Margaret Pomeranz thoroughly enjoyed Son of a Gun while David Stratton reckoned it was competent and mostly well shot but highly improbable, peopled with uniformly unlikable characters.

To the extent that At the Movies influences moviegoing, it seems viewers took far more notice of Stratton’s 2½ stars than Pomeranz’s 3½ stars judging by the opening weekend results.

The debut film from writer-director Julius Avery fetched nearly $65,000 on 53 screens and $69,000 with previews. That suggests there wasn’t a lot of awareness for the crime thriller starring Ewan McGregor, Brenton Thwaites (rightly hailed by Pomeranz as a “great talent”) and Alicia Vikander.

Either that or audiences are not interested in dark, depressing stories with no-good or shady characters after four or five Oz films in that vein underperformed at Australian cinemas this year.

Another possible factor, as IF’s commentators have canvassed, is the Australian cinema brand has been tarnished to the point where the home-grown label is a turn-off.

Others dispute that notion and argue audiences will turn up if and when they are confident they’ll be entertained.

Producer Timothy White told IF, "The Australian result is devastating, further igniting the debate about the performance of Australian films at the local box office at a time when they are selling strongly into foreign markets."

White is in Galway, Ireland, working on Jim Loach's South Australian-shot film after attending Son of a Gun's premiere last Friday at the London Film Festival. "It was a cracking response from an audience primed for a roller coaster ride of a film," he said.

"Julius is an extremely talented filmmaker and he created a film that is exciting and entertaining. It is not a dark and bleak tale. It is an intense and fun- filled ride with appealing characters.

"We set out to attract a broad, mainstream audience, skewed to young males. Unfortunately  we did not have an advertising spend that allowed the film to connect with that audience. I believe most did not even know it was playing.

"I do not believe the mixed response from local critics was the reason for the very disappointing response."  As for the perception of the Australian film brand, White said, "There is a strong level of hesitation to spend good money on a product that Australians have come to not trust will be entertaining."

To be fair, as IF has pointed out consistently, local B.O. results are merely one indicator of the state of the film industry, not the sole definitive judgment.

International sales this year have been strong for a raft of films including Son of a Gun, The Little Death, Felony, The Water Diviner, The Rover, Kill Me Three Times, The Dressmaker, The Babadook, The Reckoning, Charlie's Country and 52 Tuesdays.

Altitude Film Sales clinched deals for Son of a Gun in Europe, Asia and Latin America while UTA Independent Film Group sold US rights to A24 and Canadian rights to Mongrel Media.

So when foreign sales and local home entertainment revenues are factored in, the financial picture may not be so depressing.

 

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11 Comments

  1. How does an audience get to a film they don’t know is playing? Distributors are notorious for this with Aussie films and yet eOne gets off scott free in this article.

  2. The real deal on these OZ films is the P & A spend, session times & screens.
    And the R.O.W receipts.
    I honestly didn’t know Son Of A gun had opened, if it is on a screen in my area, I will go & see it.
    If the film is playing for 1 session a day, has had a minimal ‘P & A’ spend, how can it perform? It hasn’t a chance.
    I’m hoping it has at least one day & one evening session.
    Phil Avalon

  3. Cinema audiences first and last want to be entertained. If they want bleakness and misery there’s always the evening news at home – free to air. Bring back ‘ENTERTAINMENT’ give audiences more than their money’s worth and watch the ship turn – away from the rock.
    So far – with a few bright exceptions – our filmmakers have viewed ‘entertainment’ as a dirty word. Back to basics.

  4. I am so aghast at the SON OF A GUN result. So disappointed. A year ago I saw the trailer and have championed it ever since. Last night I saw the whole film at Verona Paddington at 6.45 session…with just 8 people there. It’s a terrific film… and Brendan Thwaites is a genuine major talent. A crushing result.

  5. Sorry, but why make a film for an audience that needs smart money spent to attract it, and then not spend to attract that audience?

    “Field of Dreams’ was a story, not a business model people!

    Oh, and since when did unpleasant characters mixed with lots of action = box office ?

    Try a script and story. Shakespeare did unpleasant characters, and lots of action – but he also had a story, where the characters learned, and changed, in ways the audience could relate to.

    I don’t have to like the characters, but I have to get some lessons, insight, involvement, or I get bored. And action without characters in a story is boring.

    Some great work, but classic Aussie fail for me…

  6. These Final Hours, Felony, Son of A Gun… they all looked a bit too bleak for me.

    I’d rather go see something that looked fun. If I’m going to the movies I need to convince someone else to go with me.
    Son of Gun was in more cinemas in Melbourne than Felony. Heck it’s in more Village cinemas and Felony is a Village film. Still zero chance I’m going to go see it. It’s extraordinary that live theatre makes more money than most Australian films this year. Perhaps we should adapt some Australian plays?

  7. I agree with the lack of promotion being the main problem. I too didn’t know it was out and no posters at Dendy Newtown which one would assume supports Aussie films

  8. There was one poster near the toilet at Dendy Newtown. There were no posters at Palace Leichardt. There was a pic on the outside of the building easily missed, nothing inside. Let’s be honest, the director doesn’t have the personal support of the industry – people have hardly been rallying around him, seeing the film to support it inside the business then spreading the good word amongst those they know either. Not the nicest bloke by all accounts. Good crack at entertainment, respect what they were trying for. I reckon the industry is just shifting overall and australian films in 2014 are the hardest struck. Good luck fellas it’ll get there over the long term distro .

  9. For those who are claiming the film has no story and is bleak have obviously not seen it. Son of a Gun has a central love story in it and by no means can be called bleak. Now the person asking for Shakespeare… There is a reason there was only one, they don’t come around that often so asking for Shakespeare is asking a little much don’t ya think?

    Son of a Gun doesn’t seem like the kind of film that was meant to wow critics it was meant to entertain like an old fashioned heist film and it did that for me in spades.

    We need to recognize that the filmmaker would have assumed the distributor would be targeting the audience the film was intended for not burying the film but like I’ve only heard terrible things about eOne and their new business model and by the sounds of it, unless uour Russel Crowe and making vanilla slice for the over the hill audience you are not getting any attention from them.

    What a shame it all is as this film could have been massive and a turning point for Ayatralian film, opening the doors for exciting big talent but it seems we are doomed to fail.

  10. The headline should read “Distributor misfires at Oz cinemas”. Every single Australian distributor needs to be called out on how little they spend on time and money when promoting Australian films. Most Australian films don’t have a chance in hell in doing well because there is barely any effort put in – it’s like ‘let’s just throw something up against the wall and see what sticks’ – it’s an absolute joke.

    The media need to stop blaming the quality of the films and start looking into what the distributors are actually doing to support these films. Bad Hollywood films do well at the Australian box office all the time – why? Because the awareness for those films is huge!

    You can’t go see a film that you don’t know exists.

  11. I thought the movie was out a long time ago. Ooops!
    Yes to Lulu. The distributors don’t give a crap about Aussie films. Even ones with big name stars in them.

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