The Aussies are busy contorting themselves with self-congratulatory back-patting and a side of self-delusion as they celebrate a record year at the box office for local titles.
While such a feat should indeed be celebrated, some sense of realism should put a stop to talk of a renaissance for Australian films. Just as in 2010, when Boy seriously skewed the NZ box office figures with its $10 milion take, this year’s record Australian figures are largely the product of one title: Mad Max: Fury Road. (Adjusted for population, Boy’s take of $10 million in NZ is a lot better than Fury Road’s AU$22 million in Australia, although Fury Road has travelled much better internationally.)
While there’s been a decent crop of local Aussie titles this year – Blinky Bill, The Dressmaker and Last Cab to Darwin are all playing here at present – Fury Road took over 25% of the AU$84 million take for Aussie films in Australia. Without it, no records would have been broken.
What is impressive about the Aussie earners is this: they’ve racked up 7.7% of the total box office take. Not only is that up more than threefold on last year’s 2.4% and more than double 2013’s 3.5%, Even without Fury Road, this year’s numbers would have compared very favourably with those of the last two years.
Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner (albeit a 2014 title with its Boxing Day release) got this year off to a good start. That Sugar Film had to qualify its $1.7 million take as “the highest-grossing non-IMAX Australian documentary in history” but, like Fury Road, it also did the business at home and overseas.
All up nine Australian feature releases made over AU$1 million this year. Adjusted for population, Born to Dance’s $1.1 million take here is equivalent to seventh spot on the Aussie list, midway between Last Cab and Blinky Bill.
While the Australians have plenty to celebrate, the box office pendulum has swung in the opposite direction on this side of the ditch. An excellent 2014 saw releases including James Napier Robertson’s The Dark Horse, Toa Fraser’s The Dead Lands, Gerard Johnstone’s Housebound, Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows alongside docos Gardening With Soul and Hip Hop-eration. All found plenty of love, as did other more limited releases including Max Currie’s Everything We Loved and Rene Naufahu’s The Last Saint.
This year, outside of festival screenings, it’s been pretty much down to The Ground We Won and Born to Dance to fly the local flag in cinemas.
There are several local films which haven’t seen a general theatrical release this year, including Jason Stutter’s The Dead Room, Jason Lei Howden’s Deathgasm, Guy Pigden’s I Survived A Zombie Holocaust (which had festival premieres last year), along with titles that are technically NZ films, such as Slow West and Turbo Kid. Most of them are now available online, legally.
As always there’s been a solid crop of docos, especially in this year’s NZIFF. Other than The Ground We Won, Ever the Land has gone on to a wider release, The Price of Peace has found audiences and awards at festivals overseas and on TV here, The Art of Recovery is enjoying a limited run out at present and Crossing Rachmaninoff will travel more widely next year.
Next year Australian titles won’t this year’s box office performance. With a combined theatrical take south of $2 million for 2015 NZ releases, it will be a year to forget if the crop of local titles lining up for 2016 (Mahana and 25 Aprilalready have release dates) don’t blow that number out of the water.