An analysis of the Australian films released in cinemas in 2013 makes for grim reading, with a handful of critical and/or commercial successes outnumbered by misfires and under-achievers.

On the positive side, the debut films from directors Kim Mordaunt (The Rocket), Catriona McKenzie (Satellite Boy) and Mark Grentell (Backyard Ashes) unearthed talent with plenty of potential.

The year ended on a strong note with the Boxing Day launch of Jonathan Teplitzy’s The Railway Man, which ranks as the second-highest local grosser behind Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, which amassed $27.4 million to become the fifth-biggest Australian title of all time.

Tellingly, the drama starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman raked in more money in its first week than the lifetime earnings of every other title. According to IF’s estimate, the combined B.O. tally of the 26 local films and documentaries is $38.88 million, well short of 2012’s $47.9 million.

Only four titles earned more than $1 million, and neither Goddess nor Return to Nim’s Island is likely to have covered the distributors’ P&A costs. The most disappointing results, in my view considering the filmmakers’ aspirations to reach a broad audience, were Adoration, Blinder and Save Your Legs!

Patrick and 100 Bloody Acres got good reviews but their fates were probably sealed when the major exhibitors refused to screen them and the releases were limited to a handful of screens.

Final B.O. figures for 2013 won’t be available until later in January but several distributors are estimating the year will finish 2% down on 2012’s $1.125 billion. So assuming the total is around $1.122 billion, Australian films’ market share would be around 3.4%, below 2012’s 4.3% and the 10-year average of 3.8%.

For the record year we have to go back to 2001 when local features led by Moulin Rouge, Lantana, The Man Who Sued God and Crocodile Dundee in LA raked in $63.4 million, a 7.8% share.

There was a more even spread of B.0. performers in 2012 when The Sapphires was No 1 with $14.5 million, followed by Happy Feet Two ($8.2 million out of its lifetime gross of $10.7 million), Kath & Kimderella ($6.1 million), A Few Best Men ($5.3 million) and Mental ($4.1 million).

IF’s chart is current through January 1. As we have has pointed out, Australian grosses should not be seen as the sole barometer of each film's success, given many have multiple viewings on VOD, pay-TV and free-to-air TV. For example, Warwick Thornton’s The Darkside misfired in cinemas but hopefully will find an appreciative audience when it screens this year on the ABC. Festival exposure and critical acclaim are also key indicators.

Producer/distributor Robert Connolly’s initiative of organising event screenings for Tim Winton’s The Turning (co-distributed with Madman) paid off. The strategy encouraged other filmmakers to stage Q&A screenings for Backyard Ashes and Circle of Lies and the docus Uncharted Waters and Lasseter’s Bones.

A comedy about two neighbours who settle their differences with a bizarre game of backyard cricket, Grentell’s Backyard Ashes has achieved impressive figures considering it’s only played in regional towns.

Mordaunt’s The Rocket has done tidy business for a Laos-set drama and the results for feature-length documentaries Red Obsession and In Bob We Trust are meritorious.

Catriona McKenzie’s Satellite Boy and Ivan Sen’s Mystery Road continued the tradition of critically-admired Indigenous films that resonate with a fairly wide audience.

Heather McKenzie decision to self-distribute her documentary Mary Meets Mohammad paid dividends as the film played on 424 commercial screens around Australia plus community screenings and schools. The docu chronicles the unlikely friendship between Hobart pensioner Mary and Mohammad, a young Afghan Hazara man interned in a temporary detention centre for asylum seekers.

In his 2013 review Film Alert blogger Geoff Gardner takes a dim view of the performance of Screen Australia led by CEO Dr Ruth Harley. “When the debacle of Dr Ruth’s tenure and the mostly dismal product of our local industry that it produced over the last five years finally works its way through the system, probably by the end of 2014, there may just be some new hope that we might make more films that bring some lustre to our film production and justify the public money spent,” he says.

