The International Circulation of ‘Habemus Papam’

Moretti’s career can be divided between his more culturally-specific political satires (films from the 1970s and ’80s, but also his 2006 film on Berlusconi, Il caimano), and more “internationally friendly” auteur vehicles with broader themes. La stanza del figlio, the film that won the Palme d’Or in Cannes in 2001 and first projected Nanni Moretti to international recognition, is perhaps the best example of the latter. The international circulation of the two categories is predictable: Il caimano found his largest audience in Italy (1.2m), while abroad it was seen by only 300,000, while La stanza del figlio’s global audience (1.68m) actually exceeded its domestic impact (1.15m).

Habemus Papam, a lighthearted comedy about a new Pope having an anxiety attack and abandoning his post, can quite decisively be situated in the second category, and in fact it almost reached the same level of success as La stanza del figlio (a total foreign audience of 1.66m, according to the Lumière Observatory). Both films benefitted from screening in competition at Cannes, even though Habemus Papam did not win. The film did, however, pick up a series of Italian prizes, including seven Nastri d’argento (including best director, 2011) three David di Donatello (including best actor, 2012). It was actually released before the Cannes in Italy, and picking up €5m in the Italian box-office beforehand doubtless helped its global sales from the festival itself, where Fandango Portobello confirmed several distribution deals in Europe (cf. Screen Daily).

The film presents a series of curious differences in its international circulation. In the countries where Moretti’s films are regularly distributed via the same channels and organisations (such as France and Switzerland), the film landed greater success. However, as Wendy Mitchell reports in Screen Daily, the film’s distribution was also affected by distribution strategies that changed in every national context, according to three variables:

With each local release, the marketing focus – whether on Moretti, Piccoli or the Vatican – depended on local audiences. In the UK, Moretti’s name alone will not guarantee success. But in Serbia, for instance, MCF Megacom founder Igor Stankovic notes of the March 2012 release: “We will use Moretti a lot in the campaign – he’s a known name.”

These examples illustrate that, for Italian cinema, festival presence or even an internationally-recognised auteur is not enough to attract audiences per se, and that other, specific distribution patterns (from religious circles in the UK to schools and Italian institutes in the Netherlands) must be sought out.

At home, the film confirmed the director’s successful production configuration (from the late 1990s, co-productions between Moretti’s Sacher Film and French media companies). It marked the end of Sacher acting as distributor (this activity was discontinued definitively in 2013), turning instead to Rai’s outlet 01 Distribution (this was continued for Moretti’s later films). It also marked his growing reliance on increasing numbers of funding sources, including the Council of Europe’s Eurimages funding – reflecting a broad tendency of Italian production over the last decade. It was distributed via 460 copies, and met with a strong first month that was further boosted by festival presence, extending to a 24 week run overall. Rai Cinema/01 Distribution also released the DVD in October 2011. At present it is available to stream on Netflix (Italy is the only country globally where this is the case), and to rent/buy on five other OTT services.

 Release DateScreensWeeksOpening Weekend ($)Box Office ($)Admissions
IT15 April 2011453
CH08 December 2011 (DE)
07 September 2011 (FR)
20 May 2011 (IT)
FR07 September 2011
33891.479.0354.922.843 749.579
UK02 December 2011
16626.394114.512 15.174
USA06 April 2012
1031.368548.115 91.559 (+ Canada)
Italy: Cinetel (B.O.); Cinecittà Luce News (Screens, weeks)
Switzerland (B.O., Adm.): Procinema
France Admissions: CNC
All other admissions: LumièrePro
All other data: BoxOfficeMojo


In Switzerland the film – like all of Moretti’s productions over the past two decades – was distributed by Frenetic films, which specialises in independent and foreign cinema. The Italian-language edition was released a month after Italy, while the French and German editions followed later in the year. Though its total audience appears contained (almost 70.000), in a country where, according to Lumière figures, only six films have reached audiences greater than 100.000, this ultimately constitutes a relative success. The 01 Distribution edition of the DVD was available from October 2011, and the Zurich based TBA AG released a German-language edition in June 2012. Today it is available to rent/buy on OTT services Ex Libris and HollyStar.


Habemus Papam confirmed the tendency whereby the French market is particularly favourable to Moretti’s films (cf. Coladonato & Garofalo, 2018), both at the box office (where it gained the fourth largest audience for an Italian film; La stanza del figlio is third) and critically: for Cahiers du Cinéma, it was the best film of 2011. Unusually, its theatrical release came later in the year than Cannes, and therefore – as Le Pacte’s Jean Labadie reports – at a moment when it had fewer arthouse films to compete with, and the potential to invite Catholic publications to attend news screenings (something less common at Cannes) Le Pacte originally released the film in 165 prints, and the film reached a peak of 338 screens. The long-term impact of the film is evident in its continued presence online today, available on five services including iTunes and the Playstation Store.

 Box Office ($)AdmissionsOTT - SVODOTT - Rent/Buy
IT9.628.834956.629NetflixChili, Google Play, iTunes, Tim Vision, Rakuten TV
/Ex Libris, HollyStar
FR4.922.843 749.579/iTunes, Orange, My TF1, Filmo TV, Playstation.Store
UK114.512 15.174//
USA548.115 91.559 (+Canada)/Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, Playstation.Store, iTunes

Data as of 3 September 2019


In the UK the film was released by distributor Soda Pictures in December 2011. In this national context – where, as we have seen, Moretti has less name recognition – the film had a more limited impact. Though the distributor took advantage of targeted advertising, through religious circuits, around the West End of London and in the liberal newspaper The Guardian (cf. Screen Daily), Christmas films and blockbusters created tough competition. Its theatrical run was only six weeks, on a maximum of sixteen screens, and a total taking of almost $115.000 in the box office – lower even than 2015’s Mia madre (which usually faired worse than Habemus Papam in foreign markets). Soda Pictures also produced a DVD edition, but today, in online stores, only foreign DVD editions are available. The film has no online rental or streaming presence at all.


The US independent film distributor Sundance Selects purchased the distribution rights to Habemus Papam in July 2011, and released the film in April 2012 and again the following year. The film’s run, number of screens and overall takings were more substantial than the UK, but – as per the norm in the USA – never extended further than the arthouse circuit. The film gained a DVD release by MPI Home video in November 2012, and is available to rent/buy on the largest OTT services: Amazon, YouTube, Google Play and iTunes.

Reference: V. Coladonato, and D. Garofalo, 2018. “Nanni Moretti in France: Industrial and Cultural Models of an Italian Auteur’s Success Abroad”. Incontri. Rivista europea di studi italiani, 33(2), pp.102–117. DOI: