God Save the Screen
By Ash Wakeman
August 27, 2004
When I look at the date of my last column, I realize I have a lot of catching up to do. There has been a whole lot happening at the UK box office while I've been chilling out. When we last got our calculators out, it was the beginning of July and young Mr. Potter was riding high as the biggest opener ever in the UK. If it was going to be knocked of its perch, the film to do it would be the big green behemoth that is Shrek 2.
Eight Weeks Ago
As it happened, the popular sequel wasn’t up to the task, but only just. It came in fourth on the all-time charts behind the three Potter films and ahead of Return of the King. Its placing pushes 2002’s Spider-Man out the top ten; however, the arachnid will get his chance at revenge in a few weeks. Again, like Potter, much of Shrek’s opening came from an extended preview period so it becomes difficult to accurately compare it to other films. That said, Shrek 2’s £16.2 million is an impressive figure regardless.
The only other wide opener, Godsend, fizzled here the same way it fizzled stateside. A strong cast and a reasonable advertising budget couldn’t help the poorly reviewed medical thriller pull in more than half a million. It fell just short with £490,000.
Seven Weeks Ago
Shek 2 easily holds onto the number one spot. The large (56%) drop is to be expected when you intentionally front-load the film so much. Around the World in 80 Days manages number two despite some god-awful reviews. Jackie Chan has made some real stinkers recently, and this isn’t going to do Steve Coogan’s bid for international stardom any favours either. A £1.6 million opening would have to be a big disappointment for all involved, but there have been much worse bombs this year (a couple of which will be getting a mention later in the column).
At the other end of the spectrum of expectations, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 blows documentary records out of the water with a big £1.3 million opening at number three. Not surprisingly, Moore is a lot less controversial in the UK and I don’t think his films are taken as seriously. They're treated more as entertainment than any kind of propaganda.
Dropping down the list, the Rock’s Walking Tall fails to make any impact at number seven with around £350,000, but turkey of the week goes to limp thriller Twisted with a pathetic £108,000 at number ten. I have no idea what this film is about. I’d never heard of it before today and I have absolutely no desire to find out.
Six Weeks Ago
Another big sequel, another big opening. However, Spider-Man 2’s £8.7 million isn’t in the same league as Shek and Potter’s monstorous opening weekends. At 14th on the all-time list, it doesn’t even manage to beat the original, which is currently at number 11. There is some extent to which this may be seen as a disappointment, but again, once you factor in (or out) preview weekends it’s really hard to make any kind of valid comparison. However, without a Lord of the Rings picture to be released in December, it should still end up as the third-highest opener of the year.
Spider-Man’s only competition as a new release was the poorly-received The Prince and Me, failing to find much of an audience with £366,000 at number six.
Five Weeks Ago
While Spider-Man 2 holds onto the number two spot with the now obligatory for blockbusters second weekend drop-off of close to 60%, the much hyped and poorly-marketed Thunderbirds fails to make much of an impact with a decidedly un-FAB £1.35 million to debut at number one. While I think the Thunderbirds film was made with good intentions and a reasonable amount of respect for the source material (if not the man responsible for it) it was obvious that the movie couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. It’s not often that the biggest marketing tie-in for what appears to be a kid’s film is a car manufacturer. I’m thinking someone from Ford is going to be losing their job over that mess.
Bring back the puppets.
Two Brothers performs as well as any live action/non franchise kids film can be expected to these days (i.e. poorly). It fell Just shy of £300,000 at number seven. At number nine we have a tidy £140,000 debut on limited release for the BOP favorite Before Sunset. Unfortunately, on 40 screens this isn’t a per screen average to write home about, so I wouldn’t expect any kind of expansion or longevity.
Four Weeks Ago
There were a massive five new entries in the top ten this week, none of which really set the world on fire. Far more interesting than any debuts was the battle between Harry Potter 3 and Shrek 2 for overall box office supremacy. Potter is fading fast, and it’s going to be really close between the two of them for which comes out on top (and will be the UK’s biggest film this year).
Despite opening in first place and TV ads announcing it as “Britain’s Number One Film,” King Arthur isn’t fooling anyone. While not quite a bomb, I don’t think anyone is going to mistake it for a success. An opening under £2 million must be a big disappointment, considering the budget, hype and mammoth advertising campaign. I’ll probably get around to seeing it one day, but I’m worried that the monotonic drone of Clive Owen’s voice will lead to me nodding off half way through. So I might save it for DVD.
Garfield slides in at number three with £1.15 million. That's a bit of a nothing result and I don’t expect it to hang around the charts for long. Stepford Wives can’t even crack a million as it opens at five; poor reviews all around didn’t really help it’s cause. Opening at eight were the Hindi film Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, while New York Minute was number ten.
Three Weeks Ago
Will Smith’s I, Robot is straight in at number one with an impressive £4.7 million opening weekend. While it's only number eight for the year so far, it’s a big number for a non-franchise picture. Regardless of how you rate him as an actor, there is no denying Will Smith puts a lot into promoting his films. I have no doubt that this is a contributing factor his success and the success of his films. In that respect, Smith is reminding me more and more of Tom Cruise. When a studio invests a substantial sum for either of these two to star in a movie, they aren’t just buying an actor. They’re buying a smiling, laughing, hand-shaking, rope-working self-publicity machine.
Sydney Bristow’s entry into the ever-growing body/gender/age/whatever swap genre 13 Going on 30 debuted at number two with an unremarkable £1.2 million or so. The loser of the week was Disney’s poorly-received Home on the Range with a paltry (or should that be poultry) £200,000 at number ten. It had a clucking (sorry) awful per screen average for the weekend of just over £, about a twentieth of that of the number one film. Considering we’re in the middle of the school holidays, that number only looks even more pathetic. Comparing it to Shrek… well, it’s akin to rubbing salt into wounds.
Two Weeks Ago
The Bourne Supremacy’s turn at the number one slot as the thriller sequel narrowly beats I, Robot’s second weekend with a respectable £2.7 million. It’s always a relief to see films like this one - slick, intelligent action-thrillers that rely on plot and pacing over hyperbolic special effects - being well received at the box office. Sometimes I think that this is a dying genre, being replaced by films that are little more than a series of interlinked, expensive set-pieces. Bourne is almost singlehandedly bucking this trend and proving that it is possible for a film of this nature to be both a critical and a commercial success.
I don’t think anyone really cares how well Catwoman did or didn’t do so I’m not even going to bother. If you’re desperate, email me your address and I’ll send you a postcard.
Another week, another number one. This time it’s the turn of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. Despite mixed reviews it manages a solid debut, a whisker under £3 million. Bourne is holding steady at number two, with I, Robot at number 3. Both of these films have been holding up fairly well, with drop-offs under 50%. A couple of years ago that would have been no big deal, but these days a drop-off in the 40 percentile doesn’t happen too often for a number one film. The only other opener, A Cinderella Story, is in at number six with an unsuprising £600,000, a fairly typical debut for this kind of unremarkable kids film.
Also this week, Shrek 2 finally overhauled Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, putting it at number ten on the all-time list. It’s probably going to climb another place or two as well.