‘Ride Like A Girl’. 

Transmission Films’ Ride Like a Girl, the directorial debut from Rachel Griffiths, has surpassed expectations, topping the Australian box office on its opening weekend.

The biopic covering the rise of Australian female jockey Michelle Payne opened at first place on Thursday and after an opening weekend performance across 269 screens, is hurtling towards becoming the highest grossing Australian film of the year.

According to the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australian (MPDAA) the weekend takings were $1.7 million, with a cumulative total of $2.4 million.

The feature produced by Richard Keddie (Oddball, Hawke, Little Fish) stars Teresa Palmer as Payne, Sam Neill as her father Paddy, while brother Stevie Payne plays himself.

Transmission Films MD Andrew Mackie tells IF the opening result exceeded the distributor’s already high expectations.

“The audience knows what they want. This is an authentic, heartfelt true story, and the audience seems to have recognised that,” he says.

“One of the reasons the film has bolted out of the gate is that approximately 80,000 people saw the pre-release at various previews and the positive word-of-mouth has helped drive day one demand.”

The launch campaign for the film was the biggest for Transmission since Lion. A key strategy was to preview the film ahead of release to stoke word of mouth before opening day.

The opening weekend audience was approximately two thirds female across a wide age range, Mackie reports. However, he adds that men, particularly at the younger end of the spectrum, are rating it even higher in exit polling than females.

Keddie attributes the “happy start” to the level of research and testing ahead of launch. “We were very clear about the film we were making and knew where to put it and sit it as a story.”

He adds that the current climate is ripe for moving, inspirational experience, and one that is a classic true Australian story.

“The world is a bit sad at the moment and in need of some good news and inspiration. Paddy is a genuine Aussie hero, raising ten children alone and his story along with Michelle’s was bag of riches to work with. No one knows the depth of what she has achieved to get there. It was an incredible privilege to tell this story,” he says.

“Movies are the last independent voice out there. I don’t understand why we can’t celebrate the human spirit and amazing people doing amazing things more. We should be reflecting what we have in common rather than what divides us. And I link this to box office results – you analyse the most successful Australian films over the last 50 years, they have similar themes, people want to see inspiring films.”

Overall the top 20 titles brought in just under $11.7 million, down 2 per cent on last week, according to the MPDAA.

Ride Like a Girl toppled Downton Abbey, which after a two-week reign fell to second place with takings of $1.4 million. The period drama has has taken $9.6 million date in Oz, and has now reached the $US100 million mark internationally across 36 markets.

Fox’s Ad Astra dropped to third position with earnings of $1.2 million. The Brad Pitt sci-fi has taken $3.9 million after two weeks, and US$89 million worldwide.

Universal/Dreamworks’ Abominable crept up from seventh place to fourth in its second week of release, increasing weekend takings by 30 per cent to $1.2 million. The co-production with China’s Pearl Studios was written and directed by Jill Culton, who represents the first female to independently make an animated film for a major studio, and has made just under $3 million in Australia.

Angry Birds 2 also had a boost in its third week, with its $1.1 million takings up 19 per cent on last week. Its cume is $4.6 million for Sony.

Universal’s Seth Rogen-produced teen rom-com Good Boys dropped to the sixth slot this week, ringing up $967,974, and bringing overall takings to $3.3 million.

Meanwhile, Paramount’s live-action feature Dora and the Lost City of Gold moved up a notch to seventh place in its second week, collecting $839,373 in this round and $2.6 million to date.

The horror genre continues to attract mass appeal with US and Canadian co-pro horror film, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, debuting at number eight across 209 screens just ahead of IT: Chapter 2, which was knocked down from third place. The sequel has made $14.5 million in four weeks.

Rambo: Last Blood seems to have run out of muster dropping from fifth to tenth spot, earning $1.9 million in two weeks.

In other Australian feature releases, Umbrella Entertainment’s Buoyancy was launched across eight screens reaping $9,747 over the weekend. Meanwhile Jennifer Kent thriller The Nightingale has made $484,115 after five weeks, and Sophie Hyde’s Animals $81,293 after three weeks.

“Between Ride Like A Girl, Palm Beach and Danger Close, and the critical response to The Nightingale and docs like Australian Dream, one would have to say that the health barometer of the current Aussie feature film sector was very good,” Mackie said.


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