News & commentary

Jan 21, 2011

Hallejuiah! Aussie films generating healthy BO

Luke Buckmaster — Writer, Critic and The Daily Review Journalist

Luke Buckmaster

Writer, Critic and The Daily Review Journalist


The Australian film industry is regularly bogged down in bad press for reasons real or imagined.

Common gripes include: Australian films are too wanky and pretentious; Australian films are too shallow and stupid; Australian film funders don’t “get it” and, most regularly and most crucially, Australian films don’t make any money.

It’s nice (and rare) to report the opposite. Last year nine Australian films earned more than $2 million at the national box office, the first time – as The Daily Telegraph reports – this has occured in more than a decade.

Here are figures for each of the films:

1. Tomorrow, When the War Began – $13.5 million
2. Bran Nue Dae – $ 7.7 million
3. Animal Kingdom – $4.9 million
4. Wog Boy 2: The Kings of Mykonos – $4.9 million
5. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole – $4.7 million
6. Beneath Hill 60 – $3.2 million
7. Daybreakers – $2.4 million
8. I Love You Too – $2.4 million
9. Bright Star – $2.3 million

The variety of these nine titles and those impressive numbers provide a striking reminder that genre filmmaking is fundamental to a healthy film industry. The above films include two war pictures, a musical, a crime drama, an animated family movie, a vampire flick, a rom com, a period piece and an awful, awful, awful comedy. See if you can pick it.


Leave a comment

7 thoughts on “Hallejuiah! Aussie films generating healthy BO

  1. Martin

    I just want to add that I don’t think anybody is or can criticise the technical quality, general creativity or talent of our our amazing film, TV and documentary sector. Australia has many great actors, directors, sound engineers, editors, wardrobe, prop’s, set designers, DOP’s, VFX and many, many others. Australia makes scores of amazingly technically proficient movies but sadly far too many of these are simply not ‘entertaining’ or are flawed in some other way, ie. script.

    Film makers and film agencies must respect and understand why audiences go to the cinema, watch DVD’s, watch TV and consume entertainment generally – they do it for escapism, fun, amusement, diversion, pleasure.

    **Now not everyone experiences or defines entertainment in the same or narrow way. Many people liked ‘The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover’ but might not like ‘Pirates of The Caribbean’ and others might like ‘Star War’s but not ‘The Piano’. (The issue is knowing that a market exists for your story, you know how to reach them and that you’ll deliver a film that will meet their expectations).

    The two single biggest marketing & audience takeaways for film makers are:

    1. You are not your customer! Translation: your likes, dislikes, tastes and behaviour are not representative or your intended audience / customer. You must be objective – who will want to pay to see your film?

    2. 79% of paying audiences say, “Going to the movies is a good escape from everyday life.”* Translation: audiences pay for entertainment & escapism. Do I think a film like Transformers is a film worthy of high critical acclaim? No, but this movie took $701m at the box office because people want to be ‘entertained’ which included me. Equally, films like Driving Miss Daisy or The Green Mile can also do well financially even without a storyline based on blowing things up and lots of visual effects.

    Mainstream cinemagoers / consumers don’t go to the movies or buy DVD’s to see ‘art’ which might be technically proficient in any meaningful way. These people hand over their hard earned dollars to be entertained in some way and you have to respect that!

  2. Luke Buckmaster

    Some good points all round. However, if we remove the business side of the argument for a moment, then we do have good news: more people are buying tickets to Aussie films, thus more people are seeing them. That’s something I perhaps should have mentioned in my post, rather than commenting strictly on the numbers.

  3. Martin

    I am with terryj on this one.

    I don’t know in any context how we could ‘celebrate’ Australian films earning just $2-3m at the Australian box office especially in relation to their production budgets, their (P&A) Print & Advertising budget and the public investments via screen agencies?

    This is what $3m at the box office in Australia roughly translates to:

    $3,000,000 Box Office
    $1,800,000 Exhibitor Cut (Theatres) (55-60%)

    $1,200,000 Defined Gross

    $360,000 Distributor Fee (30%)
    $840,000 Defined Gross after Distribution Fee

    $400,000 P&A (Prints and Advertising – Marketing) – I consider this very low!
    $40,000 Other Expenses
    $400,000 Defined Gross after Distribution Fees & P&A / Expenses

    $3,000,000 Negative Cost (Production Budget)

    -$2,600,000 Defined Net Proceeds

    Obviously if the film takes in money from Free to Air, PAYTV, VOD (Video on Demand) this all counts as revenue but similar marketing costs and distributor fees apply.

    At the end of the day we will only have a sustainable industry in Australia when we start making films which punters will pay to see. At the end of the day the paying public is the ultimate test of a film’s success – success being defined by revenue, story, translation of story to screen, distribution and marketing. *Remember only 19% of a films revenue usually comes from the box office but the box office is usually crucial to the success of downstream channels.

    There are many great examples of fantastic films not making what they should at the box office and that has been largely through mis targeted marketing, an under investment in marketing and a poor distribution strategy. But sadly we are still making far too many films which simply don’t interest a broader cinema going audience. It is there money and continuing to criticise their tastes get’s us nowhere.

