By John J. Metzler
PARIS — The Lone Ranger has galloped down the Champs d’ Elysees on his trusty horse Silver. The little blue Smurfs are at the palatial Opera Garnier. As has long been the case in recent memory, the French remain enchanted and enthralled with American movies ranging from Wolverine and Pacific Rim to World War Z. Walk round Paris or see movie ads on the Metro or the grand cinemas of Montparnasse and it’s abundantly clear that Hollywood continues to capture the imagination and the box office receipts of French movie goers. Look at the cinema selections over the past few weeks of August and voila: each of the top ten films playing throughout La Belle France is from the USA. Now You See Me, The Lone Ranger, the Smurfs and Despicable Me: 2 are among the highest box office hits. Others include American Nightmare, Monsters University and RIPD.
And some people claim that the French don’t like Americans? Well when it comes to popular culture — be it cinema, television, the radio — it’s the shows and songs from the U.S. dominating the French airwaves. This is hardly a new phenomenon but a reality from more than a generation.
It’s not that France does not have a vibrant and creative film industry, far from it, but at the end of the day, most people are attracted by the high budget, high tech and high action American thrillers which simply don’t get produced by many of the creative and artsy production houses. And even with the large financial subsidies the French government doles out to domestic movie producers, (Spain does this too), when it comes to crowd appeal, the U.S. wins nearly hands down. Over the past year, Hollywood has held the high ground among the French cinema audiences. Of the top ten box office hits through France, eight were from the United States.
New selections being released as the summer vacation season winds down are Kick-ass 2, Jobs and The Conjuring. So what is the real appeal of films or for that matter popular culture Made in the U.S.? This is certainly not for a lack of French films, literature and music. Quite the contrary, the tradition here is long and rich. Moreover the French publishing industry is vital, varied and strong. It’s no longer the appeal either of American movies or TV series, or music being new or novel; here too, this has been the case for more than a generation. In fact much of the local pop music seems to be a copy of American rock, hip hop or rap but in the French language and clearly with distinctly local urban roots. Indeed the popularity of American movies is hardly unique to France but reflects a global phenomenon. What is ironic is that for a country which pouts at globalization, the very same people then eagerly consume the popular cultural fruits of that system. Maybe this is seen as an antidote and escapism from France’s economic doldrums?
Lacking any logical explanation and seeing the box office bottom line, it remains a nagging question why the French so favor American movies. One woman explained it simply but philosophically; “these movies portray a vision of America,” even if flawed and stereotypical but still a view that fits comfortably into a mindset. These movies are popular in France and elsewhere because they are governed by the sovereignty of the free market, the unvarnished appeal to what people want, seek and are looking for even if it is hopefully not American Nightmare. Hooray for Hollywood? John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of “Transatlantic Divide USA/Euroland Rift?” (University Press, 2010). Contact [email protected]