Rival adaptations of French literary classic The War of the Buttons battle it out at the box office in France on more than 500 prints each. Version directed by Yann Samuell some 130,000 entries ahead in first week.  

After weeks of media anticipation, French directors Yann Samuell and Christophe Barratier’s rival adaptations of Louis Pergaud’s 1912 novel The War of the Buttons (La Guerre des Boutons) finally went head to head at the box office in France last week.

The stand-off has generated endless media reports on the battle between producers Marc de Pontavice and Thomas Langmann to get their productions to the big screen first.

It is a battle that began in late 2010 when the rights for Pergaud’s novel, about the feud between two boy gangs from neighbouring villages, fell into the public domain enabling both producers to develop projects based on the work simultaneously.

Similar cases in the past, such as Coco before Chanel versus Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, or Capote versus Infamous, have shown that the production which comes out first generally wins the battle for supremacy at the box office.

On the basis of their opening performances, Samuell’s version has taken the lead thus far, attracting 570,969 spectators on 596 prints for a screen average of 958 admissions per screen during its first five days on release starting September 14.

Distributed by UGC, Samuell’s version stars Gainsbourg actor Eric Elmosnino, Alain Chabat and Mathilde Seigner and is set in 1956.

Barratier’s version, renamed The New War of the Buttons just weeks before its September 21 release, garnered 441,388 admissions on 539 prints for a screen average of 819 entries in its first five days on release.

Featuring a slightly starrier cast led by Guillaume Canet, Laetitia Casta and Kad Merad, Barratier’s adaptation is set in 1944 and alludes to the Holocaust through the introduction of a Jewish girl into the storyline. It is distributed by Mars.

Ousted from the top spot in the weekly box office chart by Barratier’s film, Samuell’s version saw a 58 percent drop in admissions in its second week in theatres, pulling in 240,286 spectators for a total 875, 607 entries to date.

Neither films looks on course to out-perform Yves Robert’s 1962 adaptation of the novel, which has been seen by 10 million spectators to date and remains one of France’s all-time most popular films.

The Observatoire de la Satisfaction, which produces an influential weekly study on audience responses to opening films, has predicted that Samuell’s version could ultimately attract two million spectators. It has yet to release its findings for The New War of the Buttons.

Such a result pales not only in comparison with Robert’s classic but also with more recent French pictures in a similar vein.

Laurent Tirard’s adaptation of René Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempé’s Le Petit Nicolas attracted some 5.7 million spectators in 2010, while Barratier’s 2004 picture The Chorus racked up 8.6 million spectators.

On the international distribution front, Langmann’s camp has claimed victory telling local media that the picture has sold worldwide.

“We’ve sold the film throughout the world, including to the United States, while Samuell’s film has hardly sold anywhere,” Emmanuel Montamat, a produce at Langmann’s La Petite Reine production, house is quoted as saying in Le Monde.

Pontavice has denied the claims saying Samuell’s film is sold in a dozen or so counties. Neither TF1, which is handling sales on The War of the Buttons, nor Wild Bunch, which is selling The New War of the Buttons, have announced sales as yet.