When two Australian films open on the same weekend after getting mostly positive reviews at MIFF and generate copious publicity for the stars and filmmakers, the industry might have expected both to post solid opening figures.

Yet there were modest debuts for the Spierig brothers’ Predestination and Matthew Saville’s Felony, reigniting the debate about how hard it can be for Australian films to cut through with mainstream audiences.

The Spierig’s time-travelling thriller featuring Ethan Hawke, Noah Taylor and a knock-out performance from Sarah Snook, rang up $202,000 on 49 screens plus about 4 grand in previews, released by Pinnacle Films.

Saville’s psychological thriller starring Joel Edgerton, Tom Wilkinson and Jai Courtney made $185,000 on 47 and $197,000 with sneaks, handled by Roadshow.

The per-screen averages for both are far better than The Rover (which debuted with $143,000 on 41 screens) and These Final Hours ($207,000 on 164).

Tim McGahan, who produced Predestination with Paddy McDonald and the Spierigs, put a positive spin on the opening. “We had an amazing run of press,” McGahan told IF. “We’re pretty happy with the opening which exceeded our realistic expectations. The buzz we are getting from the screenings is that those who saw the film loved it. We’ve made a film we’re very proud of and we expect it will have a long life.”

Edgerton, who wrote Felony, and his fellow producer Rosemary Bright, gave this statement to IF, “We think it’s very important to draw attention to the positive when discussing Australian films. We don’t believe talking down the results is either helpful or reflective of the true position, given that both films are in limited release.

“Last weekend two quality Australian films were released nationally in cinemas, something to celebrate. The word of mouth on Felony is hugely positive and many of the screens are working very well. We have been inundated with messages via social media from the Australian public who enjoyed the film immensely. We now need the film to retain screens and sessions so that we can take advantage of that positive word of mouth and give time for more audiences to find the film."

Both films have sold to most major markets internationally and are guaranteed a US theatrical release. Sony is the US distributor of Predestination and Gravitas Theatrical is launching Felony in mid-October.

Opinions on how the films were marketed and viewed in an informal IF poll varied widely. Filmmaker Mark Overett said, “Imagine if you didn't watch At the Movies or read reviews or hang out at MIFF. I'm sorry I have seen/heard bugger all publicity or hype for either film out in the real world.

“I think Australians DO want to see Australian films – they simply do not know they're on – and if they do, the films finish their cinema run before they get a chance to get to see them. I would love to have a situation here like in NZ where people go to the cinema to support their local industry and see their own stories. How about an ‘Australian-Made’ campaign promoting a bunch of Aussie films?”

Picture Palace director Michael Brindley ventured, “Here's my guess: a dark morality play and a low key sci-fi gender bender and they're both Australian and there's big budget escapism on offer. Word of mouth is all that matters to the majority of the audience.”

There is a lot of goodwill for both films, typified by producer Sue Maslin, who said, “I saw Predestination on the weekend at Hoyts Northland and LOVED it! Hoping that word of mouth will grow around Sarah Snook's stellar performance, which has 'must see' written all over it.”

Director Kriv Stenders enthused, “Go Matthew Saville, Go Spierigs. What a treat, two awesome Australian movies from three amazing directors in one week.”

However critic/writer Lynden Barber cited numerous factors which he believes are working against Australian cinema including the notion that audiences for local films tend to be oldies who have no interest in sci-fi or crime; young Aussies only shell out to see US corporate spectacle cinema while everything else can be watched at home thanks to torrent sites; and there is too much great TV which is either free or low cost, so who needs the movies which are comparatively expensive?

Producer Tom Broadhurst opined, “Felony struck me as the kind of film I would catch on TV some time. Predestination, I didn't even know it was opening and didn't see much in terms of publicity.”

Former Sydney Film Festival president Virginia Gordon expressed a similar view,  musing, "I wonder whether the trailer for Felony made it look like something you'd wait to see on telly and whether we had seen that story one hundred times before." Gordon was unaware that Predestination had started.

Filmmaker Andrew Vial lauded Predestination as a very good Australian film that looked as if it's set and made somewhere else, and he noted there was good business for both films at the Cremorne Orpheum.

Publicist Di Rolle perhaps spoke for the silent majority when she said, “Despite the publicity neither appeals to me.”

Actor/director Adrian Chino Castro pointed to what he saw as a lack of exposure for both films, asking, “Where are all the TV commercials and the giant ads on billboards? You will be saturated by copious ads and posters all over the place for an American blockbuster like Transformers but you won't see the same for these films. We need the same amount of exposure to bring all kinds of audiences in, not just those over 60.”

Producer Adam Farrington-Williams concurred, observing, "It usually requires quite an expansive marketing campaign nowadays to attract an audience outside of the specialist theatrical market. The Americans do it well, but they have the budget. Everything is an 'event' (read 'blockbuster'). Unfortunately, that's the future of cinema. The studio films will be released with less frequency, but with higher marketing budgets and will attempt (if possible) to provide the audience with something they can't get on their TV via downloads or computer screens via VoD platforms.

"It augurs well that Graeme Mason's Screen Australia is looking to open doors to the US studio system. It's pretty clear that Screen Australia realise this is the best pathway to compete with the US. If you can't beat them, join them. International co-productions are almost the only way forward and Screen Australia has been encouraging this for years now."

Barrister Charles Waterstreet could not resist a legal fraternity joke: “Felony played like misdemeanour.”

