What’s with Cannes’ standing ovations?

When it comes to a movie or performance, getting any kind of standing ovation at all seems like a great thing.

What’s with Cannes’ standing ovations?
The 76th Cannes Film Festival - Screening of the film "L'ete dernier" (Last Summer) in competition - Red Carpet Arrivals - Cannes, France, May 25, 2023. Director Catherine Breillat, cast members Lea Drucker, Olivier Rabourdin, Clotilde Courau, Samuel Kircher and producer Said Ben Said pose. Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

With the Cannes film festival almost over in France, you’ve probably seen a thing or two about which films are getting standing ovations and how long those standing ovations last. When it comes to a movie or performance, getting any kind of standing ovation at all seems like a great thing. But it doesn’t really work the same way at Cannes.

At this year’s festival, Martin Scosese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” got a nine-minute ovation, meanwhile "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny" only got a five-minute one. Five minutes still seems like a long time to stand up and applaud a movie, though.

The longest-ever standing ovation at Cannes so far was in 2006, for Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth.” It was applauded for 22 minutes. Still, any movie with a response that nears 10 minutes is seen as a crowd favorite and probably a pretty good film. In the past, movies that have gotten a 10-minute or longer ovation include “BlacKkKlansman,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Belle,” “Capernaum,” “Fahrenheit 9/11” and others.  

But, at Cannes, pretty much every movie will get some kind of standing ovation. The festival is known for the over-the-top responses that audiences give to movies, whether that’s through 20 minutes of applause or through crowds walking out of the theater. Sometimes, the same movie will get both a lengthy standing ovation and walkouts, like “The Neon Demon” did in 2016.

“The fact that it is not such a given at other festivals makes me wonder if the standing ovations received in other places are more honest audience reactions,” says Kellie Lail, a critic and regular Cannes attendee.

The thing is, there are a few theories around why this happens at Cannes. One is that it’s some sort of groupthink, where the crowd tends to follow what the front row is doing, which is usually filled with people that worked on the film. Another is that after the film, the camera pans across the cast and crew, and the crowds are applauding them all independently. This could go on for a while, depending on how many of them are in attendance. One more is just that it’s Cannes – and that’s what you do at Cannes. Whether your clapping for 20 minutes or yelling loud boos at the screen, it’s all somehow just part of what Cannes is all about.  

When we look at the standing ovation tradition more generally, they’re actually getting shorter on average. So, a decade ago, maybe “Flowers of the Killer Moon” would’ve cleared the 10-minute mark. We’re still not so sure about “Indiana Jones,” though.