the leading region for French films, accounting for about 50% of all admissions, ahead of North America and Asia. Notably in China, admissions plunged from 14M to just 1M.

Among last year’s successes alongside The Little Prince were The New Adventures Of Aladdin (which was the biggest French release ever in China at 663K admissions), the Oscar-nominated Mustang, and Paul Verhoeven’s Elle starring Golden Globe winner Isabelle Huppert.

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