What types of films win the Palme d’Or at Cannes?

11 May '15 1 Comment on What types of films win the Palme d’Or at Cannes?

Red carpet at Cannes Film FestivalOn Wednesday the 68th Cannes Film Festival will open, ushering in twelve days of films, drinks, parties, meetings, drinks, networking and drinks.

Last year I looked at the business side of the Cannes experience, measuring the number of people who attend each year and how many films are shown in the market. So this year I thought I would focus on the artistic side of Cannes – i.e. the films selected to be ‘In Competition’.

I looked at the 1,660 films which have been selected to be in the main competition at Cannes between 1939 and 2015.  In summary…

  • 84% of Palme d’Or shortlisted films are dramas (2010-15)
  • French films account for 53% of Cannes-shortlisted films (2010-15)
  • In the 1950s, only 8% of Cannes films were French
  • Since 2000, 19% of Cannes-nominated films have used sales agency Wild Bunch to handle their international sales.
  • In 2013, Wild Bunch handled the sales of 30% of the ‘In Competition’ Palme d’Or films.
  • 13% of Cannes-nominated films since 2000 have used Premiere PR
  • Only 3.2% of Palme d’Or nominated films (1990-2015) have been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars
  • Since 1990, only two Cannes-nominated films have won the Best Picture Oscar
  • Ken Loach has had films ‘In Competition’ 12 times since 1981, but has only won a Palme d’Or once

What types of films are shortlisted for a Palme d’Or?

In a word: Dramas.  Since the inception of the festival, 84% of all films have had drama as one of their principal genres (in my analysis, I permitted films to have up to three genres).  This has increased in recent years, with drama accounting for 93% of the films shortlisted in 2010-15 inclusive.

Genre of films up for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festval

Does it help to be French?

In life, maybe.  In Cannes, absolument!  Of the 302 films shortlisted at Cannes in the 1950s, only 25 were French (8.3%) but in the past five years, 62 of the 118 films have come from France (52.5%).

Country of origin of films up for the Palme d'Or

78.6% of films came from just one country, 9.5% came from two, 3.4% from three, 1.4% from four and only 13 films (0.8%) came from five countries.

What are the films about?

I have not watched every Cannes-nominated film (they’re next on my Netflix list after I finish House of Cards) but I was able to get the official plot summaries for each from the Cannes website.  By removing common English words (like, the, of, a, etc) we are able to get a snapshot of what is going on in Cannes nominated films (1939-2015) – the larger the word, the more popular it is.

Key words in the plot of films nominated for a Palme d'Or

Who’s selling Cannes films?

Since 2000, 19% of Cannes-nominated films have used Wild Bunch to handle their international sales.  In fact, since 2000 they have represented films in all but two years (2002 and 2005) and in 2013 they handled sales for 30% of the ‘In Competition’ films.

Sales agents selling Palme d'Or nominated films

The Hype Masters

Although the films in Cannes may seem a world away from the typical Hollywood blockbuster, in many cases they will be using the same PR companies to generate ‘buzz’.  Premier PR handle events for films such as Iron Man 3 and the new Star Wars films but in the next few weeks they will also be managing the image of three of this year’s shortlisted Cannes films.

The PR companies handling the films nominated for a Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival

Do Palme d’Or nominations lead to Oscars?

No. Since 1990, only two Cannes-nominated films have won Best Picture at the Oscars – No Country for Old Men and The Artist. Over the same period, 17 Cannes-nominated films were also nominated for Best Picture, 3.2% of all Cannes-nominated films.

Building the perfect Palme d’Or winning film

Picture the scene… You’re in a huge exec’s office (both the office and the executive are huge) and you have been asked if you want a glass of water four times.  The time has come:  you have one shot at pitching a sure-fire art-house smash hit.  What’s your pitch?

Let me help – here’s my data-backed recipe for the perfect Cannes film…

  • It’s a French drama called “Ma Vie Pour La Femme” (“My Life For The Woman”, for you English-speaking riff raff).
  • Ken Loach to direct.  He’s only won once but has been nominated 12 times – that’s almost one out of every two features he made between 1981 and 2014.
  • Jean-Claude Carrière to write the screenplay.  His films have only won at Cannes once (and that was a short film in 1969) but he’s penned 10 Cannes-nominated films so we’ll focus on nominations rather than wins (the PR team can take responsibility for the actual win).  The only two people to have written more Cannes films are Tonino Guerra and Cesare Zavattini who have 15 and 11 nominations respectively, although they are less likely to agree as they are both dead.
  • The key cast to include…
    • Michel Piccoli will play the love interest, thanks to his Cannes win for Best Actor in 1980 and his roles in 19 Cannes-nominated films.  (We’ll have to ‘Benjamin Button’ the 90 year-old actor but Hollywood seems well practiced at that)
    • Isabelle Huppert to play the female lead, due to her twice winning ‘Best Actress’ at Cannes and starring in 18 Cannes-nominated films.
    • Gérard Depardieu to provide comic relief (one Best Actor win and has appeared in 16 nominated films).
    • We could consider a holographic cameo from beyond the grave of Marcello Mastroianni (star of 21 Cannes films) but the new technology might scare off the Cannes Jury.
  • Alain Sarde to produce (he has produced 20 Cannes films) and Rémi Burah to co-producer (25 Cannes films under his belt, mostly as co-producer for ARTE).
  • Music by Philippe Sarde and cinematography by Robby Müller.
  • And the plot, featuring all of the 50 most common words found in the synopsis of Cannes-nominated films would be…
    • The film takes us on a journey through the two lives of young David… and how he gave everything up for Her.He first met ‘The Woman’ on the day his father met death and soon their love was as new as the world is old. His mother had foretold the story that if he were to marry then his wife would lose herself to the night within three years. His small heart was like a city at war, fighting back against its own people, each just protecting their town and their home.

      The coming of a daughter means that now the time for delay is over and David must choose between the women he loves. He will find himself by choosing the way of the dutiful son and fighting for his family. 

Please send the Palme d’Or to Stephen Follows, Catsnake, Ealing Studios, UK.


Data for today’s research came from the official Cannes festival site, IMDb, Metascore, Wikipedia and the official Oscars website.

While reading today’s research, please consider the following notes…

  • Cannes changes – In this article I have used the shorthand of referring to all films winning the main prize at Cannes Film Festival as having won the Palme d’Or.  In fact, the official name of the top prize in Cannes has changed over the years…
    • 1939 to 1954 – Grand Prix du Festival International du Film
    • 1995 to 1963 – Palme d’Or
    • 1964 to 1973 – Grand Prix du Festival
    • 1974 to date – Palme d’Or
  • Countries – I was only able to find countries of origin for 93.7% of Cannes shortlisted films.


Next week I’m going to be looking at the filmmakers behind the films which succeed in Cannes.  I will also be on the Croisette by then so if you want to meet up then drop me a line.



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Stephen Follows