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Cinema box office sales in Australia are down more than a quarter compared to the last pre-pandemic year as lingering caution and a lack of blockbusters keep punters at bay.
The combined box office take for all films released in cinemas in Australia in 2022 was just under $880 million, according to preliminary figures using data from analytics firm Numero. That compared to $1.23 billion in 2019, the last year before COVID-19 swept the world and forced cinema closures for months on end. That’s a decline of more than 28 per cent.
Advertising for the box office smash hit movie, Avatar-The Way of Water, outside Imax theatre in Carlton.Credit: Chris Hopkins
Note that some variation in the final tally is possible, depending on which start and end dates are used. An alternative set of figures seen by this masthead suggests the figure might be as high as $943 million, which would nonetheless still represent a decline of more than 23 per cent on 2019.
More than 690 movies had some sort of cinema release in 2022, but few of them did serious business. The top 10 films accounted for almost half (48.9 per cent) of all ticket revenue. Just 87 films made more than $1 million locally, and more than 400 of them made less than $100,000.
Top Gun: Maverick is the year’s top-grossing film, with $93.09 million. Avatar: The Way of Water – which is classified as a US-New Zealand co-production (Cameron is now permanently resident in New Zealand and plans to make up to three more Avatar films there) – leapt from fourth spot to second over the weekend, finishing 2022 with $51.42 million after releasing on December 15.
James Cameron’s film has earned just under $US1.4 billion ($2.05 billion) globally in a little over two weeks. Its strong performance locally owes much to lack of competition in the blockbuster space, and a saturation release strategy that saw it go out on 1281 screens nationwide – roughly half of all cinema screens in the country.
That is the largest release ever, dwarfing even the 888 screens on which Top Gun: Maverick debuted.
Avatar’s dominance has been a double-edged sword for cinema operators, though. Its 192-minute run time means they can schedule only three sessions a day (as opposed to the five available for most titles), but it also means customers can be charged $50 or more to see the film in 3D in a boutique theatre (or much less in 2D in a standard theatre), while some other releases can only be seen in higher-priced theatres because of a lack of screens.
Tom Cruise’s sequel was still playing in a handful of cinemas last week, 32 weeks after its opening. But that made it only the second-longest-running film of the year, behind Everything Everywhere All At Once, which was still showing on a solitary screen 38 weeks and $6.42 million after its bow.
The biggest Australian film of the year was Elvis, with a haul of $33.48 million. The biggest Australian-made film of the year, however, was Thor: Love and Thunder, which took third place with a haul of $44.33 million.
Assessing how well Australian films have done is tricky (Screen Australia typically does its own assessment later in January). Include Thor (with its Australian crew, Australian star and Kiwi director) and Aussie-made films accounted for 10.5 per cent of the box office total, a share not seen since the 1980s.
Exclude Thor but allow Elvis and it’s a still-respectable 5.48 per cent (a little over $48 million). But discount Baz Luhrmann’s film on the grounds of its American subject matter, stars and finance (a harsh call, but some would urge it) and the 70 remaining Australian movies that made it to a cinema screen in 2022 make up just 1.67 per cent of the total.
Leading that pack is Wog Boys Forever, which took $2.92 million, a long way short of the $11.45 million Nick Giannopoulos’ first film took in 2000 (about $20 million in today’s currency).
Renee Webster’s How To Please a Woman, a comedy about male cleaners-cum-escorts and the women they, ahem, service, was next with $2.4 million, while Leah Purcell’s terrific Indigenous colonial western reinterpretation of Henry Lawson’s short story The Drover’s Wife took $1.91 million.
The only other Australian films to top $1 million at the local box office were George Mad Max Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing, starring Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba, and Ben Lewin’s Falling For Figaro.
Good Luck To You, Leo Grande, which was directed by Australian Sophie Hyde and shot and edited by her partner Bryan Mason, took $3.25 million, while the made-in-Melbourne Liam Neeson action thriller Blacklight barely raised a flicker with a take of just $742,760.
Indian films, meanwhile, continued to flex their muscles at the box office, with the top 10 releases – led by the blockbuster RRR, with $3.6 million – taking $16.52 million locally.
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