France's exhibition watchdog, the FNCF, notes that the figures are estimates but that the first half of the year was clearly the engine behind the increased performance. With 103m tickets sold in the first half of 2006, the last six months only brought in 86m moviegoers, making it the worst second half in the past six years.
One reason for the poor showing in the second half of the year could be the World Cup football tournament which saw France advance to the finals and people preferring a couch and a plasma TV to auditorium seating and a big screen. Heat wave temperatures also hindered movie going in the early part of the summer.
Of all the top 20 films in 2006, six were French compared to just two in 2005. Overall, the top 20 films brought in 28m more viewers than the top 20 the previous year.
The clear winner was Patrice Leconte's Les Bronzes 3 with 10.4m admissions along with Fabien Onteniente's Camping in 4th place with 5.5m, Isabelle Mergault's Je Vous Trouve Tres Beau at number 6 with 3.5m, Eric Lartigau's Prete Moi Ta Main in 7th place with 3.4m, Cannes acting ensemble winner Days Of Glory (Indigenes) at number 8 with 3.1m, and Francis Veber's La Doublure at number 9 with 3.1m.
Of the top ten films, the US films were all either sequels or tentpoles (see list below). Interestingly, Ice Age 2 tied with the second with the Pirates Of The Caribbean 2. The Da Vinci Code, probably hindered locally by its bad buzz in Cannes, landed at number 5 behind French comedy Camping, which brought in more than 1m more moviegoers than Ron Howard's thriller (which was shot partially in Paris). Meanwhile, Casino Royale, at number 11, sold 2.7m tickets by year's end.
Local sleepers also helped box-office performance this year, including Je Vous Trouve Tres Beau and Lisa Azuelos' Comme T'y Es Belle. Although the latter is not among the top 20, it broke the 1m admissions barrier in a niche market.
It's difficult, then, to say that US blockbusters ruled France this year. The release of Les Bronzes 3 in February, and its subsequent success, follows a strategy in France that often sees the year's local winner released in the early part of the year. The biggest hits of the past several years have had early release dates - Brice De Nice (April), Les Choristes (March), Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra (January), Amelie (April), The Brotherhood Of The Wolf (January), Taxi (April), The Visitors I and II (January, February). In 2006, Je Vous Trouve Tres Beau was released in January, La Doublure in March and Camping in April.
Whether the success of those films is down to positioning or their inherent quality is hard to say but, frequently, if a French film does well in the winter or spring, it tends to build momentum around other local films. French market share is indeed higher in 2006 than it was in 2005. Further, there was name recognition this year with Les Bronzes, itself the third in a series of hugely successful films, the Cannes buzz around Days Of Glory and at number 14 for the year, France had its very own version of a bumbling James Bond in OSS 117.
Top 10 films by admissions in France through Dec 26, 2006
1. Les Bronzes 3, 10.4m
2. Pirates Of The Caribbean 2, 6.6m
- Ice Age 2, 6.6m
4. Camping, 5.5.m
5. The Da Vinci Code, 4.2m
6. Je vous trouve très beau, 3.5m
7. Prete-moi ta main, 3.4m
8. Days Of Glory (Indigenes), 3.1m
- La Doublure, 3.1m
10. X-Men 3, 2.8m
Top 10 films by admissions in France through Dec 27, 2005
1. Star Wars Episode III, 7.2m
2. Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, 6.7m
3. Brice de Nice, 4.4m
4. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, 4.1m
5. War Of The Worlds, 3.9m
6. Madagascar, 3.2m
- Million Dollar Baby, 3.2m
8. Mr And Mrs Smith, 3m
9. Les Poupees Russes, 2.9m
10. Iznogoud, 2.5m