‘Ladies in Black.’
As the Australian feature films and feature docs released in cinemas this year have surpassed the calendar 2017 total exhibitors generally are happy with the diversity of product and the number of titles that have resonated with mainstream audiences.
While some say there have been too many niche and small-scale films, the consensus is that local films overall have held their own in a fragmented theatrical market and in the face of competition for eyeballs from the burgeoning Netflix and Stan.
Their outlook for 2019 is even more optimistic – if distributors and exhibitors are smart with their dating.
Through Wednesday, Oz films and feature docs including holdovers have racked up $54.2 million, according to the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia (MPDAA), beating last year’s $49.4 million, which was a market share of 4.1 per cent.
So the industry will finish the year ahead of the 2009 total of $54.8 million. The stand-out of the past 10 years was 2015’s $88.1 million, the year of Mad Max: Fury Road, The Dressmaker and Oddball.
The top-earners this year are Will Gluck’s Peter Rabbit ($26.7 million), Bruce Beresford’s Ladies in Black ($11.1 million), Simon Baker’s Breath ($4.6 million) and Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country ($2 million).
The best performing feature docs are Paul Damian Williams’ Gurrumul ($985,000) and Mark Joffe’s Jimmy Barnes: Working Class Boy ($823,000). Of the titles released in the past two months, Mark Grentell’s The Merger has fared best ($494,000).
Wallis Cinemas’ programming manager Sasha Close tells IF: “I’m especially pleased with the diversity of titles released theatrically in 2018 and the box office achievements of several including the critically acclaimed Sweet Country, the screen adaptation of Tim Winton’s Breath and the marvelous Ladies in Black.
“Whilst some like 1% and The Flip Side failed to attracted cinema audiences, numerous Australian films have performed solidly this year.”
Cinema Nova general manager Kristian Connelly observes: “With the local and international theatrical exhibition marketplace continuing to feel the impact of streaming services and new media on audience attention, 2018 was not only a year that found Australian content trying to adapt to this ever-shifting new-normal, but also saw the wider industry improve upon its ability to anticipate the interests of audiences following the stellar success of Lion in 2017.
“Typical theatrical distribution is still the most lucrative approach for features where there is clearly a larger audience, as witnessed with the breakout release of music documentary Gurrumul. However the ‘stiletto’ approach where quite specific audiences were targeted served releases including The Song Keepers and Border Politics well.
“The next challenge for local features being released theatrically will be finding the balance in terms of release. Several films released on a semi-wide release found themselves spreading their audience too thin and losing screens rapidly following the first week, which might serve to appease producers in terms of screen presence but may not be in the best interests of maintaining a film’s presence in theatres for the long term.”
Majestic Cinemas CEO Kieren Dell says: “Overall, I think it has been a reasonable year, with a lost opportunity (hopefully somewhat remedied with Storm Boy in January) for some family friendly Australian movies, which we haven’t seen since Oddball and Paper Planes.
“Ladies in Black has been great, albeit it hasn’t quite reached the heights of The Dressmaker that I thought it might. A Star is Born cut across it a bit but we are still running it. But there were too many niche and small movies, most of which failed at the box office as they are hard to sell, especially in regional areas with limited populations. Broader comedies, dramas, family films, older and female-skewing movies should be the order of the day.”
The most commercial of the upcoming releases is Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased, which opens on November 8 via Universal. Storm Ashwood’s supernatural horror/thriller The School ( Backlot Films), Jessica Leski’s documentary I Used to be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story (Madman) and Alena Lodkina’s drama Strange Colours (Bonsai Films) are all dated for November 22, followed by Sue Thomson’s The Coming Back Out Ball Movie on December 6 (Backlot Films).
Looking ahead to 2019, exhibitors are excited about a raft of titles including Anthony Maras’ Hotel Mumbai, Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale, Wayne Blair’s Top End Wedding, Rachel Ward’s Palm Beach, Kriv Stenders’ Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan, Shawn Seet’s Storm Boy, Rachel Griffiths’ Ride Like a Girl, Owen Trevor’s Go Karts, Gregor Jordan’s Dirt Music and Justin Kurzel’s True History of the Kelly Gang.
In addition Tony Tilse’s Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears, Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner’s Nekrotronic, Unjoo Moon’s I Am Woman, Natalie Erika James’ Relic, Grant Sputore’s I Am Mother, Luke Sparke’s Occupation: Rainfall, Jeremy Sims’ Rams, Justin Dix’s Blood Vessel, Mirrah Foulkes’ Judy and Punch, Sophie Hyde’s Animals and Dean Murphy’s The Very Excellent Mr Dundee all have concepts and and talent which could well resonate.
Connelly concludes: “To grow the market will take continued shrewd thinking from distribution and exhibition to ensure the best conditions to allow our local industry to thrive.”
View the full scorecard here.