Australian films’ April BO scorecard: Quiet start but bright prospects

‘Top End Wedding’.

It’s been a quiet start for the year for Australian films at the national box office, particularly compared to last year when Peter Rabbit and Sweet Country were drawing crowds.

However exhibitors are very optimistic about the outlook for the rest of the year, including Wayne Blair’s Top End Wedding which opened yesterday, Rachel Ward’s Palm Beach and Kriv Stenders’ Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan (both August 8) and Rachel Griffiths’ Ride Like a Girl (September 26).

Ten new releases plus holdovers collectively racked up $9.06 million through April 30, according to the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia.

That’s way below the first four months of 2018, which generated $32 million, with Will Gluck’s Peter Rabbit making $25.4 million en route to a final total of $26.7 million and Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country $2 million.

Shawn Seet’s Storm Boy pocketed nearly $5 million, not a bad result, but the re-imagining of Henri Safran’s family film almost certainly would have earned more if the distributor Sony Pictures had been able to use Geoffrey Rush in the publicity campaign.

Storm Boy did not reach its box office potential due to the Rush court case,” Wallis Cinemas programming manager Sasha Close tells IF.

Similarly, Majestic Cinemas CEO Kieren Dell observes: “The Rush absence in the publicity was definitely a factor, as we had booked it on the hope that his name would carry it somewhat. It ended up playing older, with most families and school aged children uninterested, which is a shame as we need our kids to be seeing Oz movies.”

Anthony Maras’ Hotel Mumbai collected $3.2 million, never recovering from opening on the same weekend as the Christchurch massacre, despite its gripping narrative, superb performances and generally positive reviews.

However the thriller has resonated far better in the US, grossing $US9.36 million for Bleecker Street/ShivHans Pictures.

“The terrorist attack in Christchurch effectively made Hotel Mumbai the wrong film at the wrong time,” Cinema Nova general manager Kristian Connelly tells IF.

Nonetheless Connelly was pleased to see takings for the film starring Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi and Tilda Cobham-Hervey at his cinema were significantly higher in weeks six and seven than weeks four and five, proving its playability.

“While the film won’t achieve the anticipated lifetime result at our venue, its final number is far better than what might have been anticipated immediately following events in New Zealand,” he says.

There were modest contributions from limited releases of Louise Alston’s Back of the Net (although producer Steve Jaggi will soon announce a distribution deal with a US major, a big boost for investors), David Barker’s Pimped, David Field’s The Combination Redemption and Nicholas Wrathall’s feature doc Undermined: Tales From The Kimberley.

Ben Hackworth’s Celeste took $12,000 in its first week on six screens and $24,000 including paid previews but has screened at more than a dozen international festivals, been sold to China, HBO Central Europe and 15 countries in Eastern Europe, and a North American deal is in negotiation.

“The scorecard for Australian films this year to date has been mixed but the remainder of the year looks extremely good,” says Close.

Dell has high hopes for the Michelle Payne biopic Ride Like a Girl, observing: “Australians love their hero stories and the combination of horse-racing and Rachel Griffiths as the spring racing season starts should make the film an absolute winner.”

‘Palm Beach.’

He rates Palm Beach as a good, well-acted drama with a great cast (Bryan Brown, Sam Neill, Greta Scacchi, Richard E Grant, Jacqueline McKenzie) that will appeal to the older generation. “The August date is a good one so it should get wide play and I think it will be moderately successful with a chance of breaking out.”

Thomas M Wright’s Acute Misfortune and Alex Lykos’ Me and My Left Brain open on May 16 and Damon Gameau’s 2020 on May 23. Grant Sputore’s I Am Mother is dated for July 18 and Daniel Gordon’s Adam Goodes: The Australian Dream for August 22.

Among the titles awaiting release dates are Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale, Sophie Hyde’s Animals, Abe Forsythe’s Little Monsters, Richard Lowenstein’s Mystify: Michael Hutchence and the Roache-Turner brothers’ Nekrotronic.

Gregor Jordan’s Dirt Music, Justin Kurzel’s True History of the Kelly Gang, Jeremy Sims’ Rams, Tony Tilse’s Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears, Stephen Johnson’s High Ground and Unjoo Moon’s I Am Woman all have appealing commercial elements.

There is plenty of potential too among a raft of other films including John Sheedy’s H is for Happiness, Maziar Lahooti’s Below, Natalie Erika James’ Relic, Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth, Seth Larney’s 2067, JJ Winlove’s June Again, Justin Dix’s Blood Vessel and Dean Murphy’s The Very Excellent Mr Dundee.

Surveying the line-up, Connelly says: “The potentially broad appeal of Palm Beach and Danger Close should see them attract the traditionally older audience that supports Australian dramas while Top End Wedding and Ride Like A Girl will be looking to tap into a younger female demographic that has occasionally proven to be a harder cohort to entice.

“While appearing to be an American feature on the surface with a supporting performance by Hillary Swank, I Am Mother will more likely appeal to an upscale, sophisticated crowd with its post-apocalyptic tale of a young girl raised by a robot carer.

“Niche but apparent audiences should propel Mystify: Michael Hutchence and The Australian Dream: Adam Goodes to solid grosses while Damon Gameau’s 2040 has the potential to break-out in a similar fashion to his previous hit That Sugar Film.”

View the scorecard here.