2021 review – French films in theaters and at international festivals

In 2021, with the exception of receipts, which fell slightly, admissions, films in exhibition and releases of French cinema in theaters abroad were higher than in 2020. While these last two indicators are gradually beginning to approach of those before Covid-19, the same cannot be said about the number of spectators, which is half the average for the decade (40 million, excluding exceptional successes exceeding 10 million admissions). At the end of the year, the cinematographic sector is then in the conditions to begin a real recovery and, if the offer begins to align with the past, the challenge concerns actions allowing the increase in attendance. by attracting the public in the room. Encouraging signals come from the success of certain productions on the big screen in 2021, proving the centrality of the room in the exploitation cycle of a film. It is in particular the return of films from American studios that is driving world attendance upwards. While their absence in 2020 had left an empty place which had benefited other cinematographies, including the French, they are coming back in force on the international scene. Unsurprisingly, France’s global market share fell to 1.8% of admissions and 2.2% of receipts, below 2020 levels (2.2% and 3%), but above those of 2019 ( 1.6% and 2.1%). The box office of French cinema is not progressing as much as the world or the United States, but it retains its place on the world stage.

It is interesting to analyze how the viewers of French films are distributed according to the titles and their geographical origin. The year 2020 saw the dominance of mainly French productions (69.4% of admissions) and those in French language (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 their highest level of the decade: 46.7%, i.e. nearly 1 in 2 admissions (whereas they represented on average 1 out of 5 since 2012). The 3 films bringing together more than 1 million moviegoers, The Father (22.5% of annual admissions), Pinocchio and Bigfoot Family belong to this category. In addition, between them, they concentrate a little less than half of the 2021 box office. As far as language is concerned, foreign language films dominate (53.7% of admissions) with the same influence as during the years marked with a cardboard EuropaCorpthanks to the aforementioned The Father and Pinocchioand at wolf and lion.

The Wolf and the Lion

If the distribution of entries by genre sees its top three confirmed (comedy, drama and animation), it is the balance within it that changes. For the first time in 10 years, it is the drama which asserts itself as the genre that attracts the most spectators internationally, up to 1 in 3! Here too, the presence of The Father in its ranks is having its effect. It was a black year for comedy, the least rich in spectators of the decade, and deprived of a millionaire title, while animation lost ground while consolidating a more important place than in the past. If they federate more cinephiles, the adventure/detective/thriller and the fantastic/horror/science fiction do not reconnect with the recent glorious seasons. No high-potential big-budget production makes a splash on the big screen: it’s the so-called “middle” ones (between €5m and €10m) and those with a budget between €10m and €20m that do well of the game (they concentrate 3 entries out of 4 of the total).

We know that French cinema is closely linked to neighboring European markets. For the 6e year since 2012, it is in the Old Continent that it generates the greatest volume of admissions (56.3%), but the weight of the region has fallen by nearly 14 points in one year, and Europe Occidental is the only geographical area where French film viewers are down compared to 2020. It is clear that many key markets, for example Germany and Italy, are seeing a return to theaters in the second half of the year. In addition, no comedy with high potential, a genre that has more difficulty in exporting outside Europe but which achieves its best performances there, is offered. Africa and the Near & Middle East, America, Asia and Oceania are therefore the main players in the increase in French admissions abroad (the average ticket price there often being lower than in Europe, which explains, on the contrary, the drop in overall receipts), and this thanks to productions with… minority financing. With the exception of Oceania, history teaches us that it is traditionally foreign-language productions, especially action and animation, that find a place in these markets. In 2021, this role returns to the Oscar winner Tea Fatherto the fantastic Pinocchio and anime 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 takes advantage of its identity and the high number of co-productions to exist internationally, without forgetting its diversified range of genres. Second, majority French-language productions are building strong careers in 2021 (e.g. Antoinette 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, Annette, 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 stretching over more than a year: The Treasure of Little Nicolas and Little momshowing in French cinemas in 2021, will sign their best exploits in 2022, while What the hell have we all done?, whose release has been repeatedly postponed, will boost French entries on European markets. Added to all this is a solid heritage that continues to parade on foreign screens, a constant and anchored presence at festivals and a fabric of French professionals working for the creation of French cinema and its distribution and who cooperate with foreign professionals. , including many Francophiles. The future is certainly uncertain, but French cinema is not giving up and is always awaited by film buffs 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 reactions from the film industry and measures adopted by governments; in addition, Cannes is making a comeback after a year’s absence. The year 2021 is a year to mark with a white stone for France because it occupies a place which had never been so important within the 10 festivals studied here during the last decade. French cinema is the one with the most films selected (202, 1 out of 5), the most presentations (287, 1 out of 4) and the most prizes won (43) in 2021. With the exception of the 3 festivals Americans, it presents more films than the United States in 7 festivals and its presence is particularly solid in Cannes, Locarno and Venice. It benefits from the increase in the overall volume of titles selected in 2021 (+95 in one year, 40% of which are 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 cinematography, because 3 out of 4 films are the result of co-production between 2.5 countries on average, for a total of 75 foreign countries. partners. France can be proud of two historic results in 2021. First, the number of tricolor works signed by women directors increases and reaches 33% of the total, thus aligning with the overall average for all nationalities combined. Second, she wins both the Palme d’Or and the Lion d’Or, rare phenomenon but not a first: what makes this feat unique is that the winners, respectively Titanium and The Eventare made by two women, Julia Ducournau and Audrey Diwan, who thus write the story.

The main indicators of French films abroad in 2021

Indoors :

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

At international festivals*:

  • 202 French films selected and 287 presentations.
  • France is the first country in 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 been enriched over the years. In 2021, with the widening of the scope of studies, the choice is made to separate cinema, short films and XR works, and audiovisual in order to dedicate a publication to them ad hoc. The review of French films abroad is made up of an overall analysis of theatrical results, 73 country sheets (+3, including around fifteen enriched with a SVOD mini-sheet) and an analysis of their presence at international festivals. Among all the existing cinematographies, none can take advantage of such a work, which is unique in its genre.


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

Author : Andrea Sponchiado

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

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2021 review – French films in theaters and at international festivals