French Theatrical Admissions Fall 41% as COVID ‘Health Bill’ Comes Into Force

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French movie theaters, which reopened their doors mid-May after a six-month shutdown, have seen admissions fall by 41% over the last week (Aug. 11-18), according to the national exhibitors guild (FNCF).

Most exhibitors and distributors are blaming the steep decline in moviegoing on a COVID health pass that came into effect on Aug. 9 and requires every patron to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or a negative PCR test in order to access cinemas and other cultural venues, as well as restaurants, bars and other public venues.

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Admissions were down 34% the week of Aug. 4 and fell by 41% the following week, explained Stephane Landfried of the FNCF.

“That’s significant because we can see the impact of the health pass law which came into effect, and every single cinema, from multiplexes to arthouse theaters, now have to apply it, whereas previously only the big chains such as Gaumont-Pathe, UGC and CGR were obligated to enforce it,” said Landfried. “Up until now, other venues were able to welcome guests without a health pass as long as they limited the audience capacity to 49 people per screen.”

The 41% decline was calculated based on the average ticket sales for the same week between 2017 and 2019, according to the FNCF.

No film has been spared a drastic drop, with the biggest casualties a string of high-profile French releases, from Gaumont’s “OSS 117: From Africa With Love,” the third instalment of the spy spoof franchise starring Jean Dujardin (down 54% from last week), to SND’s “Kaamelott: premier volet,” the latest chapter of the adventure comedy franchise by Alexandre Astier (down 39%).

“OSS 117: From Africa With Love,” the closing film of the Cannes Film Festival, has just passed the bar of one million admissions sold after two weeks in theaters, while “Kaamelott: premier volet,” has just reached two million tickets sold.

Prestige auteur pics have also felt the blow, notably Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or winning film “Titane” and Leos Carax’s musical romance “Annette” with Adam Driver, which opened Cannes and won best director. Both films have sold less than 300,000 tickets despite rave reviews and the awards they garnered at the festival. U.S. blockbusters have fared slightly better, especially Paramount’s preschool animated feature “PAW Patrol, The Movie,” which caters to young children and sold 400,000 tickets during its first week (Aug. 11-18).

Other titles targeting young adults, such as “F9,” the latest instalment of Universal’s franchise with Vin Diesel, fell flat at the French B.O. “F9” merely sold two million admissions across five weeks in theaters.

“It’s telling that ‘PAW Patrol’ has done so well because it’s a film aimed at children who are not concerned by the health pass bill, and they often go to the theaters with their grandparents who have already been vaccinated,” said Landfried.

The executive pointed out that the box office had been particularly impacted by the health bill because summer blockbusters’ target demographic is between ages 18 and 39, of which only 58% are fully vaccinated.

“We’re hopeful in the medium term because 76% of this demo are partially vaccinated so we know that, within a month, they will be able to return to theaters,” said Landfried.

Even before the inception of this bill, theatrical admissions had been free falling since July 21, when French president Emmanuel Macron demanded that cinemas start asking customers aged 18 and over for their health pass.

At the time, less than half the French population had received their second shot of the vaccine. While they have been met with widespread protests across the country, the French government’s strict measures have sparked an impressive spike in vaccinations with more than three million getting vaccinated within weeks of Macron’s announcement in late June. As of Aug. 16, 53.5% of the population has been fully vaccinated.

Despite adverse conditions, only two big budget French releases have been delayed so far: Pathé’s “Eiffel” and UGC’s “Serial (Bad) Weddings 3.”

Most distributors have stuck to their initial release plans. Studiocanal opened Cedric Jimenez’s action film “Bac Nord” on Wednesday (Aug. 18), along with DreamWorks Animation’s “Baby Boss 2.” The reasons behind distributors’ decisions to maintain their plans range from a willingness to show solidarity towards exhibitors and theaters, to an understanding that the fall season is going to be jam-packed with highly anticipated releases, from Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” in September, to James Bond’s “No Time to Die” in October, and Valerie Lemercier’s Celine Dion movie “Aline” in November.

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