Posts Tagged 'box office'

Sunshine on Leith and Filth zoom into all time Scottish top ten

The latest and, as ever, fascinating annual statistical handbook from the BFI allows the elves here at The Producer’s Cut to update the all-time top Scottish films at the UK Box office (NB Adjusted for inflation) with not one but two films making it into the list from 2013.  Not surprisingly perhaps Sunshine on Leith and Filth, having briefly occupied the number 2 and 3 spots at the UK box office in 2013 have quickly joined the all time Scottish top ten at number 4 and 6 respectively.  Trainspotting remains the undisputed top dog with 25% of the total box office garnered by the ten films and indeed all but one of the top five films are from the 1990s.  Inevitably the definition of ‘Scottish’ used here is subjective – both Rob Roy and Last King of Scotland could be ruled out on production origin terms (as could even Mrs Brown for that matter) but allowing for that caveat we can see that there’s no real pattern to the best-selling Scottish movies other than that from thrillers to a musical they managed to strike a chord with the film-going public.


UK Box Office £ (adjusted for inflation)
Trainspotting (1996) 12,331,224
The Last King of Scotland (2006) 5,680,951
Shallow Grave (1995) 5,101,342
Sunshine on Leith (2013) 4,600,000
Rob Roy (1995) 4,352,000
Filth (2013) 3,900,000
This Year’s Love (1999) 3,600,636
Mrs Brown (1997) 2,647,037
Magdalene Sisters (2002) 2,138,934
The Angels Share (2012) 1,928,376
Total 46,280,500

Norwegian film another Nordic screen success story

Scots have been looking enviously at Denmark’s film industry for some time.  A recent Scotsman comment piece was just the latest in a long line (dating back to 1938- see earlier post) of unfavourable comparisons between the Danes’ generous and joined up support for film and Scotland’s historically piecemeal and underfunded attempts to get more Scottish films on our and everyone else’s screens.

But Denmark isn’t the only Nordic country that takes film as seriously as the Danes.  Across the North Sea in Norway (population 4.7m) they don’t just have a national film fund (established in 2001)  they have six (yes SIX) regional film funds which add up to a cool €60m euro annual investment in film, tv, games and animation.  That goes some way to explaining the 25 films (average over 2007-12) they release each year (so that doesn’t even count those made but not distributed) and the 20% average market share they have enjoyed over the past five years.  So not quite as good as the Danes at 25% but compared to Ireland at just under 2% or Scotland at less than 1% it’s certainly enough to give us something to think about.  (While we’re at it European films’ share of the overall European market is on the rise and reached its high point last year, in no small part due to Skyfall it has to be said but also, more interestingly, the success of France’s Untouchable, the most successful non-English production of all time.)

With numbers like those above to build on, the Norwegian Film Institute weren’t indulging in boosterism or wishful thinking when they set out to ‘internationalise’ their industry in their 2012-15 plan.  This year they allocated around €1.5m in support to marketing of Norwegian films including €400K earmarked specifically to support presence at international markets and festivals.  Indeed back in 2000 an influential Government Green Paper concluded that:

Norway’s cinema system worked well as precisely a mixture of commercial and cultural interests, but underlined that a stronger, more directed national cinema policy was needed to secure the operations of this system.”  (quoted in Caroline Strutz Skei fascinating  Thesis Hollywood In Norway ).

Astute readers may object at this point that with a GDP 2.5 times Scotland’s its easy for the Norwegians to throw money at film and anything else they fancy.  Perhaps so but the fact remains that like most other European countries, at 0.012% they choose to spend a considerably higher % of GDP than we do at either a UK (0.0033%) or even more so a Scottish (0.003%) level.  (Denmark, whose GDP is only 50% higher than Scotland’s, spends 0.02% of GDP on film i.e. 6.6x as much), indeed they spend more in absolute terms than the Norwegians, despite a considerably lower GDP.

All well very well you might think but beyond their home turf are Norwegian films making any head way with audiences and critics abroad?  Oh yes they are.  Following last year’s Palm Springs win and Best Foreign Film Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Kon Tiki (Norway’s most expensive film to date), so far this year twelve films have been selected for A list festivals including Venice, Toronto and San Sebastian with five in official selection at Berlin alone.

