God Save the Screen

Exchange Ratings

By Ash Wakeman

April 22, 2004

Happy Birthday Ma'am.

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I’m guessing that when I tell you Scooby Doo 2 made £3.5 million in its opening weekend at the UK box office a couple of weeks ago it may not mean much to many loyal BOP readers. I might as well be waving my hands about talking about some kind of crazy moon money. It doesn’t sound like that big a number, and obviously something as crass as a CGI dog and Freddie Prinze Jr in a blonde wig would be snubbed in such a well-mannered and cultured society, but lets run the maths to be sure.

One of our fine imperial British poundlets will buy approximately 1.77 of your traitorous North American dollarbucks. This magical ratio (I like to call it, the “Exchange Rate”) applied to Scooby Doo’s opening weekend gives us a figure not entirely dissimilar to $6.2 million. Now I’m talking your language, or at least a language Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry understand. But the fun with numbers doesn’t end there.

There are around 60 million people huddled together in our green and pleasant lands compared to the 270 million or so crowded onto your majestic purple mountains. That number is closer to 300 million when you throw in your frozen northern neighbors, whose slice of the box office pie tends to get lumped in with yours. Like Mel Gibson’s many and varied attempts to rewrite history, that’s hardly fair and balanced. Looking at the thing per capita, the average Brit spent just over 10 cents on Scooby Doo 2’s opening weekend, while the slightly less generous North American movie-goer bumped the trans-atlantic total for the Scoob’s opening weekend to just under a dime.

These are fairly rough numbers, but factoring in the exchange rate and taking population into account, Scooby Doo 2 performed around the same on opening weekend in both markets. The difference is that Scooby Doo 2 (with a nice release date that gave it three school holiday weekends) has had rather spectacular legs in the UK. It’s just logged its third week at number one (although it will almost certainly be killed by Quentin Tarantino on weekend four) and is the highest grossing 2004 release to date.

So much for high culture.

While Scooby Doo is the hit of the year to date, lets take a look at the other end of the money-making spectrum. Last weekend marked a catastrophic debut for the “based on a true fictional story” equine Viggofest Hidalgo. A pathetic £444,000 opening for this week's most heavily advertised new release had the film limping over the line at number eight. Applying the same numbers, Hidalgo earned little over a cent from the average Brit. The average horse (or maybe Viggo) crazy North American was in for over 6 cents, a massive relative difference. When films flop here, they flop bad.

Although Hidalgo is one of the years biggest absolute flops to date in the UK, other underperformers include Cody Banks 2 and The Rundown (renamed Welcome to the Jungle here, obviously targeting the huge Guns ‘n’ Roses fan demographic). However, another big relative flop would have to be The Passion of the Christ. In the UK the other king who returned earned about 6 cents per head of population on its first week in wide release, compared to a whopping 28 cents in North America. That's not quite 30 pieces of silver, but an awesome box office performance nonetheless.

Quite unlike its complete domination of first quarter box office in the US, The Passion is struggling to make it into the 2004 top five here. At the moment it’s neck and neck with Lost in Translation, a comparison that would be laughable with regards to North American box office. Why the difference? Are we Godless heathens who have spurned religion in favor of remakes of old cartoon shows? While many may feel this is the case, I would like to think the Passion’s lack or relative success here is because we can’t stomach the violence. The blood and death, the horrific torture and the mutilation offend our delicate British sensibilities. Such horror is not for us. Instead we choose to revel in the finer things in life -- fine art, classical music and perhaps a little dry highbrow comedy.

Or at least that’s what I’d like to think, anyway. It’s the only way I can explain the fact that The Passion of The Christ is only the fifth highest-grossing film of the year so far and The School of Rock is currently number four.



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