Does the winners of the Cannes Film Festival interest the French? Less than before, according to the figures of the cinemas. The event continues to serve as a springboard for actors and directors, but it no longer guarantees success for its winner. Justine Triet, winner of the Palme d'Or for "Anatomy of a Fall", is warned.
Where is the craze caused by "The Wages of Fear", "A Man and a Woman" or "Apocalypse Now"? The last big success of a Palme d'Or in France was thirty years ago. And it is "Pulp Fiction" that is the holder. With 2.86 million admissions, Quentin Tarantino's work ranked 8th at the box office of films released in 1994, according to the specialized site CBO Box Office.
Since then, no "palmed" film has reached the Top 10 of the French box office, while 12 had achieved this feat between 1949 and 1994. Until the release of "Pulp Fiction", the Palmes d'Or attracted an average of 1.72 million spectators, compared to 812,000 after. That's half as much.
The Top 50 little reached
Worse, in the last ten editions, unpopularity has been at its zenith: eight out of ten Palmes have not joined the Top 50. The last two, the metallic-erotic "Titanium" (2021) and the satire "Sans filtre" (2022), whose respective directors, Julia Ducournau and Rüben Ostlund, are on the jury of the 2023 edition, attracted only an informed and small audience.
In recent times, only one, Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" pamphlet, has made it into the Top 20. And the headliner of the last decade, "Parasite" by Korean director Bong Joon-ho, arrives only 26th in the 2019 ranking with 1.94 million admissions.
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In comparison, Henri-Georges Clouzot's "The Wages of Fear," which won an award in 1953, attracted 6.94 million spectators. But this film belongs to a time when attendance in cinemas was twice as high as today. With equal attendance, "Apocalypse Now" is probably the biggest popular success for a Palme d'Or (4.54 million admissions). Winner in 1979, Coppola's legendary fresco on the Vietnam War ranked 2nd at the French box office and concentrated 2.55% of admissions that year. Two records for one Palme.
Proportionally lower, the admissions of "A Man and a Woman" by Lelouch (4.27 million in 1966), "Cheetah" (3.65 million in 1963) or "Taxi Driver" (8th at the box office of 1976 with 2.69 million admissions) are now dreaming.
Arthouse films, less popular than blockbusters
In general, Palmes d'Or are rarely popular. Since 1949, of the 82 award-winning films, 42 have not reached the Top 50 at the French box office. Nineteen even remained at the gates of the Top 100. Who remembers Bille August's "Best Intentions" (1992), the record for the smallest number of spectators (92,000)? A slap in the face for this autobiographical screenplay by Ingmar Bergman.
Cannes prefers arthouse films, its Palmes d'Or do not compete in the same category as big-budget productions, stars of the box office. In 2015, seven out of ten French people said they never went to see the winning films at the Cannes Film Festival, according to a CSA survey. When "Eternity and a Day" by Greek director Theo Angelopoulos, winner of the 1998 Palme d'Or, faces "Titanic" in theaters, the competition is necessarily unfair.
"Avatar", "Spider-Man", "Star Wars", "Harry Potter" and other "James Bond"... The majority of the masters of the box office of the last twenty years are films whose envelopes blithely exceed 100 million dollars, sometimes 200 or 300 million. The Palmes d'Or rarely exceed the 10 million euro budget.