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French film earns €91.4m abroad in 2021

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- Despite the tricky situation for global cinemas squeezed by the pandemic, French film in all its diversity continued to circulate worldwide last year

French film earns €91.4m abroad in 2021
Around the World in 80 Days by Samuel Tourneux

With cinemas closed for almost all of the first half of last year in a huge number of countries, and health and safety measures which led to the stopping and starting of viewers’ return to movie theatres, which in turn fragmented the geographical panorama and often short-circuited films’ international release strategies, no-one was expecting miracles when it came to the 2021 results of French film abroad, which were unveiled at the Marigny Theatre today within the 24th UniFrance Meetings (unfolding in Paris from 11 to 17 January).

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French films earned themselves €91.4m (provisional figure) abroad in 2021, with 14.8 million admissions (an increase of 8% on the previous year) recorded across 1,527 releases.

49.5% of tickets sold were for majority French productions, notably Samuel Tourneux’s animated feature Around the World in 80 Days [+see also:
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film profile
]
(630,000 viewers), Gilles de Maistre’s The Wolf and the Lion [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
(500,000), Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or winner Titane [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Julia Ducournau, Vincent Li…
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]
(380,000), Leos Carax’s Annette [+see also:
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film profile
]
(300,000) and Martin Bourboulon’s Eiffel [+see also:
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(300,000).

For the 3rd time since 2000 (after 2006 and 2011), the rankings were dominated (at 50.5 %) by minority French productions, particularly The Father [+see also:
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interview: Florian Zeller
film profile
]
by Florian Zeller (3.8 million admissions) and Pinocchio [+see also:
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interview: Matteo Garrone
film profile
]
by Matteo Garrone, which were, moreover, the only two accredited French films to have surpassed the one-million-viewers mark outside of France in 2021.

That said, 24 French feature films did sell upwards of 100,000 tickets worldwide last year and the reopening of cinemas in France in June 2021, followed by the Cannes Film Festival in July, paved the way for the recovery and revival of French cinema, notably majority productions, which began to be exported abroad again in the second half of the year, and of which a great many are yet to be released worldwide in 2022. Indeed, the quality and diversity of French films still appears to be on point, given that 210 French feature films were selected for the 10 biggest international festivals in 2021.

Whilst admission numbers for each genre was in line with those of previous years (39.7% for dramas, 24.1% for comedies and comedy dramas, 12.7% for animation, 12.2% for fantasy, horror and sci-fi, 7.6% for adventure films, detective films and thrillers, 3% for biopics, war films and historic films, and 0.7% for documentaries), the geography of film ticket sales changed significantly: China became the greatest consumer of French films in 2021, ahead of Russia and Spain.

For the 6th consecutive year, Western Europe recorded the highest number of admissions among the various continents, accounting for 39% of world admissions for French films last year. However, viewer numbers dropped by 17.3 % on 2020. Spain was the only country to surpass the one-million-viewers mark, and whilst ticket sales for French productions are on the rise in Scandinavia, Belgium and Switzerland and are stable in Greece, they’re veering into red in all the other markets.

Central and Eastern Europe accounted for 16.6% of admissions, which is a 12.5% decrease on the previous year. Russia is the only territory to have attracted upwards of 1 million viewers, although Poland does figure in the Top 10 best international territories for French films. The only countries recording better results for French cinema in 2021 as compared to 2020 were Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Poland and Romania.

Asia stands tall at 20.3%, representing an annual increase of 90.5%, boosted by China, where ten times more film lovers discovered one of the 6 French films on offer, as compared to the previous year. Following the drought of the previous year, the Latin American market (accounting for 10.7% of film admissions and recording 90.4% more viewers) and the North American market (7.1%) recovered something of an appetite for French cinema, while Oceania laid claim to 5.6% of French film admissions worldwide (where Caroline Vignal’s My Donkey, My Lover and I [+see also:
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proved a hit in Australia and New Zealand), and Africa and the Middle East were at 0.8%.

These 2021 results should be interpreted with caution, given the turbulence that came with managing the pandemic, and UniFrance’s insistence that "the future looks uncertain and unpredictable", but the agency is no less optimistic: "French film is maintaining its worldwide appeal on account of its richness and variety, its high number of co-productions, its solid heritage, its constant presence at festivals and on platforms, and the network of French professionals who are committed to its creation and dissemination".

That said, in the interest of providing a fuller picture, last year’s results also indicate that, with 2,900 films, French productions accounted for 4.8% of SVOD platforms’ catalogues in 2021, as opposed to 2.4% in 2019, ranking 3rd overall in national films after the USA and India. And when UniFrance compared this 4.8% with the 9.9% presence of French films in cinemas around the world, the agency identified a strong correlation of interests in French films being broadcast across both distribution channels, which would help to envisage positive prospects for the next few years to come.

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(Translated from French)

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