Art and Experience: After a six-month shutdown, French cinemas reopened May 19 with a bang.

In spite of an audience capacity of 35% and a 9pm curfew, as many as 305,000 admissions were sold on Wednesday, scoring the best reopening day for cinemas in Europe, according to Comscore France.

“This score is simply exceptional and surpassed our most optimistic expectations,” says Eric Marti at Comscore. The number of admissions sold yesterday is on par with about the same day in May 2019, when “John Wick: Chapter 4” and “Aladdin” had just come out. “But back then, there was no cap on audience capacity, and no curfew,” points out Marti.

Last time they reopened after a long lockdown, in June 2020, French cinemas had Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” to lure people back in. In May 2021, however, there wasn’t a single U.S. blockbuster. Instead, a wide-ranging roster of about 20 films drew huge lines outside cinemas from early morning to the evening before the curfew kicked in.

 

The top-two highest grossing films on the first day of reopening were animated film “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train” and animation/live action blend “Tom and Jerry,” followed by Quentin Dupieux’s “Mandibles” and Romain Quirot’s “The Last Journey of Paul W. R.”

Some of the best-performing re-releases included Albert Dupontel’s “Bye Bye Morons,” which swept seven Cesar Awards; Maiwenn’s Cannes 2020 movie “DNA;” and Thomas Vinterberg’s Oscar-winning “Another Round.” Other pics released included Charlene Favier’s “Slalom” and Nicolas Maury’s “Garçon Chiffon.”

The most surprising aspect of this restart in France, says Marti, is that the level of admissions matches ticket sales on an average Wednesday between 2015 and 2019. “It’s definitely the best restart for theaters in Europe,” says Marti.

This performance underscores France’s ranking as Europe’s largest theatrical market in terms of admissions, and home to biggest number of screens per capita (more than 6,000 screens as of 2019) in the continent.

“We were amazed by the huge number people who turned up for the very first screening of the day at 8 a.m. and they were people of all ages,” says Nathanael Karmitz, the co-CEO of MK2, which operates 11 arthouse multiplexes in Paris. “It showed how much people have missed the experience of moviegoing — we can expect a very strong summer.” The executive said bookings have also been full.

While some distributors have lamented about the backlog of films – about 400 titles – due for a release in 2021, Karmitz said the breadth and diversity of movies slated week after week will ensure that people will continue going to the cinemas after this “restart honeymoon.”

France’s B.O. is also expected to rise again when the audience capacity will be increased to 65% on June 9 before being fully lifted on June 30. The curfew will be further pushed to 11pm on June 9 before being lifted altogether on June 30.

The big admission numbers could encourage some distributors to reconsider their plans and release their movies this summer rather than in the fall, which will be crowded with festival movies and some anticipated blockbusters, including James Bond film “No Time to Die.”

Source: Variety