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Only 2% of French films cover production costs at the box office

The ‘birthplace of cinema’ is seeing ticket prices rise whilst box office sales fall

The Cour des Comptes, the French version of the British National Audit Office or the GAO in the US, last month reported that only 2% of French films cover their costs via box office sales.

Even at global level very few French-made films cover production costs.

As a result, film makers in France are taking advantage of 158 different forms of subsidy. 

In 2019 this amounted to €696.4 million, according to the Cour, a large proportion of the overall €958 million French film budget for the year. 

These funds are generated through means such as a 10.72% tax on cinema tickets in France and in 2021 local councils donated €128 million of taxpayers’ money to the industry whilst the government provided tax credits of €160 million. 

The price of cinema tickets in France is a controversial subject, with many thinking the cost is too expensive. One MP has even become involved calling for the government to set a cap on the rapidly rising prices. 

Speaking earlier this year, Sarah Legrain, Vice-Chairwoman of the Committee on Cultural Affairs and Education, said: “Cinema should not be a luxury”. 

The MP said she wanted to “make cinema addictive”, and that she hoped a cap on prices would turn occasional cinema-goers into regulars. 

Read also: French arts support scheme helps launch pop career 

While the average price for a cinema ticket seems fairly reasonable at €7.04, almost 40% of cinemas charge more than this, and it is not unusual to find tickets priced at around €14, and upwards of €18 for a 3D or special experience. 

Fewer people now go to the cinema in France; the Cours found that 22% of French films attracted less than 5,000 viewers via the cinema, and 30% of films attracted fewer than 20,000 cinemagoers in 2019. 

Despite the drop in viewers, the number of films produced in France continues to rise thanks to the contribution of public funding - 240 films were released in 2019 compared to 172 in 2001. 

Lauded as the birthplace of cinema thanks to French brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière who invented the cinématograph in 1895, it is clear the industry faces troubling times in France. 

Filmmakers have turned on the government. The 2023 Palme d’Or winner, Justine Triet, who directed Anatomy of a Fall, criticised President Emmanuel Macron’s regime during her acceptance speech in May. She claimed the president was attempting to force directors to make movies to turn a profit.

This in turn prompted Macron supporters and right-wing politicians to criticise the director, whose film, they argued, was largely supported by public funding. 

It is not the first time Macron’s government has been criticised for their comments on French cinema; the president’s former culture secretary Roselyne Bachelot launched an attack on the industry earlier, stating that “The famous ‘cultural exception’ allows very many French films… to be flops.”

American films dominated French box office sales in 2022, there was not one French film in the top ten for the first time since 1989.

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