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Ridley Scott’s ‘Napoleon’ Conquers French Box Office


Despite being plagued by harsh reviews from French critics and a derisive retaliation by director Ridley Scott, “Napoleon” had a strong opening in France on Wednesday, grossing an estimated €868,000 ($946,000) from approximately 120,000 admissions. The figure, unveiled by Comscore France, includes about 8,000 tickets sold at preview screenings across France, notably in Paris where Sony Pictures held a lavish world premiere of the historical epic on Nov. 14, a few days after the end of the SAG-AFTRA strike.

Napoleon,” which stars Joaquin Phoenix as the infamous French emperor and Vanessa Kirby as his wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais, has been panned by French critics over its alleged historical inaccuracies and anti-French stance. Additionally, Phoenix’s performance triggered some scoffing from reputable outlets, such as radio station France Culture which compared the actor’s Napoleon look to a “dusty wax figure.”

The harshest review came from the national newspaper Le Figaro, which wrote that the film could be renamed “Barbie and Ken Under the Empire.” On TV, meanwhile, the polarizing movie has been hotly debated on talk shows, as well as on news channels such as BFMTV where politicians have weighed in on the movie. But Scott shrugged off vitriolic critics telling the BBC that “the French don’t even like themselves” when presented the negative reviews coming out of the country. His comments don’t seem to have discouraged French audiences from buying tickets.

“Napoleon” scored the biggest bow of the week and dominated the local box office by a landslide, ahead of “Rien a perdre,” a family drama starring Virginie Efira, as well as the animated film “Mars Express.”

The Apple production’s debut does fall below some other recent big-budget U.S. fare, particularly Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” and Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” which sold 150,000 and 359,889 admissions on their July 19 opening day in France.

But it’s Scott’s biggest French launch in years. His last two movies, “House of Gucci” and “The Last Duel,” sold only 33,895 and 22,000 tickets, respectively, in their first days in French theaters.

Comscore France’s Eric Marti says “Napoleon” might sell about one million tickets in its first week and could double or triple that figure over the Christmas holiday. It will still be a long shot for “Napoleon” to match the success of Scott’s “Gladiator” in France, which debuted in 2000 with 195,000 tickets sold. That movie, which also starred Phoenix alongside Russell Crowe, went on to 4.7 million admissions in French theaters.

This year, the French box office has been dominated by “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” (7.36 million tickets), followed by “Barbie” (5.84 million tickets), the franchise-based French adventure comedy “Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom” (4.62 million tickets), “Oppenheimer” (4.45 million tickets) and another French comedy “Alibi.com 2” (4.3 million).

“The French theatrical market is back to pre-pandemic levels, both in terms of box office grosses and diverse range of movies,” says Marti.

The Comscore France exec also pointed out that a flurry of arthouse movies that have surpassed expectations, from Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or winner “Anatomy of a Fall” (1.3 million admissions) to “The Boy and the Heron” (1.25 million admissions). The Hayao Miyazaki animated feature outperformed Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” by a few thousand tickets.



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