Cannes, Berlin and Venice serve as a backdrop to some of the most prestigous film festivals worldwide. In terms of box-office performance, however, the winners of these festivals pale in comparison to the billion-dollar blockbusters churned out by Hollywood's money-making machine.
2001 to 2011, the winners of Cannes's top prize, the Palme d'Or, netted a combined $505 million worldwide, scoring better than the winners of the Berlin ($330 million) and Venice ($377 million) festivals.
"According to the saying, the winners of the Palme d'Or don't sell tickets, but that's plain wrong," insists Laurent Cotillon, chief editor of the trade webzine Film Français. "Let's take The Pianist for instance [editor's note: it grossed $120 million worldwide]. About a decade ago, Cannes managed to harmonize the film selection with the general public's taste. The selection in Berlin and Venice caters to a public of film specialists [...]. The Cannes festival remains the most prestigious calling card for any up-and-coming director," he explains.
'Spirited Away,' both winner and outlier
From 2001 to 2011, only 11 winners of Europe's top film prizes (the Golden Palm in Cannes, the Golden Bear in Berlin and the Golden Lion in Venice) reached the $20 million threshold in worldwide earnings. That's a mere third of the films that earned top honors during the decade.
In a chart dominated by Golden Palms and Golden Lions, the only film that won Berlin's Golden Bear happens to be the biggest earner. Spirited Away (which shared its prize in 2002 with Paul Greengrass's Bloody Sunday), an animated fantasy-adventure film by famed Japanese artist/director Hayao Miyazaki, has earned $275 worldwide, enough to stave off any box office competition by non-English-language features until the French film Intouchables came along in 2011.
Over the past few years, Cannes and Venice have launched more box-office hits than Berlin. The ten remaining entries in the chart are evenly shared between winners of the French and Italian festivals. The combined earnings of the five Palme d'Or winners in the list total $449 million, while the five Golden Lion winners netted $342 million. Cannes's highest entry goes to Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 ($222M), which is immediately followed by the best-ranked Venice festival winner, Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain ($178M).