'Nitram'.

Amid very few new releases, school holidays are thankfully providing welcome foot traffic for exhibitors, with almost every title getting a boost at the box office last weekend.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Free Guy and Paw Patrol: The Movie continue to lead the BO, with notable boosts also seen for Ainbo: Amazon Princess, Space Jam: A New Legacy and Jungle Cruise.

Cinemas in Sydney and Melbourne remain closed, in addition to areas of regional Victoria, NSW and the ACT. However, NSW exhibitors are set to reopen for fully vaccinated patrons October 11, while the Victorian roadmap is scheduled for October 26.

Majestic Cinemas CEO Kieren Dell, who has sites across regional NSW and Queensland, describes the weekend as “lacklustre”, but is optimistic about the market picking up towards the end of the year.

He is excited by the opening weekend performance of Venom: Let There Be Carnage in the US, where it broke pandemic-era records with $US90 million, as well as the international openings of Dune and No Time To Die.

Australia will have to wait for all those titles: No Time To Die opens November 11, Venom 2 November 25, and Dune December 2.

“Surprisingly, Space Jam and Jungle Cruise were reasonably strong, indicating the real lack of family product. Ainbo did better than expected for that reason. So lacklustre it is, and will remain for October at this stage,” Dell tells IF.

“Batten down the hatches until November, get through the first couple of stages of the NSW reopening roadmap, and set sail for a great December.”

Village Cinemas national programming manager Geoff Chard agrees that the next month will be quiet.

“Unfortunately with the school holidays coming to an end, and no wide releases for the next few weeks, we are going to be in an extremely quiet period. Luckily there is light at the end of the tunnel with NSW cinemas scheduled to reopen next week, and Victorian cinemas only a few weeks behind them,” he tells IF.

According to Numero, the top 20 titles tallied $3.5 million through Sunday, up 30 per cent on the previous.

Justin Kurzel’s Nitram, the story of the gunman behind 1996’s Port Arthur massacre, opened just outside of the top 10 on $57,818 from 41 screens. Preview and festival screenings mean it is now on $67,727 for Madman.

Some exhibitors report a sluggish start for the local film, but this may be chalked up to audience hesitancy given the subject matter and the controversy that has surrounded it.

Nitram, written by frequent Kurzel-collaborator Shaun Grant, was the first Australian film to compete in Cannes for more than a decade, where it won lead Caleb Landry Jones the best actor award and garnered critical acclaim.

However, the GoodThing Productions film, which also stars Judy Davis, Anthony LaPaglia and Essie Davis, was met with controversy in Australia before it was made. Given the subject matter, the film was criticised in many corners, including by Tasmanian politicians, survivors and industry peers. Screen Australia and Film Victoria declined to fund the film at a board level.

Notably the film does not depict the violence that occured on the day in Port Arthur, and is rather set beforehand, trying to examine how and why it occurred. In the week leading up to the release, a number of Australian media outlets have lauded the film, with critic Luke Buckmaster rating it five stars in The Guardian Australia.

Nitram is yet to play in Tasmania, where it is booked on two screens, the Hobart State Cinema and the Launceston Star Cinema, launching October 14. It is also due to pick up around 12 screens in Sydney when cinemas reopen.

Dell, who is also the vice-president of Independent Cinemas Australia, says Nitram was not offered to his cinemas.

Streaming service Stan announced today it will premiere on the platform November 24.

The filmmakers argue that the film has been guided by restraint, and this has extended to the marketing campaign.

Producer Nick Batzias told IF in August that the question of how to market Nitram to audiences sensitively is something they had grappled with from the get go.

“In the first key art, for example, you don’t see a face. Likewise, the trailer, we’ve done similar things.

“In some ways, it’s reassuring people of what it isn’t, as much as what is. To give people the comfort that they’re not going to have, for want of a better expression, their noses rubbed in it – in terms of what one might conceive of the worst possible version of a film about this subject.

“We’ve got long-term relationships with Madman and with Stan and they are completely on board with that. There was never any talk of big shiny outdoor advertising or sides of buses, or even, frankly, a TVC campaign. The film, as we’ve seen already, will generate enough publicity. The campaign is one that is available to people who want to find it, but it’s not one that will be forced down anyone’s throat.”

Shang-Chi is now on $8.5 million for Disney after five weeks, continuing to easily lead the box office with weekend receipts of $960,831 – an increase of 7 per cent on the previous.

Stablemate Free Guy was up 4 per cent in its eighth weekend with $518,779, advancing the Ryan Reynolds-starrer to $7.5 million. Disney made the film available in-home for Australian audiences September 29.

Paramount’s Paw Patrol: The Movie climbed 46 per cent in its third frame with earnings of $422,116, taking it to $2.2 million, while Rialto’s Ainbo, also in its third, was up a whopp ing 120 per cent with $391,677, moving to $1.1 million.

Space Jam 2 has been a slam dunk performer for Warner Bros. in an incredibly disrupted market. Now 12 weeks in, it is on $12.4 million after weekend takings of $215,228, a 113 per cent increase.

Jungle Cruise was up 83 per cent for Disney in its tenth week, with $211,040 advancing the film to $4.3 million.

New release Chal Mera Putt 3 proved lucrative for Mind Blowing Films, opening on $171,603 from just 31 screens; a screen average of $5,536. It follows strong earnings on the re-release of the second film, from 2020, a few weeks ago.

Nine weeks in, The Suicide Squad sits on $5.6 million following weekend receipts of $95,354.

Roadshow drama Joe Bell, starring Mark Wahlberg, held across its second frame with $92,741, moving it to $252,914.

Rounding out the top 10 was Universal’s Respect, which after seven weekends is on $1.5 million, earning $74,034 last weekend.

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