Join the Conversation


  1. I’m not saying Felony is a bad movie, but the trailer (yet again) makes it look like a generic Australian morose drama where grumpy people swear at each other. The trailer even shows a scene where a married couple bicker in the kitchen, just to reinforce the assumption by the public that it’s another kitchen sink melodrama. Predestination, on the other hand, looks good, and I’m off to see it tomorrow. I hope it’s better than Looper!

  2. Oh me or my… the same discussion over and over and to me it’s this insanity of local branding. I don’t want to see an ‘Australian’ film. I just want to see a good movie, have an emotional experience that changes me, and I don’t care whether it’s made in Shanghai or Shepperton, Australia, Shepperton Studios or San Francisco.

    Don’t tell people they should buy locally made Aussie jeans if they want Giorgio Armani jeans and people aren’t shopping Prada, Hermes, or Burberry because they are foreign…they buy them for the quality they know is inherent. They know what they want and they want a souvenir of the ‘experience’ of those stores.

    This isn’t the Olympics or Commonwealth Games. It’s not a competition. We (Australians) have made some of the most astonishing films in history and our individuals (actors, directors, Dop’s, editors, etc etc) are amongst the best. But when auds go to see a film with Joel Edgerton (outside Oz) they see a brilliant actor nearing the top of his game who has been in a variety of amazing films and don’t give a f***k that he’s Aussie. I will see Felony because I love everything Joel does and I like crime stories–not because it’s Australian though I automatically support local film and TV and see everything because why wouldn’t we support our own industry? And i’m keen to see the director’s efforts here—not because he’s Australian but because I’ve liked the little bits I’ve seen from him before.

    I saw Predestination at MIFF Opening Night, and if I’d seen it at the cinema and paid $18 I would have said the same thing as paying the tariff for opening night or if I’d seen it on FOXTEL:

    I was drawn in by the trailer, the international ‘look and feel’ and by Ethan Hawke. That’s why I went. The bonus? : Sarah Snook’s performance was astonishing and other than it needed more time in the edit to trim the pathologically slow first 30 mins, when the film finished I left with a big “mission accomplished” smile and fully satisfied. I saw an ambitious film that MOVED me. I didn’t care if it was made in the Gold Coast or wherever.

    So, if you know 97% of the English speaking audience wants Coca Cola, why are you trying to shove Vegemite down their throat?

    Sell every Australian film as a MOVIE, not a local cultural fiesta unless it’s very specifically about something intrinsically Australian that is specifically designed for local auds.

    It’s not always that simplistic and it’s not Math and Science 101 but it works across all experiences of products and services. If a local company here made a smart phone that was equal or competitive to the iPHONE or Samsung or HTC equivs, would it be smart to call it the “Oz Phone” and implore people to ‘buy Australian’? Consumers would run from that like they ran from Fords and Holdens and other locally manufactured products. But if the iPHONE or others were MADE in Australia but offered the global FEEL and EXPERIENCE would more Aussies feel compelled to purchase them? I would suspect so. And it wouldn’t affect international sales pro or con because it was ‘made in Australia’—only based on the QUALITY.

    The difference is always perception. And while the local media is wonderful in supporting ‘local films’ with a view towards trying to get them traction, I think removing the label from the bonnet so to speak, and and letting the lines of the car and performance speak for itself after a test drive would do more for the picture than pasting a green and gold kangaroo all over it.

    Especially when it’s often about stars and budgets. The ‘can’t beat ’em join em’ quote (above) from Graeme Mason is accurate and honest and wherever possible gives the film maker a greater chance, especially when it comes to marketing. It’s all about the marketing, like it or not film makers when it comes to commercial success.

    Good night, and good luck.

  3. One was a script made for a TV cop show. Who, why and how that got funding no will come out and say.

    The other is a sci-fi film. But who watches Aussie sci-fi films seriously when the U.S are masters of it?

    Seriously, where’s the international appeal of these films?

    Aussie films will not take a majority of the audience market here. Get over it.
    Limited release under 30 screens AT THE MOST and let it climb either by word and mouth or by international film festival prestige.

  4. Marketing is one of the major hurdles, but in the long run its the quality of the films that will have Australian audiences coming back for more. I saw both of these films on the weekend, and honestly they were both pretty clunky and average at best. You can blame marketing, stale attitudes of audiences etc, but there will be no word-of-mouth or enthusiasm if the quality isn’t there. Festivals such as Canne, Venice, Berlin – all of which typically (but not always) critically validate a film, seldom have Australian films in *official* competition. Why? Because the quality isn’t there. Stop funding half-baked genre films in a short-sighted attempt to make us ‘players’ on the ‘world stage’, and back filmmakers whom truly do have vision and something to say.

  5. For those that didn’t see 60 minutes…..FELONY got a fantastc plug via the Edgertons interview, which, by the way was a ripper. That publicity should reflect this week on Box Office results……and folks, thats the way to go, get high profile TV programs to PROMOTE OZ movies. As we can’t compete with the YANK ‘P & A’ budgets.

  6. Just got back from seeing PREDESTINATION.

    A little disturbing thematically and plotwise (those who’ve seen it will know why) but Sarah Snook does give a truly knockout performance. She is so darn cute in those glasses.

    As for getting Australians to see local films, the best strategy is NOT to premiere them in Australia.

    Australians are notorious followers and imitators.

    I’d probably have launched PREDESTINATION in the UK and Europe first (or around COMICON or SXSW in the US) and then let the positive buzz sweep back here to attract local audiences.

  7. PS : Just to be clear, I mean theatrical release overseas before the theatrical release in Australia.

    A single festival screening alone is not going to be enough to drive buzz back here.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.