Does Asterix have the magic potion to save French cinema?
Paris (AFP) – “Asterix” returns to the big screen on Wednesday as France tries to match Hollywood in turning nostalgia into a weapon in the battle for box office success.
Critics may lament the glaring lack of originality in Hollywood in recent years, as risk-averse studios return to their catalog of familiar superheroes and sci-fi franchises.
But its success is undeniable: The top ten box office hits from nearly every country just last year included Hollywood sequels, reboots, and video game adaptations.
It’s particularly frustrating for France, where ministers are wondering if they’ll get a return from the massive government subsidies lavished on the film industry.
Roselyn Bachelot, Minister of Culture from 2020 to 2022, criticized filmmakers in her country in a recently released book.
She wrote: “Direct grants, advances on receipts, tax breaks … have created a housing industry that not only cares about audience tastes, but expresses a disdain for ‘mainstream’ and lucrative films.”
Pathé, which is based in Paris, wants to be an exception, in particular because it operates a large chain of cinemas.
Borrowing from Hollywood writers, he landed big budgets in “Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom” and the ensuing “Three Musketeers”.
Work is also underway to reproduce the movie “The Count of Monte Cristo” and the biography of Charles de Gaulle.
Pathe Ardavan chief Safaee said last year that France’s system of producing hundreds of small films was “unsustainable in the long term” and that France needed “more exciting” prices to compete with Hollywood films and streaming platforms.
Joy and celebration
The strategy should work here: the previous four Asterix films (between 1999 and 2012) sold about 35 million admissions in France and about the same number in Europe.
No chances for the latest in action, with famous stars (including Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel as Cleopatra, and Julius Caesar) as well as rappers, YouTubers, and even soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimovic, aiming to encourage younger viewers to get back into the movies.
“Great films like this represent the joy and celebration of the film industry in a very free and inclusive way,” said Gilles Lellouche, who inherited the great Obelix names from former star Gerard Depardieu.
Outside Europe, the outlook is less clear.
The directors hoped for success in China, where the film takes place. Director Guillaume Canet (who also plays Asterix) traveled with President Emmanuel Macron to Beijing in 2019 to win the right to film The Great Wall of China. But the pandemic ultimately ruined the plan, and the film has yet to find a Chinese distributor.
The UK and US markets are also very challenging as audiences are not used to dubbing or subtitling family fare.
It’s been more than a decade since “The Artist” and “The Inhibitors” broke overseas records. But despite occasional blockbusters like “Lucy” and “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” by Luc Besson, overseas ticket sales have been on a downward trend.
can change. It’s no surprise that “Asterix” was released on Netflix in the US — the operator has gone to great lengths to overcome traditional American aversion to subtitles with successful foreign shows, including the French “Lupine” and “Call My Agent.”
“Now is the time for the ‘Three Musketeers’ and ‘Asterix’ updates to find success in America as fans seek films and shows with diverse and exciting points of view,” said Paul Degarabedian, US media analyst at comScore.
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