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CANNES: Does The Palme d’Or Ever Equal Box Office Receipts?

CANNES: Does The Palme d'Or Ever Equal Box Office Receipts?

Whatever wins the Palme d’Or this weekend at the Cannes Film Festival, statistics say that the prize offers no assurance of box office success. The last 10 winners totaled just $173.9 million in North America, with a whopping $119.2 million (69%) coming from Michael Moore’s 2004 winner “Fahrenheit 9/11.” 

Other than “9/11,” the only other Palme d’Or winners to gross over $4 million in North America are Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist” and last year’s winner “The Tree of Life.” Buoyed by Oscars for best director and best actor, the former took in $32.6 million back in 2002. “Life,” meanwhile, grossed $13.3 million domestically last summer.

It’s a risky set of numbers for potential Stateside distributors. To date, the international mix of Palme d’Or winners have done much better outside North America. Internationally, the films’ combined grosses are $399.8 million, only $103.3 million (or 26%) of which came care of Michael Moore. “The Pianist,” “The Tree of Life,” “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 predicting how it will perform.

Top Grossing Palme d’Or Winners 2002-2011

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 Tree of Life  Terrence Malick, 2011
$13,303,319 ($41,000,000)
4. The Class Laurent Cantet, 2008
$3,766,810 ($25,047,770)
5. The White Ribbon Michael Haneke, 2009
$2,222,862 ($17,096,582)
6. The Wind That Shakes The Barley Ken Loach, 2006
$1,836,089 ($21,063,819)
7. Elephant Gus Van Sant, 2003
$1,266,955 ($8,745,067)
8. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days Cristian Mungiu, 2007
$1,198,208 ($8,642,130)
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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