Meanwhile at the UK box office Headhunters, a Norwegian/German co-production was the second highest grossing foreign language film in the UK after Untouchable, taking a respectable £1.44m (which put in perspective equals or exceed the UK Box office for The Imposter, The Wedding Video or Coriolanus).

Regular readers will be well aware that one hit doesn’t mean we’re about to experience a Viking film invasion along the lines of the current Nordic TV expeditionary force however their consistent investment and support to grow a domestic film industry is making raiding expeditions on the international market easier and more likely to pay off.  The growing success of Norwegian film at home and abroad is a salutary reminder that there is no recorded instance of a small (or indeed a large) country securing a consistent share of the international audience (on  big, small or portable screens) that hasn’t first built its own domestic share.  More on that anon.

The difference a film (or two) makes – British film bouncing back at the box office

Media coverage (see e.g. The Independent, The Guardian , Televisual) of the latest statistical yearbook from the BFI has focussed on the apparent rude health of independent British film but does the detail back up the hype?

Well the answer is a qualified yes.  There is a discernible upward trend in the share of the box office garnered by UK independents (i.e. not those notionally UK films backed by US studios which include the Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean and X:men First Class franchises).

However while the headlines trumpeted the record 13% UK independents’ share, as regular readers will be aware it’s a truism of film box office patterns that almost all the the spoils go to a very few winners and in that respect independent film is no different.  As Sean Perkins and his colleagues note in their report the annual figure is “dependent on a small number of high grossing titles”.  Just how dependent can be seen in the graph below which shows what the market share of UK independent film over th past three years is with and without the top one, two and three titles.

GRAPH (pdf)  impact of top three films on indie box office share

What the figures also reveal is that just two films accounted for almost all the 2010-2011 year on year difference.  Spool back a couple of years and 2009 was a pretty good year for UK independent  film with the top twenty titles collectively taking £85m in ticket sales and Slumdog Millionaire taking over  a third of that total at £31m.  2010 didn’t sustain that bump and saw the top 20 indie titles take only £50m with the number one UK indie film, StreetDance 3D, taking just under £12m of that. 2011 was another even bigger bumper year than 2009 with not one but two smash hits – The Inbetweeners and The King’s Speech each taking £45m to push the independent total to a record high of £144m.

And there’s the rub – take just two films out of the annual picture and the share of the box office changes by a much more modest +/- 1% point.  Should we be concerned?  Well no, not in the sense that as we know film is largely a ‘winner takes all’ business at every scale (though there are some encouraging signs that the inverted pyramid is getting a little less steep with the top 50 titles taking 74% of the box office in 2011 compared to 84% in 2001) .  But should we treat the unprecedented success of 2011 as a further sign of an independent British film renaissance?

Well here the BFI have been scrutinising the longer term trends and conclude that while the average UK indie share of the UK box-office for the past decade has been 6% there is a discernible upward trend from a low of 3.4% in 2003.

Given that encouraging fact what might the reasons be?  The simplest, almost axiomatic, explanation is that we must be making better films.  But there’s a parallel fact that over the past decade we have also generally been making more films (NB the data used here counts only those films with a budget of £500k and above, but that’s OK as so far no sub-500K film has had a significant box office success).  Has this growth in output had any effect on performance?  Well on the face it no, as our graph below illustrates, over this ten-year period there seems to be no statistically significant relationship between production volume and market share.  While the former has, until pretty recently, steadily increased the latter has fluctuated quite wildly.

GRAPH (pdf) comparison of indie volume and share over ten years

That said it remains interesting that there is an upward trend in both sets of data, the coincidence of which may be entirely accidental or it may mean that higher levels of production are a necessary but not a sufficient condition of higher box office share.  There is an argument that to produce more winners at the film casino your odds will improve, but are not guaranteed, if you make more bets. Clearly if production volumes were to continue to drop over time and box office share was sustained or increased then this suggested ‘ratchet effect’ would be disproved but it would seem worthwhile to at least keep an eye on this particular relationship as its often alluded to in film policy debates about ‘quantity versus quality’.

