'Long Story Short'. (Photo: Brook Rushton)

Australia’s lucky run at the box office continues. Four out of the five highest grossing films last weekend were local titles, with new release Long Story Short joining the ranks with The Dry, Penguin Bloom and High Ground.

However, the national BO was depressed, with Victorian cinemas – which typically boast around 27 per cent national market share – shuttered in the wake of a state-wide lockdown.

Roadshow’s The Dry remains the top performer, adding $711,168 in its seventh weekend to progress to $17.3 million; it is now the 15th highest grossing Australian film of all time (without adjusting for inflation).

Stablemate Penguin Bloom was again no. 2, bringing in $444,989 to advance to $5.9 million.

Writer-director Josh Lawson’s Long Story Short opened on $315,590 from 278 screens for Studiocanal, or $332,961 with previews.

The rom-com follows Teddy (Rafe Spall), a serial procrastinator who wakes up the morning after his wedding to discover that he’s jumped forward a year in his life. His wife Leanne (Zahra Newman) is now heavily pregnant, with a full year of marriage behind them that he doesn’t remember living. 

While the opening day box only totalled $26K, it increased day-on-day nationally to reach a respectable total.

“The Valentine’s Day boost would have definitely helped, but good word-of-mouth is obviously kicking in,” Village Cinemas programming manager Geoff Chard tells IF.

The rom-com didn’t rate for regional NSW circuit Majestic Cinemas, with Wild Mountain Thyme proving more popular for Valentine’s Day cinemagoers.

However CEO Kieren Dell tells IF he’s continued to have success with the three other other local films: “The Dry, Penguin Bloom and High Ground continued to dominate – it was so great to see the historic milestone of an Aussie top three last week, and our customers are continuing to love these movies and word of mouth is proving very strong for them all. I suspect they will still be running through the end of February at least!”

Across its third weekend Madman’s frontier drama High Ground earned $278,899, taking it to $1.9 million.

Overall, the top 20 titles brought in $4.4 million, 16 per cent down on the previous – marking the worst week for cinemas since early December.

There are still audiences for The Dry and Penguin Bloom at Wallis Cinemas, but programming manager David Simpson summarises the lament among many exhibitors when he says: “Extraordinary times when you’ve got Breakfast At Tiffany’s and Star Wars in your weekend’s top films.”

The best performing new release was Madman’s Detective Chinatown 3, which depsite being released only 39 screens rang up a remarkable $411,824, an average of $10,560.

With its release coinciding with the Lunar New Year, the mystery-comedy starring Wang Baoqiang and Liu Haoran smashed records as it opened in China, where it notched $US 398 million (RMB 2.57B). That makes it not only the biggest opener in Chinese history, but also the biggest opening weekend ever in a single market globally.

Rialto’s Love, Weddings and Other Disasters, directed by Dennis Duga,n opened on a decent $255,294 from 238 screens, despite a lashing by critics.

The multi-story rom-com starring Maggie Grace, Diane Keaton and Jeremy Irons, follows the people who work on weddings to create the perfect day – while their own relationships are outlandish, odd, crazy and far from perfect.

Now more than eight weeks in release, Universal’s The Croods: A New Age continues to draw a decent crowd, earning $252,289 to advance to $20.5 million.

Madman’s The Marksman tumbled 42 per cent in its fourth frame to earn $241,880, seeing it now just shy of $3 million in total.

Paramount sci-fi horror Synchronic opened on $227,488 from 207. Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Morehead, the film follows two New Orleans paramedics (Jamie Dornan, Anthony Mackie) whose lives are ripped apart after they encounter a series of horrific deaths linked to a designer drug with bizarre, otherworldly effects.

Rounding out the top 10 was Kismet/Rialto’s Wrong Turn, with the reboot of the 2003 film of the same name earning $224,478 in its second orbit to take its total to $833,202.

‘Birth Time’.

Outside of the main box office, Aussie films are also finding success via cinema-on-demand. Zoe Naylor, Jo Hunter and Jurusha Sutton’s documentary Birth Time has smashed records for Demand Film, with $223,506 in ticket sales for 90 confirmed screens.

This complements a series of 13 special events Q&A screenings with filmmakers around the country between now and mid-March, with further screens confirmed from March 10.

“COVID presented near catastrophic conditions for the cinema and theatrical distribution business in 2020. It is so gratifying that our first return to the cinemas in almost a year turns out to deliver our best pre-sale box-office for a documentary in our company’s history,” said Demand Film managing director David Doepel. 

“When the film went on sale last November, and we sold 893 tickets on the first day for a movie that was, at that time, almost three months away we understood how special was the connection between the filmmakers, their community and the importance of the topic. That day gave us hope that 2021 would be very different to 2020. That hope has turned into a record-setting reality. 

“In addition to the screens we secured for the release for our opening national footprint, we have since had over 50 requests for more screenings at cinemas around the country. And these are coming in on a daily basis.”

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