Charles Gant provides a regular and interesting column in Sight & Sound on the UK / Eire box-office: the inclusion of Eire is one of those anomalies favoured by British capitalists. His latest piece in S&S February 2016 [another anomaly, published at the beginning of January 2016] provides information about the Box Office for 2015, up until December 13. It does however omit films labelled ‘Bollywood’: the best performing of the latter films were Diwale and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. Both of which took over £1.5 million in the UK. The ‘good news’ is
“that admissions [which] dipped significantly [in 2014] bounced back, powered by major hits including SPECTRE (£41 million so far) . . . and Fifty Shades of Grey (over £13 million).”
To these could be added that
“home-grown titles aimed at the older demographic cleaned up at the box office. Maggie Smith featured in two of the year’s biggest – The Second Exotic Marigold Hotel (£16.01 million) and The Lady in the Van (£11.26 million).”
The bad news is that
“It’s in foreign-language film, however, that 2015 recorded the real crushing disappointment. Continuing and deepening the recent downward trend.”
Whereas The Great Beauty in 2013 took over a million pounds, with the exception of the two Hindi films, none did this in 2015. Gant provides a list of the Top-grossing Foreign-Language Films in 2015. Starting at just over £700,000 we have, Wild Tales, followed by Force Majeure, Timbuktu, The Salt of the Earth, The New Girlfriend, The Connection, Girlhood, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch, Marshland and at the end with just under £145,000 Mommy. He adds alongside a list of English-Language Indie/Crossover Titles. In front with over £21 million is The Theory of Everything followed by Legend, Suffragette, Far from the Madding Crowd, Birdman, Sicario, Amy, Brooklyn, Selma and at the end with nearly £3 million Ex Machina. There are so many depressing features here. That Suffragette, which has little notion of the actual movement, took nearly three times the box office of the highly intelligent Selma. That, in particular, the bland Brooklyn, the poorly scripted The Theory of Everything and the incoherent Birdman all took more than either Timbuktu or Girlhood (both in my top ten). The only salve is that the excellent documentary Amy did well. The Editor of S&S, Nick James, comments on this. However, his main thrust is directed towards critics, which I think is misdirected. Just look at IMDB’s numeration of reviews: much criticism is lost in the Tsunami of online reviews. More to the point Gant quotes Louisa Dent of Curzon Artificial Eye: Curzon is involved in both distribution and exhibition. She comments:
“For audiences, it has to be something special for them to go to the cinema.’
This parallels a comment made by a manager at Picturehouses. That appears to be the rationale for their programming. Our local Picturehouse [in Bradford at the National Media Museum] tends to show the sort of films in the foreign-language list once only: and along with what we call classics, these tend to be programmed on a Tuesday evening or on a Sunday afternoon. Though the cinema offers a wider range of programming with a greater number of special screenings and rare films like those of Vera Chtylova, there still seems to be a similar tendency at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds. The latter cinema obtains its films through Picturehouses and another problem is that the Hyde Park tends to the same days and sessions, Tuesdays and Sundays for these films. Single screenings of a particular film [unless it is had extras, like musicians or Q&As] seem to me to be an anachronism. And in parallel fashion the two proper independent exhibitors sited only twelve miles apart competing at the same time is unhelpful. Once upon a time there was an exhibitor’s forum for Yorkshire, though there were more independent outlets then. This apparent lack of cooperation leads to the films we miss: as Roy has noted Hard to be a God has yet to enjoy a screening in West Yorkshire. And that applies equally in a cinematic format to the BFI re-issue of the 1967 Far From the Madding Crowd. The latter could rely on at least one distinguished audience member, because it is much more faithful to Thomas Hardy’s own version. Roy, in his pick of the year, thought West Yorkshire did quite well. I disagree: Manchester’s Home and Sheffield’ Showroom both screened the two films we missed, and both tend to multiple screenings. Gant also notes that
“With all of Curzon’s titles now available on its Curzon Home Cinema platform the same day as theatrical release.”
