The Cannes 2022 poster promises a better box office

Cannes 2021 provided some of the best movies of the year and some of the worst box office returns. Here’s why this year’s festival could be different.

After the cannes 2020’s cancellation and 2021’s delay, the 2022 Official Selection reflects a return to normalcy: a balance of class (high-quality potential) and gross (potentially strong future financial life). Last year was a different story: Cannes produced excellent programming that American audiences largely ignored.

Much of that came down to timing. COVID postponed last year’s Cannes to July 2021 and, after Cannes was canceled entirely in 2020, there was a backlog of excellent titles awaiting their time on the Croisette. However, studio films were almost absent; its distributors had little interest in spending to promote their titles in July.

Directed by “drive my car”, Cannes 2021 films showed unprecedented dominance in year-end critics’ polls, including four of the top six in IndieWire’s critics’ poll, four of the top five in Sight and Sound, and six of the top ten at Cahiers du Cine.

Despite the films’ lofty pedigrees, Cannes 2021 finances rank near the bottom. The statistics on distribution in the US/Canada were excellent: of the 24 entries in the official competition, 18 have launched nationally or will soon. Just the Wes Anderson’s”the french office(Searchlight) raised well over a million. It made $16.1 million after its Oct. 22 opening, a believable figure in tough times for movies, but also the fewest tickets sold for any Anderson film since his debut, “Bottle Rocket.”

The Cannes premiere titles “Stillwater” (Focus) and Japanese animation “Belle” (GKIDS) grossed $14.5 million and $4 million, respectively. Two others spent $2 million with “the worst person in the world” (Neon) with $3 million and “Drive My Car” (Janus) with $2.3 million. Only the Palme d’Or winner “Titane” (Neon) and “Red Rocket” (A24) exceeded $1 million.

DRIVE MY CAR, (aka DORAIBU MAI KA), from left: Reika Kirishima, Hidetoshi Nishijima, 2021. © Janus Films / Courtesy Everett Collection

“drive my car”

2021. © Janus Films / courtesy of the Everett Collection

Compare that to 2019 when the Korean-language “Parasite” grossed $53 million. Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” grossed $142 million. Pedro Almodóvar’s “Pain and Glory” grossed $4.5 million, and “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” grossed $3.7 million (a collection cut short by COVID). The out-of-competition “Rocketman” earned $96 million. Directors’ Fortnight’s Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse” grossed more than $10 million. In 2018, the Polish film “Cold War” and the Japanese “Shoplifters” each grossed more than $3 million.

Of course, distribution has changed a lot since 2018. Even with sub-par grosses, 2021 returns may have improved with VOD play and sales to streamers. Of course, without reporting it is impossible to measure with certainty.

In France, where almost all the titles in competition at Cannes are premiered, it was a relatively weak year for French theater. “The French Dispatch” was also the top attraction there ($3.7 million). The Cannes closing night title, “OSS 117: From Africa with Love” (unreleased in the US), grossed $13.3 million.

The hype from Cannes 2021 didn’t always translate to the real world: Julia Ducournau’s “Titane” wasn’t a hit; Paul Verhoeven’s “Benedetta” stalled below $400,000. Leos Carax’s “Annette” was shown primarily on Amazon, and its limited theatrical results were not reported. Even in France, none broke into the top 20 for 2021.

Some of the highest competition titles of 2021 fell flat in the US. Sean Penn’s (United Artists) “Flag Day” failed to reach $500,000. “Bergman Island” (IFC), which had a VOD release the same day, grossed just $145,000. “Compartment Number 6” (Sony Pictures Classics) did not reach $200,000.

Elvis

“Elvis”

youtube/screenshot

This year sees the return of high-profile studio titles such as “Top Gun: Maverick” (Paramount), “Elvis” (Warner Bros.) and “Three Thousand Years of Longing” (United Artists). The competition includes titles from directors with previous niche theatrical hits like David Cronenberg (“Crimes of the Future”/Neon), Claire Denis (“Stars of the Future”/A24), James Gray (“Armageddon Time”/Focus) and Kelly Reichardt (“Showing Up”/A24), along with other veterans whose films have yet to be picked up.

After the unlikely successes of “Drive My Car” and “Worst Person in the World,” dealers might be willing to take more risks. However, even the best films cannot solve the problems of the specialized market.

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