'The Dry'.

In the three years before the pandemic, Australian films contributed less than 5 per cent of the total national box office per year.

The same held mostly true in 2020, where local features captured only a 6 per cent market share.

But 2021 has not been a typical year. According to Numero, to date, at a total of $71.4 million (excluding holdovers), Australian films have contributed 16 per cent of the national box office.

Now, that market share will likely shrink somewhat before year end, with the theatrical market starting to recover post-lockdown and splashy films such as Dune, Encanto, Spider Man: No Way Home and The Matrix Resurrections entering the market.

However, the current figures still speak to just how much Australian films like Peter Rabbit 2, The Dry, Penguin Bloom and High Ground helped exhibitors during the difficult first half of the year when there was little Hollywood product.

It also speaks to the breathing room Australian films received then, when many films were allowed more screens and more time to build word-of-mouth and momentum. All of top 10 highest grossing local films of the year opened on more than 100 screens.

Distributors and exhibitors also threw significant weight behind those releases with regards to marketing and promotion, as did Screen Australia via its Our Summer of Cinema campaign.

Box office for Australian filmsShare (%)
2016$24.1 million1.9%
2017$49.4 million4.1%
2018$56.2 million4.5%
2019$40.2 million3.3%
2020$22.6 million5.6%
2021$71.4 million (as of Dec 1)16% (as of Dec 1)
The box office share of Australian films over the past six years.

As IF has already reported, this is the second highest grossing year for Australian film on record (not adjusting for inflation). The highest was 2015, when ticket sales tallied $88 million, spurred on Mad Max: Fury Road, The DressmakerOddballThe Water DivinerPaper Planes and Last Cab To Darwin.

Indeed, if the country had not faced extended lockdowns in NSW, the ACT and Victoria – leading to larger local films like Roadshow’s The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson moving to 2022 – that 2015 record may have been surpassed.

Cinema Nova CEO Kristian Connelly reflects that 2021 offered Australian film a rare opportunity to gauge true audience interest, without “the distraction of an endless parade of American blockbusters.”

“Seeing the remarkable success of The Dry, Penguin Bloom, High Ground, June Again and many more releases reveals a genuine interest in Australian stories, which reinforces the appeal of seeing ourselves on the big screen,” he says.

Prior to the release of the latest Bond instalment No Time To Die a few weeks ago, The Dry was the top grossing title of the pandemic at Sydney’s Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace, and its most successful Aussie film in years.

“The big takeaway for us though was that the successes of the film was due to how extremely good it was and because it had mainstream audience appeal. People weren’t turning out to see it because it was locally made but because it looked and sounded like a film they wanted to see, was based on a best seller and had a well known star in the lead. It ticked a lot of boxes,” general manager Alex Temesvari tells IF.

Penguin Bloom and High Ground also had appeal to bigger audiences than usual again thanks in part to little competition from Hollywood product at time of release.

“There is certainly a case to be made for producing and nurturing more high quality local content that actually appeals to mainstream audiences as opposed to just cinephiles and giving them the best shot at finding an audience in cinemas.”

Notably, almost all of the $71.4 million to date was amassed by titles released in the first half of the year, prior to the Delta outbreak. It is also worth noting that only six titles crossed the $1 million mark.

Since June 1, 23 new Australian films entered the market, totalling just $1.9 million. Most of that was taken by Transmission’s Buckley’s Chance, which grossed $925,233, Madma’s Nitram, which made $467,441 and Mushroom’s 20th anniversary re-release of Chopper, at $100,148.

Not included in this is Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, which is an Australian-New Zealand co-production, with See-Saw Films among the production companies. While the film was distributed theatrically by Transmission Films, no box office was publicly reported ahead of its release on Netflix yesterday.

Of course, all films that have released in the second half of the year have faced a disrupted market, given COVID lockdowns in the country’s largest theatrical markets.

Some films, like Umbrella’s Streamline, which opened September 2, had a short, limited release into states that were open before moving onto Stan. Sharmill Films documentary Palazzo di Cozzo released nationally September 16, but only opened in its native Melbourne last weekend.

The highest grossing Australian film of the year is UK co-production Peter Rabbit 2, which finished just shy of $22 million for Sony, closely followed by The Dry, which ended on $20.7 million for Roadshow. Both films rank among the top 15 highest grossing Australian films of all time.

Warner Bros.‘ Mortal Kombat came in at third, amassing $9.3 million. While some may not regard Mortal Kombat as an ‘Australian film’, it qualified for the Producer Offset, was shot in Adelaide, and was directed and produced by Australians Simon McQuoid and James Wan respectively.

Penguin Bloom finished on $7.5 million, and High Ground on $3 million.

The highest grossing feature documentaries of the year were Madman’s Girls Can’t Surf, which earned $619,475, followed by ABCG Films’ My Name Is Gulpilil, which gathered $421,641.

Moving into 2022, the key challenge for Australian films that intend a theatrical release is securing enough screens and marketing support to find an audience. With feature-length work for streaming platforms now eligible for a 30 per cent Producer Offset, some filmmakers may choose to bypass cinemas. This will no doubt continue to be a key conversation into the year ahead, including at the next stage of the Australian Feature Film Summit spearheaded by Sue Maslin, Gino Munari and others.

Aussie films dated for next year include Madman’s Shane (January 6), Gold (January 13) Blind Ambition (March 3), River (March 24) and How To Please A Woman (May 26), Studiocanal’s Wyrmwood: Apocalypse (February 10), Dark Matter Distribution’s Loveland (February 10), Paramount/Umbrella’s Falling for Figaro (February 24), Radioactive Pictures’ Ruby’s Choice (February 24), Roadshow’s The Drover’s Wife the Legend of Molly Johnson (May 5) and Warner Bros’ Elvis, from Baz Luhrmann (June 23).

Other titles expected for release next year are Robert Connolly’s Blueback, Gracie Otto’s Seriously Red and George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing, all Roadshow, Bonsai Films’ Blaze, starring Yael Stone and Simon Baker, Madman’s Bosch & Rockit and Nude Tuesday, and CinemaPlus’ Sweet As.

View the full scorecard below:

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