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2014 at the local box office

The 2014 totals ended a little ahead of 2013 and 2012, but overall it was a year whose numbers weren’t especially memorable.

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, the highest earning 2014 release

The year was slightly unusual in that it was – for MPDA purposes at least – a 53 week year, which closed on 31 December with almost $174.5 million having been taken at the NZ box office. The more easily comparable 52 week number was a little shy of $170 million, up 2.27% up on 2013 figures.

Some exhibitors continued to incur the costs of conversion to digital. While that conversion delivered savings in some areas and increased ticket prices for 3D screenings, the higher earnings masked falling demand: growth built on taking a larger number of dollars from a smaller number of punters.

The year’s biggest local exhibition story arguably wasn’t about a title at all, but about a changing of the guard at Hoyts, announced just before Christmas.

Pacific Equity Partners sold the Australasian exhibitor to Chinese investor Sun Xishuang’s British Virgin Islands-headquartered ID Leisure Ventures. In NZ, Hoyts operates the Hoyts and Berkeley Cinemas venues, which it acquired in 2010. Under PEP, Hoyts also sold its distribution company to Studio Canal late in 2013.

On screens the year’s best performers were led by a late run by hairy feet with the final instalment of The Hobbit ending the calendar year as champion with close to $6.2 million, followed by Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 ($5.48 million), Transformers: Age of Extinction ($5.39 million) and Frozen ($4.72 million). Guardians of the Galaxy and How to Train Your Dragon 2 also took over $4 million each.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Bested in NZ by another small, hairy-footed creature, Guardians of the Galaxy was 2014 box office champ in other territories

Those numbers won’t trouble the top earners for the last two years. In 2013 Iron Man 3 took $6.73 million and both Despicable Me 2 andThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire also took over $6 million. In 2012 The Avengers took over $8.8 million and Skyfall over $6.4 million.

While pre-Christmas openings have traditionally served Peter Jackson’s Tolkien trilogies well, those December release dates often mean the films are not serious contenders to top end of year earning lists.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey did make third spot on the 2012 earners’ list, having taken just over $6 million before the doors closed on 2012. However, its lifetime earnings of $11,593,367 make it by some distance the highest-earning title of the last three years, ahead of The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug’s $9,418,868.

Among the local releases there was much critical praise for both the breadth and depth of titles on offer in 2014, although not all of that translated into good box office. The year unrolled from the shaky box office starts by The Pa Boys and independently-funded 3 Mile Limit.

By the end of the year there were other box office disappointments, notably Housebound which arrived with an impressive head of steam from its international festival appearances, but closed having taken a little over $250,000.

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The highest-earning local title of 2014, What We Do in the Shadows

On the bright side, The Dark Horse and The Dead Lands each took over $1 million and What We Do in the Shadows over $2.5 million. Hip Hop-eration continued a strong run for local docos which saw 2013 openers Beyond the Edge and Gardening with Soul both close earlier in 2014 with impressive numbers.

As usual the box office contribution of local titles was low by number at c$8 million (of a c$170 million total) but, at 4.7%, it was a marked improvement on recent years, some of which have seen NZ films contribute less than 3% to the annual box office take.

The NZ features on release in 2014 were 3 Mile Limit, Beyond the Edge, The Dark Horse, The Dead Lands, Fantail, Gardening with Soul, Hip Hop-eration, Housebound, The Last Saint, The Pa Boys and What We Do in the Shadows.

Getting a run out in festivals – and also ondemand in some cases – were Aunty and the Star People, Erewhon, Everything We Loved, Hot Air, Orphans & Kingdoms, notes to eternity, REALITi, Te Awa Tupua: Voices from the River, Tumanako/Hope and Voices of the Land/Nga Reo o te Whenua

In the not-really-a-NZ-title (but we’ll claim it anyway) category, parts two and three of The Hobbit both played, with a combined take of over $15 million. Weta contributed its skills to other major features that saw the light of day in 2014, the best-performing of which was the second instalment in the rejig of the Planet of the Apes franchise. Having a rare absence from the director’s chair James Cameron appeared in Deepsea Challenge.

Roll on 2015.

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