Australian films BO scorecard 2017: Graeme Mason urges a realistic view on market share


Australian films and feature documentaries raked in theatrical revenues of $49.4 million in calendar 2017, a market share of 4.1 per cent.

That’s a significant improvement over the dismal 2016 total of $24.1 million (accounting for just 1.9 per cent of the market), although Garth Davis’ Lion generated more than half of the tally, amassing $29.5 million.

Last year’s share is precisely in line with the 10-year average. There were 55 Aussie releases in a crowded theatrical marketplace which saw a record 696 titles vying for screens and eyeballs: an average of 13 per week.

Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason believes a 4-5 per cent share for Australian films realistically is the best the industry can expect, given the major distributors and Roadshow control about 85 per cent of the market.

“Every single Australian, British, European, Indian and Chinese film and the US indie titles are fighting for that 15 per cent,” he said.

According to the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia (MPDAA) only five titles including the calendar year earnings of 2016 release Red Dog: True Blue plus Jasper Jones, Dance Academy and Mountain surpassed $2 million. Ali’s Wedding rang up $1.4 million, the only other film to crack $1 million.

More than 30 failed to reach $100,000, virtually doomed to fail because they went out on a handful of screens with minimal marketing.

Two titles that did break out of the limited release “ghetto” were Ben Young’s Hounds of Love, which went out on seven screens and pocketed $209,000, and Rosie Jones’ feature doc The Family, which opened on six screens and earned $156,000, both distributed by Tait Brady’s Label.

As IF has noted, there is plenty of diversity and marquee talent in the 2018 line-up, which potentially looks more commercial than last year’s crop.

Garth Davis’ Mary Magdalene, Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale, Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country, Simon Baker’s Breath and Anthony Maras’ Hotel Mumbai could well rank among the top grossers.

Bruce Beresford’s Ladies in Black, Abe Forsythe’s Little Monsters, Marion Pilowsky’s The Call Back, Ben Hackworth’s Celeste, Ben Howling and Yolande Ramke’s Cargo, the Spierig brothers’ Winchester, Shawn Seet’s Storm Boy, Stephen Amis’ The BBQ and Partho Sen-Gupta’s Slam are among those that have appealing casts, coming from a mix of first-time and proven directors.

Even so, Mason will be surprised if local films’ 2018 market share exceeds 5 per cent.

“If the independent films are grossing a total of about $150 million per year, where is the extra [earning potential for Australian films] going to come from?,” he asks. “It’s not possible. I think 2 or 3 per cent is a genius result.

”The whole mindset of thinking like we used to think in 2012, let alone before that, is gone. Every English-language territory has the same problem. By this time next year I think that instead of the available 15 per cent [independent market] it could be as low as 12 per cent; it is unstoppable.

”That means producers have to be doing much better deals, looking more to offshore and thinking about how films sell. If you sell a film to Portugal for $10,000, for example, and you structure your deal right with the producer offset the producer gets $5,000. That’s how it can work. It doesn’t have to be net profits, which are a myth, like a unicorn.”

View the full scorecard here.