Australian films BO September scorecard: ‘Ride Like a Girl’ leads the field

‘Ride Like a Girl’.

Rachel Griffiths’ Ride Like a Girl will take the crown of highest grossing Australian film on home soil this year.

Meanwhile the low visibility and modest returns from limited releases including Kim Farrant’s Angel of Mine, Sophie Hyde’s Animals and Rodd Rathjen’s Buoyancy have prompted renewed calls from exhibitors to address the challenges facing most Aussie films in the crowded theatrical market.

Griffiths’ biopic starring Teresa Palmer as ground-breaking jockey Michelle Payne pocketed nearly $4 million in its first eight days, including $317,000 on Thursday.

So the Transmission Films release co-starring Sam Neill as Payne’s father Paddy and her brother Stevie Payne as himself will overtake Palm Beach’s $4.4 million this weekend and will zoom past Top End Wedding’s $5.2 million and Storm Boy’s $5 million.

Exhibitors are confident the film is heading for upwards of $10 million and could reach Ladies in Black’s $12 million.

The Aussie films and feature docs released this year plus holdovers racked up $29.2 million through the end of September, according to the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia (MPDAA).

That’s way below the $47.8 million generated in the same period last year, led by Peter Rabbit’s $26.6 million, Ladies in Black, Breath’s $4.6 million and Sweet Country’s $2 million.

Kriv Stenders’ Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan found appreciative audiences despite its head-to-head clash with Rachel Ward’s Palm Beach, collecting $2.9 million.

Daniel Gordon’s The Australian Dream kicked along to $1.06 million while Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale has mustered $484,000 despite the tough subject.

Cinema Nova GM Kristian Connelly observes: “While the success of Ride Like A Girl, Palm Beach and similarly broad appeal films are all positive in myriad of ways, for the larger Australian feature film ecosystem to function we need to see greater audience engagement with lower-budget and niche appeal films.

“It’s fair to suggest that if these smaller titles were to bypass theatrical and debut on streaming platforms they could struggle to be found among the plethora of content, which calls into question the remit of funding agencies – surely if features are being supported by taxpayers, taxpayers need to be given reasonable access to the content.

“Personally, I feel that films with genuine appeal could be lost within the digital space and audiences simply don’t know they exist or need to have subscribed to a seemingly endless array of streamers to have reasonable access to the content.

“I acknowledge that there are some innovative approaches to cinema releases being undertaken of late. But to date it is unclear whether these newer strategies are achieving a better result than a traditional theatrical release, however large.

“While every feature has its own list of factors that impact the local release date (awards, a distributor’s slate, US hold backs), the larger industry would undoubtedly benefit from local titles being more evenly spread throughout the year.

“It’s my hope that screen agencies, distribution, exhibition and filmmakers can work together to actively create films that have a genuine opportunity to connect with audiences, whether on a wide or niche basis.

“Australians consistently surprise us with their enthusiasm for local features, so the ‘want-to-see’ is undoubtedly there. The time for new thinking is now, but whose thinking will be successfully applied remains to be seen.”

Wallis Cinemas programming manager Sasha Close says: “The more limited releases in August and September struggled to find audiences outside the art house and upmarket complexes.

“This is a real and very present challenge for our industry: to promote and publicise diverse, worthy and often critically acclaimed content and connect with audiences. I certainly want to see these types of films releasing in cinemas and finding audiences.”

Majestic Cinemas CEO Kieren Dell rates 2019 thus far as an an average year for Aussie films, noting Ride Like a Girl is resonating strongly with families and older audiences and should have good legs.

Dell adds: “The limited releases didn’t register with us. We took Angel of Mine at minimal sessions at a couple of sites and The Nightingale on sub release at one site, which did OK but not great as it is a bit tough for regional audiences.”

To view the scorecard go here.