‘In Like Flynn.’

Universal’s First Man has an Academy Award-winning director in La La Land’s Damien Chazelle, an Oscar-lauded writer in Spotlight’s Josh Singer and stars two-time Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling.

But that combination did not catapult the Neil Armstrong biopic to great heights in Australia, the US or 20 other markets last weekend.

Meanwhile Sony’s Venom easily retained the top spot while Fox’s Bad Times at the El Royale opened better here than in the US, which isn’t saying much, and Umbrella Entertainment’s Errol Flynn biopic In Like Flynn flopped.

Directed by Russell Mulcahy and starring Thomas Cocquerel as the Tasmanian-born Flynn alongside Corey Large, William Moseley, Clive Standen, Callan Mulvey, Isabel Lucas and David Wenham, the action-adventure took just $22,000 from limited sessions on 69 screens and $38,000 including previews.

The MA15+ rating caused by the violent opening sequence in Papua New Guinea, which is at odds with the rollicking, boys-own tone of the rest of the film, and mostly dire reviews apart from one rave in The Guardian almost certainly deterred some moviegoers. Minimal publicity and advertising meant it had little visibility.

Among the new niche releases, Telugu action-drama Aravindha Sametha Veera Raghava had a muscular debut while Palestinian drama Wajib – The Wedding Invitation had few takers.

The top 20 titles collected $15.8 million, down 36 per cent on the previous weekend as the school vacation ended in some states, according to Numero.

Directed by Zombieland’s Ruben Fleischer, Venom scored $4.1 million despite tumbling by 56 per cent in its second weekend, hoisting the total to almost $16 million. The worldwide haul soared to $378.1 million: $142.8 million in the US with international generating $235.3 million, ranking at No. 1 in 54 markets and tracking ahead of Ant-Man and the Wasp (+32 per cent) and Doctor Strange (+12 per cent).

Starring Ryan Gosling as Armstrong, Claire Foy as Armstrong’s first wife, Jason Clarke as Ed White and Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin, First Man fetched $2.36 million including previews. Pro-rata, that was better than the US launch of $16 million, which was at least $5 million short of most pundits’ expectations.

The controversy over the omission of a scene showing the planting of the American flag on the lunar surface and Canadian Gosling’s remarks at the Venice Film Festival – “I don’t think that Neil viewed himself as an American hero. From my interviews with his family and people that knew him, it was quite the opposite” – may have been a factor.

Just as likely is the fact that this is an adult-skewing, original drama with a running time of 2 hours and 21 minutes, the kind of film which cinemagoers don’t rush out to see on the first weekend.

Wallis Cinemas’ Bob Parr tells IF: “First Man is very disappointing but the word-of-mouth is excellent. Hopefully it will connect with the older generation who are not spontaneous.”

Similarly, Majestic Cinemas CEO Kieren Dell reckons the film is “playing more like a quality movie so I think it will be a slower burner rather than a blockbuster release and should get good word-of-mouth.”

One of the school holiday’s biggest hits, Warner Bros’ animated comedy Smallfoot hit $12 million after banking $1.4 million in its fourth weekend, eclipsing the US where it’s collected $57.6 million.

Screenwriter Drew Goddard, whose credits include The Martian, Lost and Cloverfield, made his directing debut with the self-knowing horror movie The Cabin in the Woods. So Fox had high hopes for his Bad Times at the El Royale, a thriller about seven strangers whose paths cross at a seedy hotel on the border of California and Nevada.

Despite a star cast led by Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Chris Hemsworth, Cailee Spaeny, Dakota Johnson and Jon Hamm, the film mustered $1.2 million here and a lousy $7.1 million in the US. Parr blames the lack of buzz while Dell points to the MA15+ rating but says it is appealing to discerning audiences.

Universal’s Johnny English Strikes Again bagged $1 million in its fourth outing to reach $12.1 million, within spitting distance of the $12.5 million lifetime total of Johnny English: Reborn. The spy adventure comedy starring Rowan Atkinson, Ben Miller, Olga Kurylenko and Emma Thompson, which opens in the US on October 26, has pocketed $82.1 million internationally, overtaking Bad Moms and Daddy’s Home 2.

Sporting great legs, Bruce Beresford’s Ladies in Black eased by 34 per cent to $913,000 in its fourth weekend. The Sony release starring Julia Ormond, Angourie Rice, Rachael Taylor, Ryan Corr, Alison McGirr, Noni Hazlehurst and Vincent Perez has grossed an impressive $9.27 million.

Eli Roth’s dark fantasy The House with a Clock in Its Walls climbed to $6.5 million after taking $685,000 in its fourth frame for eOne.

Disney’s Christopher Robin is struggling to get to $100 million in the US and has not really taken off here, making $624,000 in its fifth weekend and $8.8 million thus far.

Malcolm D. Lee’s comedy Night School has generated a decent $5 million for Universal after ringing up $602,000 in its third weekend.

As an alternate content release Paramount’s animated comedy Paw Patrol: Mighty Pups is doing OK at $1.8 million after fetching $490,000 in its second outing.

Directed by Tri Vikram Srinivas, Aravindha Sametha Veera Raghava, the saga of the young scion of a powerful family with a long history of violence who decides to put an end to the bloodshed, captured $284,000 on 37 screens for Tolly Movies.

Released by Potential Films, writer-director Annemarie Jacir’s Wajib – The Wedding Invitation, which follows a father and his estranged son who must come together to hand deliver his daughter’s wedding invitations to each guest, earned $17,000 on seven screens and $73,000 including festival screenings.

Cinema Nova’s Kristian Connelly observes: “A burst of summer weather crueled the Melbourne launch of this weekend’s new releases while the conclusion of school holidays in other states caused the national marketplace to slow. With no shortage of releases hitting screens in the coming months, audiences are assured of a wide range of moviegoing options but for distributors it will be a case of survival of the fittest.”

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  1. FIRST MAN is suffering because you walk out uninspired and disappointed. Flag or not. The writer’s epic work on SPOTLIGHT was all emotion and drama-based and there is zero drama and emotion in FIRST MAN for what is arguably the greatest achievement of mankind (although the technical wizardry can’t be overlooked). If they had closed with the magic of the crowds that existed solely to watch the events as I did as a teen in ’69 it would / could have rescued the 2.5 hours plodding and sent people home on a high. Big miss. Top director. Top writer. Top talent. Average film at best.

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