Future of Tomorrow, When the War Began sequel to be decided at Cannes

The future of the sequel to last year’s highest grossing local film, Tomorrow, When the War Began, will be decided over the week at the Cannes International Film Festival.

Omnilab Media managing director Christopher Mapp told IF magazine that it remained committed to the franchise despite disappointing overseas box office results. Both the format of the sequel and the involvement of writer-director Stuart Beattie (who is set to helm US film I, Frankenstein later this year) have yet to be decided.

“We’re still absolutely keen to see some form of the franchise existing and that will definitely happen,” Mapp said, just before boarding a flight to Cannes this week. “What shape that takes due to a few things, like Stuart Beattie moving on, is not locked in stone so there will be a number of discussions at Cannes over the next ten days, or the next week really, around that.”

The $27 million action-thriller, which was largely funded by media conglomerate Omnilab, grossed an impressive $13.48 million in Australia last year.

However, its overseas results fell flat with the film grossing just $US140,707 on its opening weekend in the United Kingdom across 205 theatres, according to Box Office Mojo.

“The word-of-mouth wasn’t quick enough to lift the box office in all the foreign territories and you know the results – they weren’t good enough,” Mapp said.

Despite Omnilab’s offer to subsidise the North American cost of prints and advertising (P&A) last year, the film has still not been released in the US. At the time, even Academy Award-winning Australian director Peter Weir endured months of difficulties finding US distribution for his epic drama The Way Back as the market remained particularly risk-averse.

Tomorrow will probably now have a limited North American theatrical release aimed at driving home entertainment and DVD sales, Mapp said.

“It’s one of those films that got very close – everyone loved the film but it’s a challenge to get people to see it in the foreign territories,” he said.

“No-one will ever know but I still say if it had gone out wide, it had a chance in English speaking territories, but it needed to go out really hard with the marketing. In the UK they gave it a decent shot through Paramount and it didn’t find the audience. Now if they had gone a bit harder with the audience would they have a better chance of finding it? We’ll never know.

“But everyone is baffled by the result out of the UK – there’s obviously a number of things with the weather but that’s not enough to give it that excuse.”

In contrast, Omnilab has already secured a major distributor, Open Road Films, for its upcoming action-thriller Killer Elite. It will be distributed across more than 2000 theatres and, in a departure from Omnilab’s previous strategy, it will not put up any of the $25 million in P&A costs for North American distribution.

Tomorrow is not alone in its struggle to find an offshore audience – the highest grossing film of 2009, Mao’s Last Dancer, also posted subdued business overseas.

The $25 million dance epic grossed more than $15.4 million in 2009 and more than $US4.8 million in the US. It also topped Australian DVD sales in 2010, selling more than 100,000 copies. Screen Australia recently revealed that it had received $352,403 back from its initial $4 million investment. It has not received a return from its $3.5 million investment in Tomorrow.