2021 Review – French films in theaters and international festivals

In 2021, with the exception of takings, which were slightly down, admissions, films on display and releases of French cinema in theaters abroad were higher than in 2020. While the latter two indicators are gradually starting to approach those before Covid-19, the same cannot be said of the number of spectators, which is half the average for the decade (40 million, excluding exceptional hits that exceed 10 million spectators). At the end of the year, the cinema sector is therefore in a position to start a real recovery and, if the offer begins to align with the past, the challenge concerns actions that allow an increase in attendance by attracting the public to the theater. Encouraging signs come from the success of some productions on the big screen in 2021, demonstrating the centrality of the theater in the cycle of use of a film. It is in particular the comeback of American studio films that is increasing worldwide attendance. While their absence in 2020 left an empty seat that other cinemas, including France, had benefited from, they are making a comeback on the international stage. Unsurprisingly, France’s global market share fell to 1.8% of admissions and 2.2% of takings, below 2020 levels (2.2% and 3%), but above than those of 2019 (1.6% and 2.1%). The box office of French cinema is not advancing as much as the world or the United States, but it holds its place on the world stage.

It is interesting to analyze how the viewers of French films are distributed according to their titles and their geographical origin. The year 2020 saw the predominance of mainly French productions (69.4% of spectators) and those in French (77.2%), comedies (32.8%) and European markets (70.1%) ). The year 2021 is characterized by completely different trends. Minority productions generate a number of annual admissions equivalent to majority productions, to the point of reaching the highest level of the decade: 46.7%, or almost 1 in 2 admissions (while they represented on average 1 in 5 since 2012). The 3 films that bring together more than 1 million viewers, The father (22.5% of annual admissions), Pinocchio And Bigfoot family belong to this category. Moreover, among them, they concentrate just under half of the 2021 box office. As for the language, foreign language films dominate (53.7% of viewers) with the same influence as the years marked by a EuropaCorp card, thanks to what over The father And Pinocchioit’s at wolf and lion.

The wolf and the lion

 If the distribution of voices by genre sees its first three positions confirmed (comedy, drama and animation), it is the balance within it that changes. For the first time in 10 years, it is the drama that establishes itself as the genre that attracts the largest number of viewers internationally, up to 1 in 3! Here too the presence of The father in its ranks it is having its effect. It has been a black year for comedy, the least crowded of viewers of the decade, and lacking a millionaire title, while animation has lost ground consolidating a more important place than in the past. If more cinephiles federate, the adventure / detective / thriller and the fantastic / horror / science fiction do not reconnect with the recent glorious seasons. No high-potential, high-budget production makes a splash on the big screen: it is the so-called “mediums” (between 5 and 10 million euros) and those with a budget between 10 and 20 million euros that do the game well ( concentrate 3 admissions out of 4 of the total).

 We know that French cinema is closely linked to its neighboring European markets. For the 6And year since 2012, it is in the Old Continent that generates the highest volume of visitors (56.3%), but the weight of the region has decreased by almost 14 points in a year, and Western Europe is the only geographical area in which French cinema audiences are down compared to 2020. It is clear that many key markets, such as Germany and Italy, are seeing a return to theaters in the second half of the year. Furthermore, no high-potential comedy is proposed, a genre that has more difficulty in exporting outside Europe but that finds its best interpretations there. Africa and the Near and Middle East, America, Asia and Oceania are therefore the main players in the increase in French admissions abroad (the average ticket price is often lower than that of Europe, which explains, on the contrary, the decline of total receipts), and this thanks to productions with … minority financing. With the exception of Oceania, history teaches us that traditionally foreign language productions, especially action and animation, find a place in these markets. In 2021, this role returns to the Oscar winner You Fatherto the fantastic Pinocchio and souls big foot Family.

