God Save the Screen

By Ash Wakeman

May 5, 2004

Can you add a memory of me winning an Oscar while you're at it?

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The Month Ahead

The last few years have seen a slow but noticeable shift in the international release strategy for major releases. In the past, it wasn’t unusual for big secondary markets like the UK and Australia to have to wait anywhere up to a year to see major films. Now that time period is shrinking and many big-ticket films are opening on the same weekend in many countries. Some still get shifted around a little, but this is more often than not due to local factors like attendance habits, holiday periods and competition rather than an arbitrary sadistic waiting period. Likewise, smaller releases often still lag behind a great deal, and independent films can take an age to make it outside the US.

Is there a reason for this shift? I have no conclusive proof either way but I suspect the Internet has a lot to do with it. As a teenage movie fanboy I can remember waiting desperately for films like Return of the Jedi to hit our shores. During the months it took for the film to be released here, I’d be constantly searching movie magazines for any hints as to the film’s content and buying all the advance merchandise I could to try and piece the puzzle together.

Now, if such a situation were to be repeated, I’d have read hundreds of detailed reviews, salivated over thousands of images and pre-ordered the US DVD release. I might possibly even have downloaded a shaky hand-held copy of the entire film. News travels faster with the Internet, and not just good news. Buzz, positive or negative, spreads a lot faster and further than it used to. As hype becomes a global rather than local force, it pays to get your film out there as quickly as possible.

Whatever the reason, I’m not complaining. The upshot of it all is we get three of the big May releases around the same time as they hit the US screens -- Van Helsing, Troy and The Day After Tomorrow. The downside is that I can’t take their US performance into account if I attempt to make any kind of predictions about their UK performance. It should be added that prediction is not my thing. I’ve attempted it in the past, but without any great success. These days, I tend to steer clear. That said, to celebrate the chronological currency of these releases I’m going to go out on a limb and have a shot at putting these big boys in order of their UK opening.

3. Van Helsing: A couple of weeks ago I would have put this at number one. It’s certainly had the most publicity, dominating TV and billboard advertising throughout April. It’s got a couple of attractive (both literally and financially) stars and smells like a franchise in search of a willing audience. However, since then, the rot might have started to set in. The trailers, while visually appealing, are a bit of a mess. Some of the CGI is Hulk-like in its ropeyness (Who’d have thought that this time Frankenstein would have decided to make his monster out of Play-Doh?)

Regardless of potential stumbling blocks, these are not things that should stop it from having a monster opening.

2. The Day After Tomorrow: I suspect it will be a close run thing between this film and Van Helsing. For me they aren’t even close -- The Day After Tomorrow is my most anticipated movie of the year. I’m a huge fan of a good disaster film. To be honest, I’m a huge fan of bad disaster films, which is kind of lucky as there really aren’t that many good ones. What we have here seems to be a hybrid of the ultimate disaster movie and every weather channel documentary you’ve ever seen. To sell a film to me, a concept just doesn’t get better than that (except perhaps Dragons fighting Helicopters).

However, I hold little sway over UK box office, and as such, I need to base my expectations on a little more than what I am personally anticipating. At the moment, The Day After Tomorrow lives and dies by its trailer, which has been leaving audiences drooling for a while now. Like Van Helsing, it’s on high rotation at the cinemas, but with less print back-up. What it lacks in photogenic stars it makes up for in tidal waves that put Van Helsing’s creature effects to shame.

1. Troy. Up until a couple of weeks ago I doubt this film was on most people’s radar over here. It hadn’t been receiving much coverage -- certainly not anywhere near Van Helsing’s dominance in that area. But it’s slowly starting to build as both the TV and print campaigns have started.

Troy eclipses the star appeal of Van Helsing by an order of magnitude and easily matches The Day After Tomorrow in terms of epicness. The obvious comparison for Troy is Gladiator. While it didn’t have the biggest opening here (it was big, but not huge), it went on to become the second highest-grossing film of the year. I have a feeling Troy could do something similar in the UK if the film lives up to what is promised in the trailer.

Finally, for those of you with tickets to see the new Harry Potter film on May 31st wondering why it didn’t make the top three, it’s actually June release. But don’t tear up your tickets yet as they’re still valid. I’ll explain more next week. And by "explain" I mean "rant about"

The Weekend

Kill Bill held onto the number one spot with a 47% drop-off from its opening weekend. While this might not seem too bad, good weather and a holiday weekend meant that other in-release movies averaged closer to 15%, but it was always going to be relatively front-loaded. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind did very well to break the million pound mark and relegate Secret Window to third with a disappointing £750,000 or so.

For EsotSM, this was a slight improvement over the US opening (3.1c per head of population here compared to 2.8c over there). A solid critical and commercial performance at home and abroad, I still doubt film is the one that finally nabs Carrey that elusive Oscar. Secret Window didn't fare nearly as well, as it saw a big drop from North America to Great Britain (6c to 2.3c). I suspect the only reason it made it into the top five was due to the presence of Johnny Depp. Speaking of which, when am I going to get my big screen 21 Jump Street remake?

Johnny’s Caribbean chum didn’t fare quite so well as Orlando Bloom’s Calcium Kid failed to chart. Such a dismal performance (Secret Window looks quite the hit in comparison) has to cast doubts on Bloom’s ability to carry a film on his own. At least he’s got Troy to look forward to. The Calcium Kid was far and away this weekend’s biggest loser.

The biggest winner would have to be Main Hoon Nah, pulling in £320,000 on only 41 screens. Over double the per-screen average of any other film in the chart. Indian films often make the top 15 in the UK. Occasionally they crack the top ten, but seven is particularly impressive. However, success is unlikely to mean any sort of expansion or mainstream attention, as there is little or no crossover appeal.

For those wondering why we don’t print the UK charts in all their glorious detail, it’s not something we archive or plan on archiving at BOP. If you want the numbers without the colour commentary you can always get the latest top ten at IMDB. Oh, almost forgot to mention, if you need a bigger fix of my inane prattling I now have a blog. Feel free to check it out if you have nothing productive to do.



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