Reader question: Why do new films in France always open on a Wednesday?
If you are a keen cinema-goer, you will likely have noticed that new films in France always open on a Wednesday, unlike the UK and the US where new films open on a Friday. This is due to both practical reasons and tradition.
Early days of cinema
In the 1920s, films in France opened on a Friday.
As Sunday was the only day off for workers, opening on a Friday gave the cinemas a chance to make sure that there were no technical problems before Sunday. This meant that there would be no problems on the most popular day for cinema.
In 1937, Pathé, the large French film production and equipment company, which owned many cinemas, decided to move that day to Thursday.
With reforms of the work week and paid time off, cinema was becoming more and more popular, especially on Saturdays. Moving to a Thursday was therefore the practical solution.
It also had the added benefit of creating a buzz around a film thanks to word of mouth. The idea was that those who did see a film on its opening day would talk to their friends about and create more demand come the weekend.
Schoolchildren’s day off
Another important reason for films now opening on a Wednesday relates to schoolchildren.
While Fridays coincide with the start of the weekend, Wednesdays coincide with a day off for schoolchildren.
Children are considered valued customers at cinemas because they love to go to the cinema and have continued to go even as other demographics have tended to choose more often to stay at home to watch films and TV shows.
In 2022, the Centre National du Cinéma estimated that in 2022, three to 14-year-olds made up 17.4% of cinema-goers compared to 15 to 24-year-olds, who made up 5.7%.
What is more, schoolchildren rarely go to the cinema on their own and are almost always accompanied by an adult, meaning a second ticket will be sold along with the child’s ticket.
Before 1969 the school week was from Monday to Saturday, with a day off on Thursday. That year, school on Saturday afternoons (but not mornings) was phased out.
To rebalance the school week, the usual day off was moved to Wednesday in 1972.
Cinemas followed suit by moving the opening day to Wednesday, and this has been the case ever since.
However, there is no law as to which day films must open and it is still up to the cinemas and distributors. Therefore, films not always open on a Wednesday.
For example, some films open on a bank holiday, even if it is a Tuesday, to take advantage of the day off, hoping for more customers.
It is often frowned upon in the world of cinema and by the Médiateur du Cinéma, which deals with disputes linked to the showings of films in cinemas.
The other main example is films shown at the Festival de Cannes. Because of the prestige of the festival, films are not allowed to come out before they are shown in Cannes.
So, films somtimes come out in cinemas at the same time as they are shown in Cannes, no matter what day of the week it is. It was the case for Cosmopolis from David Cronenberg in 2020, for example.
This tradition may not last as some are calling for moving opening days from Wednesdays to Fridays to be more in line with the US but for now, it remains.