We must not draw hasty and negative conclusions about the French offer and its potential. Firstly, French cinematography is one of the most multicultural and exploits its identity and the large number of co-productions existing internationally, without forgetting its diverse range of genres. Second, majority French-language productions are building solid careers in 2021 (e.g. Antonietta in the Cevennes in Oceania, Titanium in North America or The Three thugs in Africa) and others are exported to more than 30 markets (Aline, Annetta, Benedetta, Around the world in 80 days And Titanium). Thirdly, the closure of French cinemas for more than 6 months leads to a reduction in the offer of new films whose career abroad has the specificity of sometimes extending for more than a year: Little Nicolas’s treasure And Little momscheduled in French cinemas in 2021, he will sign his best exploits in 2022, while What the hell have we all done?, whose exit has been postponed several times, will increase France’s entry into European markets. To all this is added a solid heritage that continues to parade on foreign screens, a constant presence anchored to festivals and a fabric of French professionals who work for the creation of French cinema and its distribution and who collaborate with foreign professionals, including many Francophiles. The future is certainly uncertain, but French cinema does not give up and is always expected by cinephiles internationally.

Around the world in 80 daysAround the world in 80 days

For the third time, the annual report includes a study dedicated to the place of French films in international festivals, often the place where the “commercial” life of films begins. In 2021 the organizers had to deal with the reactions of the film industry and the measures taken by governments; moreover, Cannes returns after a year of absence. The year 2021 is a year to mark with a white stone for France because it occupies a place that has never been more important within the 10 festivals studied here in the last decade. French cinema is the one with the highest number of selected films (202, 1 out of 5), the highest number of presentations (287, 1 out of 4) and the highest number of awards won (43) in 2021. Except for the 3 festivals American, presents more films than the United States in 7 festivals and its presence is particularly strong in Cannes, Locarno and Venice. It benefits from the increase in the overall volume of selected titles in 2021 (+95 in one year, of which 40% produced in France) and from a reduction in the American offer. This leadership would not be achieved and maintained over the years without taking into account the multicultural nature of French cinema, because 3 out of 4 films are the result of an average co-production between 2.5 countries, for a total of 75 foreign countries. . France can be proud of two historic achievements in 2021. First, the number of tricolor works signed by female directors increases and reaches 33% of the total, thus aligning itself with the overall average of all nationalities put together. Secondly, she wins both the Palme d’Or and the Leone d’Oro, rare phenomenon but not the first: what makes this feat unique is that the winners, respectively Titanium And The eventthey are made by two women, Julia Ducournau and Audrey Diwan, who thus write history.

The main indicators of French films abroad in 2021


  • 17.8 millions of entries e 113.3 millions of euros in revenues.
  • 9.5 millions of spectators for mainly French productions e 8.2 millions for those in French.
  • 940 movie in operation e 1,889 New releases.
  • 3 films exceeding 1 million admissions e 32 100,000 entries.
  • L’Western Europe (6.7 million) and the China (2.2 million) they are respectively the first geographical area and the first country by number of spectators.

At international festivals *:

  • 202 Selected French films e 287 presentations.
  • France is there first country for the number of films, presentations and awards won.
  • 1 French film on 3 is signed by a director
  • 1 Palme d’Or, 1 Golden Lion And 41 other official awards

* The 10 festivals studied are: Bafici, Berlin, Busan, Cannes, Locarno, Rotterdam, San Sebastián, Sundance, Toronto and Venice.

Since its creation in 1994, Unifrance’s annual report collects and analyzes the results of French films abroad and its content has evolved and enriched over the years. In 2021, with the widening of the field of studies, it was decided to separate cinema, short films and works in XR, and audiovisual in order to dedicate a publication to them ad hoc. The review of French films abroad consists of an overall analysis of the theatrical results, of 73 country cards (+3, of which about fifteen enriched by an SVOD mini-sheet) and an analysis of their presence at international festivals. Among all the existing cinemas, no one can take advantage of a work of this kind, unique in its kind.

Unifrance members can download the 2021 review of French films in theaters and international festivals below (in French). The report will be made available to all on February 5, 2023.

Author: Andrea Sponchiado

Last update : November 10, 2022 at 12:20 CET

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