‘Beauty and the Beast’ was the highest-grossing film of 2017 at the Australian box office.

Coming off an all-time industry record in 2016, the Australian theatrical market lost a bit of momentum in 2017 – a cyclical downturn which does not worry distributors or exhibitors.

The national BO total was $1,201,343,000, which was down by $58 million on the previous year’s $1,259,337,000, a 4.6 per cent decline.

As Lori Flekser, GM of the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia (MPDAA) told IF last week, the rolling average of grosses for 2015-2017 is ahead of the previous three years.

Underlining Disney’s dominance, the US studio released the four top titles: Beauty and the Beast, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Universal’s Despicable Me 3, Warner Bros’ Wonder Woman, Transmission/See-Saw Films’ Lion, Universal’s The Fate of the Furious, Sony’s Spider-man: Homecoming and Roadshow’s It rounded out the top 10.

Australian films took $49.4 million, with Garth Davis’ Lion earning $29.4 million at home and an impressive $US147.5 million worldwide.

Village Cinemas chief operating officer Gino Munari tells IF: “I don’t think the decline should be viewed as any great concern. These are the peaks and troughs of our business and we’ve seen these over decades when you have a mature market.

“The poor US summer [our May/June] was mostly to blame. Hollywood know they need to get smarter after seeing so many [bankable] sequels fall short.

“The industry is healthy when you see films like Lion and Beauty and the Beast explode; horror films which were once forgotten become trendy again, boasting huge results with Split and It; Hidden Figures finding a huge Australian audience; Wonder Woman expand past the comic book market and Wonder touching everyone’s hearts on its way to $13 million. And now look at Jumanji… I’d be surprised if the market didn’t at least hold, if not increase somewhat in calendar 2018.”

The top 10 films of 2017 at the Australian box office. (Source: MPDAA)

Wallis Cinemas consultant Bob Parr is similarly upbeat, observing: “We always like to keep breaking records but it isn’t possible. We came off a record year and were let down by two months in the second half of the year so no real cause for concern. The price war hasn’t done anyone any favours either.”

Cinema Nova GM Kristian Connelly is heartened by the slew of January hits led by Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, The Greatest Showman, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Pitch Perfect 3.

He has high expectations for upcoming upscale releases including The Shape of Water, I, Tonya, Lady Bird and other Oscar hopefuls but says: “The final six months of 2017 reinforced the need for Nova to make every title count.”

Mike Baard, chair of the MPDAA and MD of Universal Pictures Australasia, said: “The 2017 Australian box office results have revealed that cinemagoing is still one of the most popular forms of entertainment in this country and, despite economic flux and in the face of ever increasing leisure options, remains resilient.

“The creative industries continue their efforts to protect creative intellectual property and fight movie piracy which undermines investment in films and robs creative professionals of the right to a commercial return for their labour.

“With exhibitors continuing to enhance the cinema experience through luxury options and state-of-the-art technology and with an incredible line-up of exciting films in 2018, we look forward to another great year at the movies.”

A 2017 research study by Screen Audience Research Australia showed that 75 per cent of Australians go to the cinema at least five times a year while 58 per cent say they are “very engaged” when watching movies in cinemas. That’s far higher than the 29 per cent engagement claimed while watching films via SVOD.

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