    If we look at a NZ/OZ film like ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’ took $8.4m in NZ alone and $4.7m in Australia. It is a great film and many have said it had an Oscar nomination worthy performance by Anthony Hopkins but its distribution and marketing outside of Australia & NZ sucked and was next to non-existent.

    We can’t complain about jobs and investment and at the same time blame everyone else except the type of product (stories) which is being produced and until the industry respects the tastes of the paying public (good or bad).

    We either want to create a completely niche, part-time artistic community reliant upon charity or we can go on and create a sustainable industry which ironically would allow us to express even more artistic freedom, more widely and more frequently because there will be more money around.

    The following is an insightful look into the reality of film making from a great book, ‘Marketing to Moviegoers: A Handbook of Strategies and Tactics’ by Robert Marich:

    The overriding objective of major studios is to distribute films that are profitable. If the films are engaging, witty, and thought provoking and win awards, that’s simply icing on the cake but not the first concern. Studios want films that are as creative as possible without sacrificing marketability. Because the majors occasionally produce artistic masterpieces, such as Paramount’s first two Godfather movies, some pundits mistakenly believe art is an integral part of the equation. It’s not.

    Critics also rap the major studios for picking safe subjects, for ordering movie endings to be reshot after unfavourable audience response in test screenings, and for not catering to minority audiences. Faulting the majors for blockbusters is silly because creating glossy, crowd-pleasing films that generate large amounts of money is their primary business. What’s sometimes underappreciated is that majors attempt to balance their annual film-release slate with the occasional thought-provoking, personal films, such as the Sony Pictures’ father-son drama The Pursuit of Happyness or Warner Bro’s death-row drama, The Green Mile.

    I also wrote more on these topics for SPAA:

    – Can Australian Films Make Money?
    – The Future of Filmmaking: Seizing back control of the Six Pillars of Cinema

  4. quantize

    ps…part of the problem is this ‘cultural significance’ ball and chain of government based funding…We’re a citizen in the global village, with a unique voice..but that voice will never grow while we stick to moping in our history or pandering to larrakinism.

  5. quantize

    Well I wouldn’t have picked Daybreakers as a disappointment, I’d think most aussies would not even realise apart from the few aussies faces in the cast

    … the continued dire lack of quality genre films from Australia (The Loved Ones not withstanding) and the continuing reliance on the typical dreary stalwart topics (crime, drama, comedy and the ole faithful war) is really the problem.

    The risks are minimal, and that’s why the gains are.

  6. Luke Buckmaster

    Some interesting points raised here, Terry, but the fact that nine Aussie films made over $2 million makes it news worthy, irrespective of whether those films recoup their budgets or not. You will forget my lack of analysis – it was simply a time issue; keeping this blog regularly updated ontop of full time employment and a host of other activities can be challenging. The figures to some extent speak for themselves but you’re right that much more commentary can be written, and I am grateful that you have contributed yours.

  7. terryj

    You should provide a little more critical analysis rather than simply regurgitating the spin of the Daily Terror, pleasing though it might be.

    In the good old days, only movies with a box office of $5 million+ would have been thought to have passed muster. $2 million+ simply doesn’t cut it unless there are mitigating factors, and in any case rarely cuts it relative to budget once the P&A, distributor and exhibitor costs are taken out.

    So to revisit the list, and allowing a free kick for Tomorrow and Bran Nue Dae, which have punted over the mark, and did as well or better than many Australian films, you get:

    Animal Kingdom – okay relative to budget, with compensating critical credentials.
    The Kings of Mykonos – a long way off the pace set by $13.4 million and a dire film to boot.
    Legend of the Guardians – very disappointing relative to budget, all the more so because of the naked use of Australian voices, but redeemed by better figures in the US
    Beneath Hill 60 – overly ambitious story in relation to budget, and with little by way of international prospects, while locally not so much punching above its weight as managing to stay in the ring.
    Daybreakers – disappointing relative to budget, and with disappointing US figures, despite energetic campaigning.
    I Love You Too – disappointing relative to budget (did it really cost $6 million?) and a rom com dud to boot.
    Bright Star – an $8.5 million budget and so $2.3 million is an impressive number, to which we might add $4.5 million US? And total worldwide US$14.3 million? For a show of almost ghostly enervation?

    Most of these films don’t have a ghost of a chance of redeeming their budgets, which is why the federal and state governments subsidise the film industry, which is why trying to pump up the figures and talk of good box office years often sounds so desperate, when the only people to walk away with the cash will be the distributors and exhibitors (and the distributors now score a safety net, and so much for their supposedly bold risks helping to select the product).

    Why don’t we just talk about the films we enjoy, instead of seeking redemption at the box office, or somehow imagine genre provides some kind of redeeming element – as if genre somehow explains The King’s Speech (oh sure it’s historical comedy for the middle class Beeb demographic).

    There have been worse years at the box office – who can forget the horror of 2004 – and who it seems can remember 2000 where 22 films grossed $54.2 million at an average of $2.4 million, and in 2001 the average was $2.3 million. Suddenly we’re celebrating pictures that landed in the average of a decade ago?

    By my reckoning the punters who emerged from the cinemas after stumping up the readies would have been disappointed by at least 50% of these box office ‘champions’, and had their view of Australian cinema reinforced. Can you pick which ones?

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details