Queer Christmas rom-com Happiest Season helped to breathe some needed new life into the Aussie box office over the weekend, though most exhibitors continue to eagerly hang out for end-of-year releases Wonder Woman 1984 and The Dry.
Directed by Clea DuVall, Happiest Season follows Abby (Kristen Stewart), who plans to propose to girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis) over Christmas with her family. Little does Abby realise, Harper is not out to her parents.
The Sony title, which also stars Alison Brie, Dan Levy and Audrey Plaza, opened at number one, collecting $553,424 from 247 screens.
Close behind was WB’s Tenet, which despite being its 14th frame, continues to have life thanks to Victorian cinemagoers. The Christopher Nolan film notched $529,279 from 145 screens, 3 per cent up on last week. Overall, the thriller now sits north of $10.3 million.
The opening performance Universal’s neo-Western Let Him Go, which stars Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as two grandparents on a rescue mission to save their grandson, was softer than some expected, opening on $336,749 from 275 screens.
While some exhibitors found success with Studiocanal’s Keira Knightley and Gugu Mbatha-Raw-starrer Misbehaviour, the film opened on just $227,537 from 283 screens. With previews, the film, which follows a group of women who hatch a plan to disrupt the 1970 Miss World beauty competition in London, sits on $312,499.
Spike Lee’s David Byrne’s American Utopia, which Universal opened on 89 screens, came in just outside the top 10 at $67,650.
Overall the top 20 titles earned $3.3 million, up 14 per cent on last week, according to Numero.
No doubt some of the boost is attributable to the loosening of capacity restrictions in Victoria; from last Monday cinemas were able to increase session sizes from 20 to 150 patrons.
Village Cinemas reports the four-day weekend was its best trading since Vic cinemas reopened November 12.
“Social-distancing requirements still mean that we can’t operate at anywhere near full-capacity, but it was certainly a step in the right direction. Tenet was still our #1 title by far, followed by Trolls World Tour and the new opener Happiest Season,” national film programming manager Geoff Chard tells IF.
“We’ve got some high expectations for this week’s new film The War With Grandpa, given its successful run in NZ a couple of months ago. We also have the paid previews of Sony’s YA film Words on Bathroom Walls, as well as Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of The Witches.“
Carlton’s Cinema Nova also reports a 10 per cent week-on-week improvement, with several titles getting an uptick including Tenet and local films Babyteeth and Brazen Hussies. The weekend also saw the resumption of event screenings, which CEO Kristian Connelly says “all enjoyed some life.”
“Of the new releases, Possessor, American Utopia and Misbehaviour performed best while Let Him Go – a film I greatly enjoyed – didn’t find it’s audience in Carlton,” he tells IF.
Later this week the cinema will kick off Monster Fest Melbourne, with Connelly reporting that despite less than a week’s promotion, all sessions are selling strongly.
“The festival promises to be a genuine success, albeit in the ‘new normal’ sense.”
At Sydney’s Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace, general manager Alex Temesvari continues to find success in alternate content and live events. However, he eagerly awaits WB blockbuster Wonder Woman 1984 and local film The Dry.
“A fantastic weekend of trading for us with everything from live rock concerts (Bon Jovi and Leonard Cohen tributes) to live opera (Marriage of Figaro) and live comedy (Nat’s What I Reckon) and even live drag performers before our sessions of Kinky Boots and Rocky Horror,” he tells IF.
“Unfortunately out of the new release films though the only one that fired was American Utopia which I believe will play for us right through until Christmas. I absolutely applaud Universal for making this title available theatrically in the local market as it has obviously clicked with audiences.”
Wallis Cinemas’ found some success with Happiest Season and Misbehaviour, and hopes Let It Go will benefit from word-of-mouth.
However, programming manager David Simpson is similarly eager for the WB/DC Comics sequel to land in the last week of the year.
“Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Hestia is progressively pulling us so ever closer to the light at the end of the tunnel. Bring on December 26.”
Universal’s Trolls World Tour is another film that has benefitted from Victorian cinemagoers, earning $249,995 in its 11th frame, only 9 per cent down on last week. The animated sequel has now amassed $8.3 million.
Jeremy Sim’s sheep comedy drama Rams tumbled 42 per cent over its fifth weekend to ring up $247,466. Overall, the Sam Neill and Michael Caton-starrer has earned $3.8 million for Roadshow, making it the second most lucrative Aussie title of the year after The Invisible Man.
Body swap horror Freaky dropped 47 per cent in its third frame to clock $243,023. The Universal/Blumhouse film starring Vince Vaughn has made $1.4 million so far.
Liam Neeson thriller The Honest Thief advanced to $3.1 million for Rialto after earning $192,006 in its sixth orbit, while Universal rom-com All My Life now sits on $559,259 after earning $160,565 in its second.
Fatman, a dark comedy which sees Mel Gibson as Chris Cringle (aka Santa Claus), rounded out the top 10, earning $153,313 over its second weekend, taking the Icon title to $464,534.
Among the other Aussie titles in release, R & R Films’ comedy Never Too Late now sits on $893,545 after six weeks, and documentary Brazen Hussies $97,310 after four.