Hollywood in France

by Meher Tatna October 8, 2019
Actress Kristen Stewart in Deauville 2019

Kristen Stewart at the 2019 Deauville Film Festival, dedicated exclusively to US-made movies.

loic venance/getty images

One in an occasional series exploring the state of Hollywood films in global markets.

The French are the biggest movie-goers in Europe, they have the highest number of screens per capita (one per 31 persons) and young people go more often than older ones. Two-thirds of the French go at least once a year, according to a study by the French National Film Board. This year 139 million tickets were sold up to September. According to Statista Research, 27% go to the movies every week.

Hollywood’s domination of the French box office is on par with its dominance in other world markets. So far this year, Disney has taken four of the top five box office slots of French theater receipts with The Lion King ($80 million) and Avengers: Endgame ($62 million) as numbers 1 and 2, Toy Story 4 ($30 million) and Captain Marvel ($27 million) in 4th and 5th place. Spiderman, How to Train Your Dragon, Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood, and Hobbes and Shaw are also in the top ten. (These numbers from Box Office Mojo include Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and Monaco along with France.)

This despite the fact that France is the birthplace of cinema and cultural protectionism is a significant thing in the country. But Hollywood still dominates the French market and this is saying something as the domestic film industry produces around 300 films a year, a huge number, and is second only to the US in exporting its films despite the general resistance to subtitled films.

Many restrictions have been placed by the French government to protect the local industry. These include limiting to no more than 40% the broadcast of non-French movies on television, taxes on certain movies and TV channels specifically for subsidizing movie production, and tax breaks for French productions. The theatrical window is 4 months before DVDs can be sold. And the war against Netflix at the Cannes Film Festival last year, which banned all the streamer’s screenings in response to pressure from local distributors has been well documented.

Interesting culture wars about Hollywood have broken out in France. Many French directors have faulted US marketing and distribution machines for the popularity of American films, and some have also blamed local critics. The blame game has been going on for years now, and back in 1999, the accusations leveled against major newspapers created headlines in the country, according to the New York Times. In fact, the words “gratuitous venom” were leveled at critical reviews of local films, and critics were accused of favoring Hollywood blockbusters. The media fired back by calling the directors “spoiled children” who were granted generous government subsidies and a protected market but still couldn’t deliver competitive films. After all, if it’s superior marketing that causes films to triumph at the box office, the French government is better off subsidizing marketing budgets rather than film production.

But those fights have now traveled to the internet where French film-bashing went viral a couple of years ago with the hashtag #CommeDansUnFilmFrancais, mocking films for “all being set in Paris, all about men going through mid-life crisis or about couples have fallen out of love with each other after having kids, but suddenly fallen in love with their child’s best friend’s dad or even that everyone gets naked,” according to the French edition of the Local, the largest English-language news network in Europe.

A discussion on Hollywood in France has to include the cult of Jerry Lewis. Since the 1960s, he’s been called “Le Roi du Crazy” and lionized in the country, even when his fame in America lagged where, according to the French, he has been much misunderstood. Apart from his films, his directorial efforts were applauded as well – films like the 1960s The Bellboy and 1963’s The Nutty Professor. In “Cahiers du Cinema,” Jean-Luc Godard wrote, “Jerry Lewis is the only American director who makes progressive films. He is superior to Chaplin and Keaton.” He was awarded the Legion d’Honneur, the French order of merit in 2006, and his obituary was front-page news in several papers.

The embrace of Woody Allen by the French through the decades must also be noted. His latest, A Rainy Day in New York, which has no distribution in the US after Amazon dropped it, has opened in France to good reviews, with Le Figaro saying Allen was “in spectacular form.” The #MeToo movement has not had much traction in Europe where they generally separate art from the artist, and Javier Bardem, who worked with him in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, has publicly stood by him (“If Woody Allen called me to work with him again, I’d be there tomorrow morning. He’s a genius,” he said at the Lumiere festival in Lyon last year.) Catherine Deneuve spoke out against the movement, walking her comments back in the face of international outrage. Roman Polanski continues to reside and work in France which refuses to extradite him for allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.

Disney Studio, a production studio north of Paris, and Disneyland Paris continue to do good business. But tax breaks offered by France to international productions pale in comparison to those offered by the UK or Italy, France only offering rebates of 20% of production, capped at 4 million euros.

Plus ça change . . . 1997’s Titanic remains the highest-grossing film in France ($21 million). 1938’s Snow White is number 4 at $18 million.