God Save the Screen
By Ash Wakeman
June 16, 2004
Two Weekends Ago
As predicted, the records tumbled. Pundits across the nation shocked at the unprecedented achievements of one film. Yes, Pedro Almodovar’s Bad Education has become the first Spanish language film to spend three weeks at number five on the UK charts.
Well, this record may not be the type most people are interested in. Despite being an admirable achievement for a foreign language film, Bad Education’s relative success isn’t really as impressive as it might seem. No one else was brave enough, or foolhardy enough to go up against the combined might of Van Helsing, Troy, The Day After Tomorrow and of course, Harry Potter. With absolutely no non-blockbuster competition, this represented a nice bit of counter-programming by someone.
All that is nice, but probably not nice enough to warrant the two paragraphs already dedicated to it so I’ll move on. The big release holdovers dropped a fair bit, but considering what they were up against it could have been worse. Van Helsing is flagging, down 60% with very little life left in it. Troy is down 50% or so, showing some respectable numbers, but I suspect it will ultimately be considered a slight disappointment. Day After Tomorrow dropped a big 60%. In the past this would have been considered a big disappointment, but its impressive opening numbers, the tendency for these sorts of blockbusters to be massively frontloaded and this weekend's competition make that figure look slightly more respectable. To be honest, I was expecting the combination of poor word-of-mouth and the arrival of Mr. Potter to cause an even bigger drop.
This leaves the daddy. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban broke all kinds of records, with biggest single day and biggest opening weekend being the most significant. I’ve already talked at length about the wizardry of its opening week so I won’t get into that again; however, it was interesting to see a lot of the media picking up on the fact that there was more than a little bit of sleight of hand involved in achieving these numbers. Interestingly enough, the one record it failed to snap up was Friday-to-Sunday, as Potter 3 was beat by both Chamber of Secrets and Return of the King. However, an opening close to £24 million is incredible, whichever way you slice it.
Harry Potter paid the price of messing with the length of the weekend by finding itself on the end of a massive 82% drop-off. They don’t get much bigger than that. This number is of course skewed by the extended opening period; however, its three-day to three-day weekend drop-off is still over 50%, which isn’t great. It’s hard to say how well it will do at this point. It’s currently safely inside the top 20 all-time UK box office charts. It should make top ten without too much trouble, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up well short of the Chamber of Secrets' number six position. While I’m sure any studio would be happy with those numbers, it might end up giving a little bit of a Harry Potter and the Law of Diminishing Returns vibe to the proceedings. Time will tell.
The usual May suspects (Day After Tomorrow, Troy, Van Helsing) are still hanging onto Harry’s coat-tails at two, three and four respectively. All have drop-offs in the mid-40 percentile. We have a new entry at number five, as the cross-dressing comedy Connie and Carla makes its debut with a rather limp £155,000. I suspect the release date was chosen as an attempt to provide an alternative to the Euro 2004 football (soccer) tournament that seems to be dominating day-to-day life in some of the UK at the moment. The problem is that good counter-programming would have to involve a film that people who don’t like football actually want to see.
Rounding out the English language films in the top ten, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind hangs in at number eight, falling shy of £5 million in its seventh week in the charts. This is one film that I do think benefited from cinemas that are currently stocked to the gills with big budget, effect-driven blockbusters.
Two Indian Films, a Spanish Film and an Italian Film take the other four spots. This level of multiculturalism in the charts is unprecedented in my experience. However, again I suspect their presence is more to do with no one being willing to go up against Potter et al and a lack of chart competition than it is to do with any kind of increase in the popularity of foreign films. Still, with Bad Education on track to break a million pounds and Hum Tum on track for half a million, I could be wrong.