The latter policy not only undermines the firm’s own exhibition chain but it ignores the future: as potential viewers switch to online downloading. There appears to be a lemming-like drive amongst the UK companies involved in film distribution and exhibition towards the ‘popular’. So we get extended runs of films like Carol and Joy. The former is excellent, the latter sounds so, But both are in multiplexes, who I bet will win out in the competition. Meanwhile Angela Jolie’s interesting By the Sea only turned up in Leeds at the Showcase multiplex: yet it looked exactly like an independent exhibitor film. Gant and James are right to be depressed. And Roy writes on another aspect of this downward spiral. Still, time will tell. I listened this afternoon to the excellent Ian Christie in a Radio 3 discussion that I taped. He remarked that: “The death of cinema has been forecast many times, but it is still alive’. Let us hope he can repeat that line in the future.
The MPAA has just released figures for the Top 20 film markets worldwide in 2013. The Hollywood majors are most interested in the financial return so they list markets by value:
2013 Box Office (US $ billions)
1. US & Canada 10.9
2. China 3.6
3. Japan 2.4
4. UK 1.7
5. France 1.6
6. India 1.5
7. South Korea 1.4
7. Russia 1.4
9. Germany 1.3
10. Australia 1.1
11. Brazil 0.9
11. Mexico 0.9
13. Italy 0.8
14. Spain 0.7
15. Argentina 0.4
16. Netherlands 0.3
16. Turkey 0.3
16. Taiwan 0.3
19. Sweden 0.2
19. Switzerland 0.2
19. Malaysia 0.2
The total box office worldwide was $39.5 billion.
The major caveat that needs to be noted is that these are mainly the figures collected by rental tracking agencies which are part of the Hollywood-dominated international film industry. Where such agencies don’t operate (large parts of Africa, Middle East and Asia) it is difficult to gather data on box office. Some estimates suggest that the true figure for India would be more like $3 billion. The chart does not rank film territories according to admissions. Although most ticket prices in the territories above are roughly similar at US$6-9, prices in India are lower and in Japan much higher.
The latest statistical yearbook of film in the UK is now available for free download (or online access) from the BFI website. The 2012 yearbook has all the details of film in the UK in 2011 – a particularly good year for the UK industry.
The impact of Polish migrant workers on the UK economy was a major news story in the British press a few years ago but with the onset of recession and better opportunities elsewhere it seemed like those workers might have gone home or moved elsewhere (Norway for instance now has 15% of its workforce who were born overseas). At one point Polish films were on offer (with English subs) at cinemas across the UK and there were even occasions when selected Hollywood titles were subbed or dubbed for Polish workers (Borat, if I remember correctly, was one example).
Anyway, this week’s chart news demonstrates that the Polish community in the UK is still interested in Polish films. Sztos 2 (Polish Roulette, 2012), a mainstream crime/spy comedy set in the Communist period of the early 1980s, last weekend took over $250,000 at 40 locations in the UK for a screen average of $6,225 and No 17 in the chart. That screen average was the fourth best of a week dominated by the massive splash of the Hindi Cinema remake of Agneepath which took over $10,000 per screen. I mention these two films partly because otherwise UK cinemas are awash with English-language awards contenders at this time of year and many of us feel starved of an alternative. Sztos 2 is, as the title suggests, a sequel to a 1997 hit film and for comparison it opened No 1 in Poland a week earlier at 153 locations with a screen average of $4,115 (I assume ticket prices are lower in Poland). It’s still playing at Cineworld in Bradford so I’m going to try to catch it. Here’s the UK trailer:
The closing figures for annual box office returns are starting to come in and very interesting they are. We’ve compiled an overview gleaned mainly from Cineuropa and Screen International. It’s an uneven picture with records being set in some territories and worrying falls in others.
The winners in Europe appear to be Norway, France and the Netherlands, all three experiencing their best returns for a very long time. Norway’s admissions for local films are the highest since 1976 and this is good news for the world’s first ‘digital only’ territory. Local films (40 of them released in 2011) are driving the Norwegian market. The French admissions total is the highest since 1966 at 215.6 million with 20 local films attracting over 1 million admissions each and the top two films of the year were both French – Intouchables and Rien à déclarer. In the Netherlands admissions were up to 30.4 millions – the highest figure since 1978 – with local films taking nearly 22%. It’s worth noting that these three territories are amongst the leaders in the switch to digital distribution and projection. Cineuropa also reports that the Netherlands has benefited from an expansion in screens and seats over the last 5 years. Norway is perhaps in the strongest position re the current recession but there are concerns that because local production depends on public sector funding to a large extent, the current austerity programmes may have an impact in 2012/3.
