Subdued start for Charlie’s Country

21 July, 2014 by Don Groves

Rolf de Heer’s Charlie’s Country got glowing reviews from most Australian film critics, not least for David Gulpilil’s performance for which he was named best actor at the Certain Regard sidebar in Cannes.

Given those plaudits plus eOne’s extensive publicity campaign built around de Heer and the enthusiastic support of exhibitors, the opening weekend of $129,000 at 29 screens, for a per-screen average of less than $4,500, plus $22,300 from previews, isn't great.


However the film may well build on word-of-mouth as audiences respond to the tale of blackfella Charlie, who finds life increasingly tough in his remote community due to the government’s intervention, and resolves to live the old way.

Also, the B.O. figures should be seen in the context of how the director’s films have fared historically in Australia. Tracker, his first collaboration with Gulpilil, grossed $818,000 in 2002. Ten Canoes, the second of the “trilogy,” is the highest-earner of de Heer’s career, making $3.5 million in 2006. The Old Man Who Read Love Stories took $119,000 in 2004 and his 2012 venture into black comedy, The King Is Dead!,  bombed with $78,000. 

One exhibitor who booked Charlie’s Country told IF, “It’s doing what I expected,” adding, “I think the film is wonderful.” The exhibitor laments the B.O. results for most Australian films released this year, theorising that a large section of the audience has turned away from local fare.

Nationwide, weekend receipts plunged by 36% to $13 million after the school vacation, according to Rentrak’s estimates.

While the US summer season is down by nearly 20% on last year, the cinema business in Australian is proving far more resilient. For the year through the end of June, ticket sales totalled $549.6 million, just 1% below the same period in 2013, $552.9 million.

Sex Tape, a seemingly raunchy comedy starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel, debuted with nearly $2.5 million; a fair number considering the US opening was just $US14.6 million. One Sony executive in the US acknowledged the title was misleading for what he called a “funny, sweet comedy.”

Among the other newcomers, Words and Pictures, Fred Schepisi’s US romantic comedy starring Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche, misfired with $66,000 on 25 screens, and $89,000 with previews.

Venus in Fur, Roman Polanski’s comedy/drama about the encounter between a director (Mathieu Amalric) and an actress (Emmanuelle Seigner) also tanked, taking $21,000 at eight screens. With previews added, the total is a bit more respectable: $64,000.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes easily retained the top spot despite dropping by 43% to $3.5 million, bringing the 11-day tally to $12.6 million.

Gritty Irish drama Calvary pocketed $293,000 in its third weekend (off just 13%), scoring nearly $1.4 million to date. Indian romance The Lunchbox actually improved by 5% to $217,000 in its second outing on 29 screens, advancing to $566,000.


Title                              Week/ Screens         Box Office     % +-    Total

1 Dawn of the Planet of the Apes  2/569  $3,514,304  -43     $12,675,457
2 Sex Tape 1/315                                          2,460,884     NA         2,533,234
3 Transformers: Age of Extinction 4/407 1,210,863     -55       26,248,578
4 How to Train Your Dragon 2   5/332      1,046,670     -61       24,905,393
5 22 Jump Street     5/248                            918,568       -46      21,511,462
6 Jersey Boys         3/298                              914,922       -34        5,766,268
7 Rio 2                     3/332                              845,351       -66      11,246,275
8 Tinkerbell: The Pirate Fairy 4/199           301,328       -60         3,504,507
9 Calvary               3/47                                   293,484       -13       1,366,131
10 The Lunchbox   2/29                                 217,231      +5           566,096

Source: Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia