'Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings' (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021.)

With the Sydney market emerging from lockdown, the national box office got a 72 per cent boost last weekend, despite the absence of major new releases.

According to Numero the top 20 films tallied $3.1 million, up from the previous weekend’s $1.8 million, a record low for the year.

All cinemas in NSW can now open at 75 per cent capacity or one person per four square metres; whichever is larger. However, the market is not back to full health as yet, with indoor seated entertainment venues in Melbourne still closed and will remain so until the state reaches an 80 per cent vaccination rate. Southern Tasmania also entered a three-day lockdown on Friday, and cinemas remain closed in the ACT.

However, the weekend’s improved result indicates there is some pent-up demand to return to the cinemas, a positive sign ahead of larger scale releases re-entering the market from this Thursday, starting with Warner Bros.’ Malignant and Disney’s The Last Duel.

Alex Temesvari, GM of Sydney’s Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace, tells IF the first week of trading proved to be solid, particularly in light of the fact people are still easing back into attending public events.

“As expected the most popular of the regular film releases for our site were Shang-Chi and Respect but we also had a fantastic turn out for some of our special event programming. We had a few hundred in each night for our candlelight concert events, plus excellent turn outs for Aliens in 70mm and Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense,” he says.

“Perhaps most impressively though we had over 400 attend our opening night session of French film Perfumes which included a glass of sparkling wine on arrival and a pre-show scent masterclass with a renowned fragrance expert. 

“All in all, great signs that people are ready to come back to the cinema so expecting an even stronger week of trading this week.”

However, for exhibitors outside of Sydney, the continued lack of new product has been an issue.

Kieren Dell, CEO of regional NSW and Queensland’s Majestic Cinemas, tells IF it was “probably the worst weekend for us in living memory”, with foot traffic drying up with an absence of new product and increased COVID cases.

David Simpson, national programming manager for Wallis Cinemas, echoes the sentiment. “Exceptionally quiet weekend with very little new product and Mildura in an extended lockdown,” he tells IF.

Disney’s Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings proved to be by far the most popular title of the weekend, outstripping all competition and capturing 41 per cent market share.

Reopening in NSW meant the film gained 139 screens, and was up 163 per cent with takings of $1.4 million, advancing to $11.4 million.

In second position was fellow Disney title Free Guy, which gathered $280,320 in its tenth weekend to move to $8.7 million. Already in digital release, the film’s boost proved to be much smaller, at just 11 per cent, with an extra 81 screens coming online.

The weekend’s best screen average went to White Hill’s Honsla Rakh, an Indian Punjabi-language romantic comedy set in Canada about a divorced father who is raising his son on his own. It opened on $220,218 from just 42 screens; an average of $5,243.

Paramount’s Paw Patrol: The Movie fetched $206,943 in its fifth, a 22 per cent boost, moving to $2.8 million.

WB’s The Suicide Squad proved to be another popular title for Sydney moviegoers, with the weekend seeing ticket sales increase by 128 per cent, tallying $130,651. Now in its 11th frame, it has made $5.8 million.

In its 12th orbit, Disney’s Jungle Cruise – which was released simultaneously on Disney+’s Premier Access – moved to $4.7 million after collecting another $122,182.

Space Jam: A New Legacy also continues to find an audience 14 weeks in, now on $12.8 million for WB after ringing up $117,903.

Universal’s Respect, nine weeks in, gathered $89,454 to move to $1.8 million, while Rialto’s Ainbo: Amazon Princess took $81,787 in its fifth to move to $1.6 million.

Rounding out the top 10 was local film Nitram, which saw a 57 per cent increase for Madman in its third frame, collecting $54,221 to advance to $210,336.

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