France’s road to FIFA World Cup victory combined with a heatwave in June and July as well as violent ‘yellow vest’ protests in November and December have taken their toll on the French box office throughout 2018.
According to the National Centre for Cinema and the Moving Image (CNC), admissions fell by 3% in the 12 months to the end of November to 203 million, against 210 million in the same period in 2017. The tally for the first 11 months of 2018 showed a 3.2% drop in entries to a preliminary figure of 180 million from 186 million for the period in 2017.
“Our estimates are broadly in line with the CNC but what these figures don’t show is that new screens have come into existence this year,” says Marc Olivier Sebbag, director general of French exhibitors body La Fédération Nationale des Cinémas Francais (FNCF). “So while admissions are down 3%, it’s down 3% with more cinemas, which would be expected to help boost admissions, so in fact the fall [per cinema] is actually bigger.”
Sebbag believes it is too early to say whether the 3% drop confirms a longer-term negative trend for French cinema admissions in the face of competition from digital platforms, or whether it is due to a set of extraordinary events over the year.
Instead, he highlights the World Cup victory and the heatwave, with admissions coming in some 15% lower in June alone.
“It still remains to be seen whether the admissions will be above or below 200 million entries this year,” he adds. “What happens in the rest of December will be decisive, but with the ‘yellow vest’ protests in full swing, nothing is certain.” Sebbag is referring to the violent wildcat demonstrations that have swept across France in November and December, provoked by a hike in taxes on diesel fuel but symptomatic of a deeper national malaise around the rising cost of living — the impact on the box office is yet to be gauged.
In terms of the top films, two franchise entries from French major Pathé dominated the 2018 box office: The Magic Tuche (also known as Les Tuche 3) and La Ch’tite Famille.
Olivier Baroux’s The Magic Tuche — the third instalment of the popular comedy series about an unsophisticated family catapulted out of poverty when they win the lottery — topped the chart, grossing $45.3m to December 4, its storyline capturing the zeitgeist.
Serial chart-topping actor, director and producer Dany Boon took the second slot with comedy La Ch’tite Famille, revisiting the northern France universe of his breakthrough hit Welcome To The Sticks.
French films look set to slightly increase their share of the total market. According to the CNC, local releases stood at 39.1% for the first 11 months of 2018, against 37% in the same period of 2017, or 38.8% for the 12 months to the end of November, against 36.8% for the previous 12 months.
Box-office success for local titles was confined mainly to comedies and family-focused franchises with further top performing French titles including EuropaCorp’s Taxi 5, Studiocanal’s Sink Or Swim (Le Grand Bain) and Pathé’s Aladdin 2 (Alad’2), another franchise title.
It was a tough market for low and medium-budget independent productions, with notable titles making it into the lower echelons of the top 100 including Memento’s The Trouble With You (En Liberté), Ad Vitam’s I Feel Good and Haut et Court’s Custody.