Market Insight

China now the second largest market for French films abroad

January 23, 2015

Charlotte Jones Charlotte Jones Associate Director – Research and Analysis, Cinema, IHS Markit
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There were 111 million audiences to French films in cinemas worldwide, according to new data from Unifrance, the French film export association. The 2014 total marks a more than doubling of the 50.8m admissions recorded in 2013. The rise can be largely attributed to the success of Luc Besson’s English language thriller Lucy, with a total attendance of 53.7m internationally or just under half of the French films' international tally for 2014. Lucy was a strong performer at the North American box office where it recorded over $126.6m in 2014.

However, outside of the US, China is now the second largest market for French films with 17.3m tickets sold up from just 5.2m the previous year. Rounding out the top five are Germany (8.6 million), Russia (6.8million) and Italy (6.1 million). As a region, however, Western Europe remains the largest hub for French theatrical movies with a total of 33m tickets sold and equivalent to 29.7% of the international split. Total Europe including C and E European territories accounts for a leading 40.6% split, followed by Asia Pacific the second most important region with 28.3m or just over one quarter of the total admissions.

Total box office receipts for French films hit Euro 640 million in 2014, again more than doubling from the Euro 298.7m recorded in 2013. In total there were 520 French titles released of which just 14 drew more than 1 million admissions each (but up from 10 the previous year). The vast majority or 81.6% of the admissions total was for majority French productions. Despite the overall surge in admissions to French titles, just 28.6% was for French language fare compared with an approximately 48% split historically.

Our analysis

The 2014 total for French films abroad was strong especially when taken into context with the much poorer showing in 2013. Another positive was the split for French majority productions which rose to 81.6% in 2014 from 71.8% in 2013 and an average share of 72.4% for the historic period of 2004 to 2012. However, the share has been higher for five previous years. Although 2014 was the second most recent high in tickets since 2004, it still finished some way below the record of 144.1m in 2012, which had several stand out hits including Taken 2.

2014 in general was significantly bolstered by the success of Europacorp title Lucy which has now reached an all-time high of over 50m admissions as the most successful French film abroad of all time, overtaking Taken 2 in 2012, also a Europacorp title. In terms of total worldwide admissions (including French cinemas) Lucy reached 57m as at end October 2014 and therefore also eclipsing the previous record of French language hit title The Intouchables with 52m admissions.

The decline in share of admissions to French-language titles is an interesting move as 2014 features the lowest annual percentage since 2004 and the first time the share has dropped below the 35% threshold. It is also someway below the historic average of 48.1% between 2004 and 2012. Although too early to indicate if part of a wider trend, the 2014 result mirrors the situation specific to the UK market, where distribution of French language titles is rare.

The most interesting measure is perhaps the significance of China as an international audience for French films which hit a new record in 2014. As a whole, the significance of the Asia region (including China) has been increasing for the past four years up from just 7.9% in 2011 and 14% in 2012, although with some higher historical results, to just over 25% in 2014. Total admissions for French films in Asia Pacific increased over three fold year on year and marking only the second consecutive year to finish as the second most important region behind Western Europe. China accounted for the dominant 61.1% share of the market for French films in Asia last year, up from a 44.2% split in 2013, and indicative of the growing power of the Chinese box office internationally. In China, Lucy was distributed by China Film and grossed an estimated $44.7m but other successes in China included French animation Miniscule: Valley of the Lost Ants and Grace of Monaco, which also finished as the fourth most successful French feature film export of the year overall.

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