"Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion" "Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion"

For seven years, veteran animator and educator Marco Sensei has been tracking the performance of French animated films in France. He updates his all-time box-office chart, which is hosted on his forum Anime Agora, on an annual basis. With the 2020 numbers now in, we thought we’d share this excellent resource.

The chart (see it here) is a more or less complete list of French-produced animated features that have had a French theatrical run. It is ordered by number of entries (i.e. theater tickets sold) — a standard metric for box-office performance in France.

Other columns display the year of release, animation technique, maximum number of copies, and budget (not including prints and advertising). Data is broadly collected from public sources, with some coming from the subscription-based box-office tracker CBO.

The far-right column indicates how profitable the film was, according to an index created by Marco Sensei. For the purposes of his calculation, he estimates that a film grossed €1 million (USD$1.22 million) for every 110,000 entries, then measures this gross against the film’s budget:

  • A film that scores more than 100 (indicated by a light-green arrow) can be considered to have become profitable through its exhibition in French theaters alone.
  • Scores 1–99 (dark green) indicate that the film was ultimately profitable.
  • Between -1 and -30 (yellow) means the film didn’t turn a profit through French theatrical exhibition alone, but may have become profitable through other sources of revenue, such as tv rights and international sales.
  • Scoring between -31 and -70 (orange) indicates, again, that the film didn’t break even in French theaters, and is unlikely to have done so overall.
  • A red score — between -71 and -100 — means the film lost money (potentially a lot).
French box office, Marco Sensei
The ten top-performing French animated films, according to theater entries in France (by Marco Sensei)

A question mark indicates the absence of reliable data. Yellowed-out rows are used for films that came out in 2020, and whose numbers are therefore not definitive (especially as their runs may resume when the pandemic wanes and French theaters reopen).

Films produced at the Paris-based Illumination Mac Guff, like the Despicable Me franchise, are omitted, as Illumination and its parent company Universal are American. So are co-productions between France and a large number of other countries, such as Waltz with Bashir.

Marco Sensei has also left out Luc Besson’s Arthur and the Invisibles and its two sequels. Firstly, because they incorporate live action. Secondly, because their huge budgets (for France) — said to be €65 million (around US$79 million) per film — and the sequels’ poor performances make them complete outliers.

“The Little Prince”

When he first started compiling the chart, Marco Sensei “wanted to understand if French animation was ‘in great shape,’ as we always heard in traditional media,” he tells Cartoon Brew. “I’ve found out that sometimes, films that are considered ‘succeses’ didn’t fare as well as the public may think.” He cites 2018’s Funan as an example. “And sometime it’s the opposite: a film completely ignored by the media gets a great score without anyone noticing it.”

A few things strike us. Notwithstanding France’s vaunted tradition of auteur animation, franchises dominate the chart’s summit. Five of the top ten films are Asterix films; another two, Lucky Luke and The Little Prince, are also based on massively popular and widely adapted literary properties.

Outside these franchises, France’s most successful director of animated films is surely Michel Ocelot. He broke out with his 1998 hit Kirikou and the Sorceress, which spawned a franchise of its own; two of his films, Azur & Asmar and Kirikou and the Wild Beasts, are in the top ten. After the success of the first Kirikou, episodes of his 1989 tv series Ciné si were released theatrically as the compilation film Princes and Princesses, which did well. Owing to its tiny budget, it scores an astronomical +1840 score in Marco Sensei’s profitability index.

Even the highest-grossing French films pale in comparison to the most popular Hollywood releases. The film at the top of Marco Sensei’s list, 2018’s Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion (image at top) drew 3,959,729 entries; the following year, Disney’s remake of The Lion King drew 10,017,995. (Of course, the Hollywood budgets are of a different order of magnitude, too.)

Finally — and unsurprisingly — 2020 has seen no outright hits. As in most territories, French theaters have contended with caps on capacity and temporary closures. Considering that, last year’s features did decent numbers: Yakari sold 335,144 tickets and all releases cleared the 100,000 mark. Overall, France’s box office was the highest-grossing in 2020.

With a growing number of features heading straight to streaming, we ask Marco Sensei whether he plans to change his approach to the chart in the future. “I would be interested in collecting stats from VOD/SVOD/streaming services on their exclusive movies,” he answers. “It would help to know how films fare on that sort of media compared to traditional theater distribution. But those stats are really hard to get at the moment.”

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