I think that’s an unduly harsh assessment and am confident we’ll see a marked upturn in the quality and commercial appeal of the films scheduled for release this year.

Given the writing, directing and on-screen talent involved, I am optimistic about a line-up that includes John Curran’s Tracks, Greg Mclean’s Wolf Creek 2, Matt Saville’s Felony, Julius Avery’s Son of a Gun, David Michôd’s The Rover, Kriv Stenders’ Kill Me Three Times, Rob Connolly’s Paper Planes, Tony Ayres' Cut Snake, Zak Hilditch’s These Final Hours, Stuart Beattie’s I, Frankenstein, Wayne Hope’s Now Add Honey and Peter and Michael Spierig’s Predestination.

In addition, there could be some out-of-the-box successes from among John V. Soto’s The Reckoning, Shane Abbess’ Infini, David Parker’s The Menkoff Method, Matt Zeremes and Guy Edmonds’ Super Awesome!, Josh Lawson’s The Little Death, Stephen Lance's My Mistress, Kasimir Burgess’ Fell, Sarah Spillane’s Around the Block and Craig Monahan’s Healing.








Release Date




The Great Gatsby

 May 30




The Railway Man

December 26




March 14



Tim Winton’s The Turning

September 26




Return to Nim’s Island

April 4





May 2




Satellite Boy

June 20





The Rocket

August  29



Red Obsession

August 15




Mystery Road

October 17




Save Your Legs!

February 28



Backyard Ashes

November 6




November 21




Lygon Street: Si Parla Italiano

November 14



Mary Meets Mohammad*

May 2



In Bob We Trust

October 17




March 7



Uncharted  Waters


November 15



Circle of Lies*

August 22



Absolute* Deception

August 29



Lasseter’s Bones

October 31



The 25th Reich*

June 21



100 Bloody Acres

August 1



The Darkside

November 28




October 17




October 31



              Figures through January 1, 2014

            Source:  Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia

                  *Producer’s figure

Join the Conversation


  1. I agree with Geoff Gardner’s assessment of Dr Ruth Harley’s tenure, a disaster! It surprises me however that more has not been said of this, but I suspect that largely lays in the fact that those who might criticise still hold out a hope of receiving support from Screen Australia in the future and don’t want to be tarnished by any of their criticism sticking to them when it comes to applications for funding down the road.

    The first and most telling problem of course was the complete abandonment of the mid budget films, who Harley was quick to jettison under the alse assumption that only higher budgeted local films could compete with Hollywood. We cannot compete with Hollywood in budget terms and never should have, we should have focused on mid budget films and served local audiences.

    The second problem has been the assumption that market forces will sort out the distribution inequities in this country, but again they never will. If we do not support local distribution and exhibition initiatives then local films will never break through on our big screens, the costs and risks are too high for foreign distribs with a pipeline of high budget films to service.

    And finally the destruction of the 10BA scheme and it’s replacement has also been a mixed blessing. To support low budget and independent films this scheme was invaluable and should be replaced.

    As should a replacement for Dr Harley.

    Ron Brown

  2. Take out The Great Gatsby and our take at the box office for the other 25 films is a measly 1.2%, with the bottom 20 films taking only $4M between them. Something has to be done, but it’s well known that film administration is a closed shop, never to be criticised, even when the approach is horribly wrong.

  3. Any Aust film with a budget of under 2mil, that makes anything over 250k is a success in this over drenched market with commercial and genre crap flooding from the U.S.

    Remember, we’re here to support OUR culture, OUR stories WITH OUR multicultural diversity and people.

    Which in turn places us uniquely in the world of art and cinema.

    Keep our film industry alive.

  4. Only three female feature directors for 2013/14 releases mentioned. Seriously? Even with Jenny Kents’ Sundance hit The Babadook included this figure looks lopsided!

  5. There’s a simple answer there. No where near as many women as men want to direct. It’s not a 50-50 split. More like a 90-10 split.

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