French films did well in their local market – as did Italian films (though the overall Italian market was down). In both cases American films suffered and the domestic market is down in the US to its lowest level since 1995 with admissions at 1,276 million. Box office is also down 4% and with anxiety about the decline in the DVD market, Hollywood is looking down the barrel. The studies must hope that VOD grows quickly in the next couple of years. 3D has not proved to be the magic bullet though production totals are keeping up and 3D market share is holding.
In Spain, local films increased their market share to 15% and the overall box office was up.
In Denmark, overall admissions fell slightly to 12.6 million but local films, especially comedies, took 28% of box office.
Czech Republic admissions 20% down with local films and other European films suffering most. Multiplexes have digitised projection faster than single screens and Hollywood blockbusters are benefiting. Romania is another territory where the audience is ignoring local productions in favour of Hollywood. Although Romanian productions continue to earn plaudits from film festival juries, the domestic audience for some of these films is only a few thousand.
Portuguese admissions fell by nearly 900,000 to 15.7 million with a 3% fall in takings. US films took 80% of the market, European films only 5%.
In Finland the fall was from 7.6 million to 7.1 million with local films suffering most, losing 10% of market share.
The biggest film across Europe appears to have been the final instalment in the Harry Potter franchise. This is good news for the UK film industry (which makes the films even if Hollywood takes the major profits) with The King’s Speech also doing well. Overall it’s been a good year for British film in both commercial and critical terms. Admissions rose slightly to 171 million and British films (including co-productions) took nearly a third (£295 million) of total box office. Besides The King’s Speech, the biggest winner and biggest surprise was The Inbetweeners, a TV sitcom adaptation about a group of ‘lads’ on holiday between school and university which took £70 million. The film has now been sold to an American independent but otherwise has hardly been seen outside the UK. Is this the UK equivalent of those blockbusting French hits that don’t seem to travel?
Meanwhile, Australian box office revenue is down by 3% and admissions fell by nearly 8% to 85 million (still a strong figure on a per capita basis). Screen International suggests that this fall is due to the lack of a big Hollywood box office driver like Avatar during 2011. Harry Potter was again the No 1 film. A rare Australian local success, Red Dog, took over Aus$20 million, but overall local films won less than 5% market share. In New Zealand box office revenue was down 9% in 2011.
Early reports from Japan suggest that box office will be significantly down in 2011. Mark Schilling in The Japan Times forecasts a fall of as much as 20%. Only part of this can be attributed to the tsunami and nuclear power disaster. Once again, the lack of a blockbuster title like Avatar is mentioned. Local productions have also fallen back . (But it’s worth noting that anime took the top two local slots with the latest Studio Ghibli and a new Pokemon title.) Hollywood must worry though. Japan, like Australia, is a major market and if audiences are getting fed up with sequels, the future doesn’t look good.
It’s good to see that one of the most useful innovations of the UK Film Council, the free downloadable Statistical Yearbook for UK Film, has been taken over by the BFI – at least for now. The latest version, which deals with last year’s activity, is now available to download here.
I’ve long maintained that this is the best free resource for film and media teachers and students and the new issue fulfils that promise. Perhaps the most interesting change this time is that mindful of the downward trend of budgets for British films, the BFI have decided to take notice of ‘micro-budget’ films under £500,000. Previously these were ignored by UKFC but now they are a significant element in British filmmaking. In 2010 there were 147 films made in the UK with budgets under £500,000 – in fact half of these films had budgets under £100,000. This compares with only 79 ‘domestic’ features made on budgets over £500,000. Using these new definitions, UK filmmaking looks a lot healthier in terms of production numbers with over 200 ‘domestic’ features, not counting Hollywood films made in the UK (the bulk of the production spend of course).
The statistical guide is a must read. Download yours now!
