Rafferty Grierson and Damian Callinan in ‘The Merger.’

Glowing reviews and copious publicity for Mark Grentell’s The Merger and Jeremy Sims’ feature documentary Wayne counted for very little as both titles had mediocre openings last weekend.

That surprised and disappointed exhibitors as the business was heavily reliant on the buoyant second weekend of Crazy Rich Asians and a feisty debut by The Nun, a spin-off of The Conjuring franchise.

McQueen, the biopic of the brilliant but tortured British fashion designer Alexander McQueen, had a middling opening. Underlining the challenges facing the ailing art-house market, You Were Never Really Here, Juliet, Naked and The Miseducation of Cameron Post bombed. Clearly each relied on festival screenings as the main revenue source.

Umbrella Entertainment launched The Merger, the warm-hearted comedy-drama about a struggling, small town football team that recruits refugees to survive, on 80 screens, generating $93,000. The total including festival screenings for the film based on Damian Callinan’s stage show, which stars Callinan, John Howard, Kate Mulvany and Raffery Grierson, is a rather more respectable $186,000.

Released by Transmission Films, Wayne, the profile of Wayne Gardner, the ‘larrikin kid’ from Wollongong who became a Grand Prix motorcycle road racer, took $31,000 on 104 screens and $49,000 with previews, excluding the MIFF screenings.

“It was disappointing to see The Merger and Wayne struggle to open, given the positive reviews and awareness on both,” Wallis Cinemas programming manager Sasha Close tells IF. “I’m unsure why The Merger didn’t open better.”

Takings for the top 20 titles totalled $12.3 million, down 5 per cent on the previous weekend according to Numero. Jon M Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians rang up $4.08 million, slipping by 22 per cent, as it advanced to $13.3 million. The Warner Bros. rom-com starring Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Ronny Chieng and Remy Hii has pocketed a lucrative $136.2 million after its fourth weekend in the US.

Directed by Corin Hardy and produced by James Wan and Peter Safran, The Nun nabbed $53.8 million in the US, a record for the franchise. The supernatural horror movie about a priest with a haunted past and a novitiate on the threshold of her final vows who are sent by the Vatican to investigate an abbey in Romania, which stars Demian Bichir and Taissa Farmiga, conjured up $3.7 million in Oz for WB/Roadshow, also a franchise record.

Mature folks keep coming to Bill Holderman’s Book Club, which eased by 24 per cent to $795,000 in its third weekend, grossing nearly $5 million for Transmission.

The Warner Bros./Chinese co-production The Meg continues to outperform all expectations, advancing to $9.3 million after taking $699,000 in its fourth frame. The prehistoric shark thriller directed by Jon Turteltaub has raked in $492 million worldwide.

After a lacklustre opening Peter Berg’s crime thriller Mile 22 collapsed by 52 per cent, taking $561,000 and $2.1 million thus far for Roadshow.

Paramount Pictures/Skydance’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout reached $18.7 million after making $494,000 in its sixth weekend. The action adventure has collared $212.1 million in the US and $514.5 million internationally for a global haul of $726.6 million.

Spike Lee’s political satire BlacKkKlasnman collected $282,000 in its fourth outing, banking $3.4 million for Universal, a fine result compared with the US total of $43.5 million.

Universal’s crowd-pleaser Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again climbed to $22.2 million after pocketing $146,000 in its eighth chapter. Pro-rata, that eclipsed the US total of $119.1 million. The worldwide haul is a lucrative $376.4 million.

French director Sylvain White’s horror movie Slender Man is on its last legs after scraping up $122,000 in its third frame and $1.7 million for Sony.

Brian Henson’s crude comedy The Happytime Murders is also heading for the exit after the $105,000 third weekend tally brought the total to a meagre $1.38 million for Roadshow.

Co-directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui, McQueen carved out $72,000 on 18 screens and $128,000 including previews for Madman Entertainment.

Lynne Ramsey’s You Were Never Really Here, which stars Joaquin Phoenix as a war veteran and ex-FBI agent turned hit man, nailed $45,000 including previews on 19 screens and $120,000 with festival screenings for Umbrella.

Based on the novel by Nick Hornby and directed by Jesse Peretz, Juliet, Naked follows Rose Byrne as a woman stuck in a long-term relationship with an obsessive fan (Chris O’Dowd) of an obscure rock musician (Ethan Hawke), who strikes up a relationship with the aging rocker. Sounds OK but the Roadshow release garnered $25,000 on seven screens and $64,000 including advance screenings and festivals.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, director Desiree Akhavan’s second feature won the Sundance grand jury prize. However the drama starring Chloë Grace Moretz as an orphaned teenager who is sent by her guardians to a Christian camp called God’s Promise, which specializes in gay conversion therapy, fetched $14,000 on 10 screens including previews and $83,000 with fest contributions for Rialto.

Cinema Nova general manager Kristian Connelly observes: “Due to the plethora of buzzy must-see releases already in the market – including Crazy Rich Asians, Three Identical Strangers and BlacKkKlansman – Nova’s new releases had their work cut out for them, resulting in respectable if not stellar starts for McQueen, Juliet, Naked, You Were Never Really Here and The Merger at our theatre. All appeal to similar markets to the aforementioned hits so word of mouth will need to be strong as even more upscale titles hit the market this Thursday.

“It really has been a case of famine to feast with so many upscale titles hitting the market over the past fortnight. The uptick in box office is certainly welcome but distributors may wish to revisit whether waiting until after a festival premiere, only to see the title cannibalised in a far more congested marketplace, is in the best interests of a film and the broader industry.”

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