Asia and Latin America steam ahead at the Box Office while more US films chase fewer US dollars

The just released MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) theatrical statistics for 2011 show a continuing rise in global box office with an overall rise of 3% but that figure masks where the real growth is occurring – which is in China (up 35%) and Latin America (up 24%). The US and Canada, by way of contrast, experienced a 4% drop in box office year on year.  Behind the box office figure, boosted both by inflation and the premium cost of 3D tickets (sales of which dropped, ominously, by 18% from 2010 to 2011) the long-term US decline in admissions is also clear – down from 1.57 bn to 1.28 bn between 2002 and 2011, or per person an average of 5.2 dropping to 3.9.

Taking a longer (five-year) view the report confirms that the US ‘domestic’ market, having grown by just 6% between 2007 and 2011,  continues to decline as a proportion of the global box office as ‘International’ (i.e. non US) box office grew by 35% over the same period.

The ‘regional’ figures show just how fast box office is growing south, west and east of North America:

Territory Percentage change  in box office 2007-11
Europe, Middle East & Africa

+ 24%

Asia Pacific


Latin America




More low budget and independent films, fewer studio films.

Undaunted by falling ticket sales, US filmmakers are turning out movies in ever greater numbers but more and more of them are low to micro budget while the studios have trimmed their production slates.  MPAA members (the established end of the business) produced 97 films in 2011 compared to 137 in 2007.  By comparison in 2011 non-members made over 400 films (at an estimated $1m or higher budget), up from 360 in 2007.  And at the under$1m budget level production rose to 319 in 2011 from 290 in 2007.

All in all over 800 films were produced in 2011 hoping to get a theatrical release of which around 610 made it onto a big screen, just under a quarter of which (141) were from MPAA members and the balance (469) from non-members.  Which sounds like there is plenty of box office to go round until you consider the way it splits across those releases.

According to box office mojo the top 200 titles of 2011 collected just over $10.02 of the $10.2bn in domestic box office, which left $180m for the remaining 400 odd titles, an average (and as regular readers of this blog will know there are no average films!)  of $450k per film.  Since the 80/20 rule tends to apply all the way down (see previous posts ad nauseum) you can readily see that the majority must have tanked.  Once you get down to no. 300, a film called October Baby, its $199,442 from 14 theatres is far from the worst performance in the charts.

Whose to say if it or any of those languishing further down the charts might still have a life on DVD/VOD but the chances of making a buck are pretty remote.  Those are the breaks at the roulette table of cinema, after all not even Disney get it right every time!

Seventh heaven (again) for Inbetweeners’ producer Chris Young

UPDATE (31.8.11)

While its producer and stars celebrated on Skye, The Inbetweeners continued its reign at the top of the Box Office charts for a second week, adding another £5.6m over the weekend (bringing its total take to date to just a shade under £28m) outdoing new releases One Day, Final Destination 5 and Conan the Barbarian and securing another record as the fastest-grossing live action comedy in the UK ever. To put this all in perspective this low budget (3.5m) has already taken more than last year’s Sex and the City 2, Clash of the Titans and Despicable Me and more than Four Weddings and a Funeral (well OK, not if you allow for inflation)taking the latter’s place as (so far) 64th highest grossing (In the UK) film of all time.

With his seventh theatrical feature Skye-based Chris Young has not only broken UK box office records for both comedy and an independently produced feature but remains the most prolific Scottish-based film producer if we count only lead rather than co-producer credits.  However the journey from 1989’s Venus Peter (Writer/Director Ian Sellar) to TV series spin-off The Inbetweeners has been far from plain sailing .

Demonstrating considerable entrepreneurial flair, the National Film School Graduate sold £50 shares in Venus Peter on the basis that if the film got made investors would get £80 back.  For his second feature, Prague (1992) , earned a certain (undeserved) notoriety amongst Scottish-based crew because of the small number of them employed on the shoot in the eponymous Czech city.  Not particularly well reviewed critically (though Philip French cited it as an ‘example of a genuinely pan-European cinema transcending individual national borders’ – quoted in Jonny Murray’s excellent 2004 bibliographic research guide That Thinking Feeling),   Prague managed a very modest £15,000 at the UK box office (BFI Film and TV Handbook 1994) which probably didn’t help accelerate the prospects of Young’s slate of films in development.