Major Indian filmmaker Mani Ratnam looks set to achieve an increased global profile (not before time). He is scheduled to be honoured at the Venice Film Festival in September where both Hindi and Tamil versions of his new film based on characters from the Ramayana will be screened.
But will it do any good in the Western media? I fear perhaps not. The film exists in two versions made at the same time in Tamil (as Raavanan) and Hindi (Raavan) with a third dubbed version, titled Villain in Telugu (I think that this is a dub of the Tamil film). All three were launched domestically and internationally on June 18. In the UK the Hindi version went out on 52 prints but only 13 prints of the Tamil version were released. On the quietest weekend of the year in UK cinemas (during the opening stages of the World Cup) both versions were ahead of all other major titles in terms of screen averages – with the Tamil version attracting nearly twice as many punters per screen as the more widely distributed Hindi version. Both films made the Top 15. Reliance Entertainment released the Hindi version alongside the Tamil and the dubbed Telugu versions in North America where the company now owns 190 screens under the BIG Cinemas brand. The launch was on 40 screens in 20 cities. In India, the film is already being deemed a ‘super hit’ in the South but a ‘flop’ in the North.
Unfortunately, the two films are not being reviewed in the mainstream UK and US media to any great extent – and when they are, reviewers tends to be fairly clueless about what they are seeing. In the UK, the Guardian assigned the film to one of its assistant writers on film, Cath Clarke, and this is what she wrote (in its entirety):
“Bollywood golden couple Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan star in this absurdly extravagant melodrama, rife with cliches, song-and-dance showstoppers, macho action sequences and lush tourist board-approved landscapes. Bachchan plays low-caste tribal leader Beera, a Robin Hood figure who kidnaps the local police chief’s feisty wife (Rai) in retaliation for a crime crackdown. Maybe it’s the forest air, or a touch of Stockholm syndrome, but she takes a liking to her captor; heaven knows why since Bachchan hams it up like Toshirô Mifune at his most snarlingly crazy-eyed. Meanwhile, her husband (Vikram) gives chase, bearing down with the full weight of the law. Which is hardly surprising since flashbacks show what a cracking wife she is, fetching him his dinner while singing sweet songs and dancing alluringly.” (Guardian 18 June)
Clarke wants to attack what she sees as the film’s sexism, which is fair enough, but she seems unaware of the Ramayana connection or the basic conventions of Indian popular cinema. It’s an indication of the sub-editor’s lack of knowledge that the film is referred to as the Tamil version. (Abhishek Bachchan is not in the Tamil version – which sees Tamil star Vikram changing roles from police chief to abductor.) Just to pick up two other ways in which this review is wrong-headed. First, the motive for the abduction is not because of a ‘crime crackdown’ – as Clarke should have noticed in the second half of the film. Second, the (admittedly spectacular) forest scenes are not there because they are ‘tourist-board approved’, but because the Ramayana action is situated in the forest, the contemporary references need the forest (see below) – and of course, spectacular settings are part of the conventional generic mix in mainstream popular Indian Cinema. There are only a couple of choreographed dance sequences – most of the music score underpins narrative development.
But is the film any good you ask? I’m really not sure. I was never less than gripped throughout, but I want to see it again before making a final judgement. The easiest course is simply to pass you over to Srikanth on The Seventh Art website since his extended discussion is far better informed than I could manage (and there is a fascinating long discussion in the Comments section). Perhaps it is most useful if I fill in some background and focus on aspects of the global status of the film. I’ve only seen the Hindi version (around here Urdu is the major South Asian language) but I’ll hope to see the Tamil version on DVD.
Raavan is a recognisable Mani Ratnam film in two ways:
1. It teams him up with his usual collaborators – fellow Southerners, Santosh Sivan as cinematographer and A. R. Rahman as composer and with familiar stars: Bachchan and Rai. (The couple were in Ratnam’s previous film, Guru, 2007. Rai also appeared, in her first film role, in Ratnam’s 1997 Tamil feature, Iruvar.) Like all Ratnam’s films since the early 1990s, the production company was Madras Talkies, Ratnam’s own company.
2. It features a central relationship set against one of India’s major social/political issues – in this case the guerilla wars between the security services and Maoist groups in the forests of North/Central Eastern India.
