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by Peter Knegt
May 17, 2011 4:19 AM
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Does The Palme d'Or Ever Equal Box Office Receipts?

A scene from Roman Polanski's "The Pianist."

Whatever wins the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, statistics say that the prize offers no assurance of box office success. The last 10 winners totaled just $161.8 million in North America, with a whopping $119.2 million - or 74% -  coming from Michael Moore’s 2004 winner “Fahrenheit 9/11.” 

Other than “9/11,” the only Palme d’Or winner to gross over $4 million in North America is Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist.” Buoyed by Oscars for best director and best actor, it took in $32.6 million back in 2002. That’s a risky set of numbers for potential distributors. Last year’s “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” only ended up grossing $158,437. Though that was pretty expected when one considers it’s by far the least marketable and accessible winner (ever?).

That said, the international mix of Palme d’Or winners have done much better outside North America. Internationally, the films' combined grosses are $369.8 million, only $103.3 million (or 28%) of which came care of Michael Moore. “The Pianist,” “The Class” and “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” each grossed over $25 million. 

Even so, the combined domestic and international gross of $222,446,888 for "9/11" makes it the highest worldwide grossing Palme d’Or winner of all time -- slightly ahead of 1994’s “Pulp Fiction,” which grossed $213,928,762 worldwide (though if you adjust for inflation, “Fiction” is well ahead of “9/11” - as is 1979’s “Apocalypse Now”).

Below are the North American grosses for the 10 films that won the Palme d’Or over the past decade, with international grosses in brackets. Come Sunday we’ll know what the latest edition to the list ends up being and can start guessing how it will perform.


Top Grossing Palme d'Or Winners 2001-2010

1. Fahrenheit 9/11 Michael Moore, 2004
$119,194,771 ($103,252,111)
2. The Pianist Roman Polanski, 2002
$32,572,577 ($87,500,000)
3. The Class Laurent Cantet, 2008
$3,766,810 ($25,047,770)
4. The White Ribbon Michael Haneke, 2009
$2,222,862 ($17,096,582)
5. The Wind That Shakes The Barley Ken Loach, 2006
$1,836,089 ($21,063,819)
6. Elephant Gus Van Sant, 2003
$1,266,955 ($8,745,067)
7. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days Cristian Mungiu, 2007
$1,198,208 ($8,642,130)
8. The Son's Room Nanni Moretti, 2001
$1,016,340 ($10,751,062)
9. L'Enfant Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, 2005
$651,941 ($4,855,455)
10. Uncle Boonmee Who Call Recall His Past Lives Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010
$158,437 ($946,353)

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