After a considerable gap of seven years Young’s next theatrical release, Gregory’s Two Girls, brought John Gordon Sinclair back to the screen as  Bill Forsyth’s beloved teenage hero  some seventeen or so years after his debut in what remains the best (and still one of the few) cinematic accounts of Scottish adolescence.  Sadly it didn’t charm audiences back to the cinema, taking a disappointing £130k at the UK box office and failed to get a theatrical release anywhere else

Young’s next release, The Final Curtain, brought two more talents with Scottish ‘form’ together, writer John Hodge (Shallow Grave, Trainspotting) and Director Patrick Harkins (Sea of Souls, Taggart) but the result went straight to DVD/PayTV.

Undeterred (and remember that getting a film financed and made, far less securing any sort of release, is nothing short of a miracle) Young returned to Scottish subject and locations with writer/director Annie Griffin’s 2005 debut feature Festival.  Garnering three stars from the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw wasn’t enough to help it break through at the box office though with a £178k gross or around thirty-eight thousand admissions.

Having established his home and company base in Skye it was perhaps not totally unexpected that his next feature had a celtic dimension but to produce a Gaelic language feature was a bold move and the result in 2007, Seachd: The Inaccessible Pinnacle was a beautifully written and performed set of intertwining stories.  Billed by its producer as the first feature film in Gaelic (actually it wasn’t, the accolade should go either to Barney Platts-Mills Hero or, if  ‘contemporary’ is the qualifier Mike Alexander’s 1993 As an Eilean). Perhaps not surprisingly, given the language barrier, Seachd didn’t get far across the border despite being picked up by dynamic London distributor Soda Pictures but I suspect its reported 2000 theatrical admissions significantly underestimates the true audience in the Gaeltacht.

2007 was clearly a very busy year for Young with a TV movie Flashpoint, a comedy pilot and the first series of Inbetweeners going into production.  Three series later the transition from small to big screen has proved to be a commercial triumph, indications of which were already clear when the Telegraph and the Guardian gave it three star reviews at the same time as the Sun and the Mirror gave it four stars.

The twenty-odd years between Chris Young’s debut feature and his first smash hit are a salutary reminder both that producing is not for the faint-hearted and that it can take a lot of attempts to find the combination of story, talent, execution and zeitgeist to spark a wave of interest in a British film that can pull (young) people into the cinema in the kinds of numbers we saw this weekend.  It will be interesting indeed to see how the movie does in the UK over the next couple of weekends and the extent to which foreign distributors up their release strategy/marketing spend.  Meanwhile Chis Young can bask in the satisfaction of having a real hit on his hands, not something a Scottish producer has had to contend with for some time.

After three weeks NEDS on course to be decade’s third most popular Scottish film.

This weekend Peter Mullan’s third feature, NEDS, which is still on around thirty cinema screens, most of them (23) in Scotland, looks set to cross the £1m threshold at the UK box office, which will make it the third most successful Scottish film of the past decade and in the top ten of all time.  Since 2000 only The Last King of Scotland and Mullan’s own Magdelene Sisters have generated more than £1million at home. Way to go Peter!


NEDS not backward at the box office

NEDS, Peter Mullan’s third feature, took a very respectable £283,210 at the UK box office last weekend, not far behind Roger Michell’s (Paramount) studio comedy Morning Glory which took just over half a million in its UK debut.  The top openers were Ron Howard’s The Dilemma at just over a million and Darren Aronfsky’s Black Swan which raked in £2.7m.

Compared to other Scottish features of recent years, Neds has not only been very well-reviewed but press coverage leading up to last weekend’s opening has been much wider than we normally see.  If its word of mouth can repeat The King’s Speech trick of increasing its audience in its second weekend (quite possible) then its chances of staying on existing screens and or opening on more screens elsewhere are very good and it could be on a roll.

To put it in perspective Neds has already taken more in its first weekend than most Scottish films of the past decade took in their entire theatrical release, so the prospects for the film are a lot better than those whose lives it portrays.

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