It is different in the conscious attempt to replay one of India’s most famous stories – the Ramayana. An earlier Ratnam film Thalapathi (1991) did something similar with Mahabbaratha. That film too had a high profile because of the status of its Tamil superstar hero Rajnikanth, but I don’t think that Mani Ratnam made the references to the classical tale quite as prominent.
We know a lot more about what Mani Ratnam hoped to achieve with Raavan/Raavanan because the film has been so well promoted and marketed. The official website offers a press pack for both the Hindi and Tamil versions. Bachchan and Rai have promoted the film solidly through personal appearances, as has A. R. Rahman. The coverage has stimulated a great deal of interest – and, inevitably, some disappointment amongst fans and critics.
Global box office
I’m most interested in what the fate of the two film versions tells us about Indian Cinema and its profile in the global cinema market. When you begin to investigate the figures, some interesting conclusions can be drawn. Here is how I see it after the first weekend:
Global performance (both versions combined): $8.5 million from 2309 screens in 25 territories for a $3,708 screen average – placing it at No 8 in the chart but with a screen average at No 3. (Screendaily figures)
When we try to breakdown this figure, we can find some data on the major territories.
Box Office India reports a ‘disappointing’ overseas take of $391,000 in UAE and $143,00 in Australia. In North America the take was $480,000. However the North American figures do not distinguish between the language versions. The UAE and Australian figures similarly do not seem to include Tamil figures.
IBOS often seems to me to be a highly dubious source of box-office data. On several previous occasions I’ve seen statements about films being a flop or ‘disaster’ only for the film to go on to produce healthy results (e.g. My Name is Khan). The website seems more intent on ‘bringing down’ superstars rather than actually reporting data carefully. In this posting, IBOS offer a damning report on ‘box-office failure’:
“Reliance Big Pictures’s claiming a Rs. 53 crore combined weekend worldwide gross for Raavan with the Hindi Raavan collecting 38 crores in opening weekend, the Tamil version Raavanan collecting 11 crores and Telugu Villain only 4 crores. [A crore is 10 million.]”
There are two problems here. One is that there are no official collection figures for either Tamil or Telugu films published for public consumption. The other problem for IBOS is that although Reliance seem to have most of the distribution rights for the film, in the UK the distributor is Ayngaran International for the Tamil version – following a long collaboration with Madras Talkies. Ayngaran is now part of Eros, a major competitor for Reliance. Ayngaran has also held onto the rights for all other territories outside India (but presumably has done a deal in North America), so I wonder how accurate these ‘worldwide’ figures from IBOS are? If you want to see the Tamil version it is now playing on 15 sites in the UK and also in Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Singapore, Denmark, France, Holland and Germany as well as the US. All the cinemas showing the film are listed on Ayngaran’s website.
It would seem that the film has done reasonably well in Tamil Nadu where audiences generally have a more favourable response to films with classical references. Another report I’ve read suggests that because there was an unusual 5 day holiday in the state to coincide with a major ‘cultural conference’, the release was well-timed. Even so, we are left with what IBOS suggests is the clincher. The total production budget (funded by Reliance) was 100 crores, requiring a box office of 200 plus crores to break even. IBOS (rather gleefully it seems to me) suggests that the film won’t make this. Another news report suggests a wave of pirate copies and bit torrent downloads is undermining the release. Finally, the 4 crores box office for the Telugu version is heralded as evidence of a hit by Entertainment1 India. This is film in India today, but I think I’ll wait another couple of weeks before accepting all these figures. For the moment, I’d just urge anyone who gets the chance to watch any of the three versions of the film and make up their own minds.
Cineworld, one of the three largest multiplex cinema chains in the UK and Ireland has announced a deal with Arts Alliance Media (AAM) to digitise all its remaining analogue only screens over the next three years. The deal was reported on Screendaily today and represents a major step in the digital switchover of UK cinema screens. The deal covers around 540 screens (250 of Cineworld’s screens are already digital) and the $44 million cost will be paid via a ‘virtual print fee’ or VPF for each new film screened digitally. Cineworld control around 20% of all screens in the UK and Ireland.