Awards and accolades don't always precipitate box office gold - and vice versa. One must only look at this past year's Academy Awards to see that this is true; box-office behemoth "Avatar," the movie that smashed records with its amazing ticket sales (over $2 billion) lost to the little movie that could "Hurt Locker," which in comparable terms, not many people saw, as it made around $40 million worldwide. However, the Oscars are one thing, and Europe's biggest crossover film festival, The Cannes Film Festival, is another.
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Cannes is one of the most revered film festivals in the world and has been around for the past 60 years. This year, it runs from May 12 to 23, and will feature the soon-to-be blockbuster "Robin Hood" and the President of the Jury will be Tim Burton - making it a high-profile affair. The festival is an important place for both commercial movies to premiere and for smaller films to gain recognition and critical acclaim. However, this critical acclaim does not always lead to commercial success. We'll go through some recent Cannes winners and see if winning the big prizes (Palm d'Or, Grand Prix, Jury Prize) pays off monetarily, and which prize usually yields the best box office returns.
The Palm d'Or Payoff
Last year, the Austrian film "The White Ribbon" (Das weiße Band) took the premier prize at Cannes, The Palm d'Or. Did you see it? It's a safe bet that you probably didn't; according to movie stats site, The Numbers, the film grossed $13 million, on a budget of 12 million euros. Not a great return. Still - it had the number one prize at a prestigious festival, which should count for something, right?
The year before, French film "The Class" (Entre les murs) received this prize, and went on to take in $26 million worldwide. The year before that, a film from Romania, "4 months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" (4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile) made around $4.7 million worldwide, but had a pretty good return, as the movie only cost 600,000 euros.
As you can see, even winning Cannes' biggest prize does not always translate to commercial success. There have been a few exceptions in the past 10 years, but they're usually American movies. In 2004, the winner was Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," which was made on a fairly small budget (around $6 million in total), yet grossed around $220 million. Other Palm d'Or money-makers have been Roman Polanski's 2002 film, "The Pianist," which grossed $120 million on a $35 million budget, and Lars Von Trier's "Dancer In The Dark," from 2000, which grossed $40 million on a $17 million budget. (To find out more about the film industry's return on investment, check out Movie Genres That Make The Most Money.)
Grand Prix Consistency
The Grand Prix is like the second place at Cannes, and while its box-office track record is more consistent, it lacks the breakout money-makers of the Palm d'Or. The 2009 Grand Prix winner was "A Prophet" (Un prophet) from France, which went on to make worldwide box office gross of around 14 million euros. According to Box Office Mojo, Italy's "Gomorra" won the year before and grossed around $35 million at the box office, Korea's "Oldboy" won in 2004, garnering around $15 million in worldwide box office and Austria's much-lauded "The Piano Teacher" (La Pianiste) won in 2001 and went on to make nearly $10 million worldwide.
One Grand Prix winner that did quite poorly was France's "Flanders," (2006) which took in less than a half million in international box office sales. "Flanders" did not receive a wide theatrical release, and this could have been due to major distributors not wanting to take the risk even though it was runner-up at Cannes. The one monetary standout in the past 10 years is Jim Jarmusch's "Broken Flowers," which won in 2005 and went on to make almost $50 million worldwide.
Jury Prize: Under the Radar
The Jury Prize is considered third place at the festival. This is the area where you'll find critically acclaimed films that the North American general public will never hear about. The winners of this prize are the least commercial, and have box office income in the $1-15 million range, with many performing at under $5 million. Last year's winners were U.K.'s "Fish Tank" and South Korea's "Thirst". "Thirst" gave a fairly high return, taking in around $13 million, and "Fish Tank" was more average, taking in just $1.6 million.
One of the biggest money makers to win this prize was France's "Persepolis," the 2007 winner, which took in nearly $23 million worldwide. Some of the films that have won are quite small and get very short release runs, like the Thai film "Tropical Malady," which played for just 10 days in Thailand and received a very limited release in North America. (Find out how to make money speculating on a film's success; read Make Money On The Movies.)
The Bottom Line
For its storied history, international renown and critical importance in the film world, Cannes' prize-winners rarely win at the box office. Still, the biggest payoffs usually work in terms of the biggest prize - with the Palm d'Or having the most blockbusters, the Grand Prix having the most consistent and returns and the Jury Prize sporting the most unknown and least grossing movies. It may not always be lucrative to win at Cannes, but that kind of critical acclaim can hardly be quantified.
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