‘Aquaman’ (Photo: Warner Bros.)

Australian exhibitors and distributors did not have a lot to celebrate over Christmas/New Year, as ticket sales lagged well behind the previous year – but the forecast for the rest of January is upbeat.

Warner Bros’ Aquaman is the stand-out thus far while How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Universal’s first release from DreamWorks Animation, began brilliantly on January 3. Disney’s Ralph Breaks the Internet and Mary Poppins Returns are generating tidy sums.

But none of the new releases looks capable of matching the 2017-2018 blockbusters, Disney’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which finished with $58.1 million, and Sony’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which made $48.8 million. Paramount’s Bumblebee, an under-achiever in the US, is tracking a bit better here, as is Sony’s Holmes & Watson.

Among the upscale titles, Fox’s The Favourite, eOne’s Vice and Palace’s Cold War are drawing sizable audiences. One surprise: In its 10th weekend, Fox’s Bohemian Rhapsody still ranks among the top 10, indicating a high degree of repeat business as its worldwide cume topped $743 million.

Aquaman is doing well but nothing else is really supporting it a lot,” says Majestic Cinemas CEO Kieren Dell, who reported takings at his circuit in December were down 20 per cent on the previous December.

“However Mary Poppins Returns has provided a pick-me-up, as has How to Train Your Dragon 3. The good news is that January looks a lot more solid right to the end, compared to last year when it petered out mid-month, so hopefully we will make up the difference. Swings and roundabouts, as always in this business.”

Wallis Cinemas programming manager Sasha Close says: “Aquaman opened extremely strongly and is delighting audiences across the Wallis circuit. The Favourite is the winner among the more limited releases. Both Ralph Breaks the Internet and Mary Poppins Returns had solid openings while How to Train your Dragon 3 is really appealing to moviegoers and yielding excellent box office.

“Without a film in the Star Wars franchise for the first time in three ears there seems to have been more variety for moviegoers this holidays period.”

Industry-wide, the top 20 titles in the week ending December 26 generated $22.6 million, 27 per cent below the same week’s $30.9 million in 2017. The following week saw an upswing to $44 million but that was 9 per cent below $48.4 million a year earlier. The top 20 collected $27.2 million last weekend, 6 per cent down on the previous weekend, according to Numero.

Typifying the appeal of the adult offerings, last week was an all-time record at Cinema Nova, which general manager Kristian Connelly credits to the strength of the Boxing Day openers The Favourite, Vice and Cold War and holdover business for A Star Is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody and Shoplifters. The Queen biopic was Cinema Nova’s second-highest earner last year behind Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Directed by Dean Deblois and featuring a voice cast led by Jay Baruchel as Hiccup, American Ferrera as Astrid, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler and Jonah Hill, the final edition of the How to Train Your Dragon franchise grabbed $6.7 million in its first four days. That was the second biggest opening weekend for a DreamWorks Animation title behind Shrek 2 and the seventh best ever for an animated film, which augurs well for the February 22 launch in the US.

James Wan’s Aquaman raced along to $26.9 million after scoring $6.3 million in its second outing. The Queensland-shot action adventure starring Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson and Nicole Kidman is already a massive hit for the studio, amassing $940.7 million worldwide, en route to $1 billion.

Although mocked by some critics as entertainingly ludicrous, the origin story of half-surface dweller, half-Atlantean Arthur Curry ranks as the biggest DC movie of all time outside the US with $681 million, beating The Dark Knight.

Directed by Rob Marshall and starring Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Poppins Returns is doing respectably but well below the blockbuster level which Disney had hoped for. After opening on New Year’s Day the fantasy-adventure-musical conjured up $4 million last weekend and $7.3 million thus far.

The sequel has generated $138.7 million in the US and $258 million globally-not a huge return considering the reported $130 million budget plus P&A.

Co-directed by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, and featuring the voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, Jack McBrayer, Taraji P. Henson, Kristen Bell, and Kelly Macdonald, Disney Animation Studios’ Ralph Breaks the Internet drew $2.6 million in its second weekend, lifting the total to nearly $11 million. In the US the family comedy has pocketed $187.1 million in seven weeks.

Bohemian Rhapsody advanced to $44.6 million after scoring $1.56 million, outrunning Travis Knight’s Bumblebee, which made $1.1 million in its third weekend to reach $9 million. The Transformers reboot starring Hailee Steinfeld, Pamela Adlon, John Cena and Stephen Schneider has snagged a mediocre $97.1 million after its third weekend in the US and $192 million in the rest of the world, boosted by China’s stellar $59.4 million opening weekend.

Sony’s animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ascended to $10.4 million after taking $831,000 in its fourth stanza. The superhero movie directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman has generated $275.3 million globally.

Sony reportedly wanted to offload Holmes & Watson to Netflix but the streaming giant declined, so it is no shock to find the buddy comedy starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly has scraped up $28.4 million after its second weekend in the US. Here, the Etan Cohen-directed satire stands at $4 million after making $713,000 last weekend.

‘The Favourite.’

Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, the ribald 18th Century drama co-written by Tony McNamara, starring Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, delivered $659,000 on 83 screens in its second weekend and $2.3 million thus far.

Adam McKay’s Vice, which features a mesmerizing Christian Bale as the former US Vice President Dick Cheney, co-starring Amy Adams, Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell, advanced to $2.2 million after taking $618,000 in its second weekend.

Wash Westmoreland’s Colette, the biopic of the colourful French novelist and performer, which stars Keira Knightley, Dominic West and Denise Gough, picked up $227,000 in its third weekend, yielding $1.3 million for Transmission Films. Pro-rata, that is tracking better than the US where the film finished with $5.3 million.

The winner of the best director prize at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War, a music-driven romance about two mismatched lovers caught between East and West in 1950s Europe, grossed a terrific $167,000 in its second weekend and $760,000 thus far on 23 screens.

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