God Save the Screen

By Ash Wakeman

September 30, 2004

Any chance of doing this upside down in the rain?

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I was all set to write a column about how boring box office results become once you move out of the summer season and enter the doldrums of September. However, the last few weeks have thrown out some interesting results at the UK Box Office - so much so that it’s time to dust off the calculator again.

The big loser of last weekend was The Punisher. Despite being reasonably well-received in the US, the film received little advertising here and was unceremoniously dumped in September for its sins. As a result, no one went to see it. Well, a few people did, I guess - it still made just shy of £200,000 coming in at number eight. To return to an old comparison, in the UK the average person paid the equivalent of .4c (yes, point four cents) towards The Punisher’s opening weekend. In the US the figure was 4.72c, almost a nickel. That’s over ten times as much, which is a massive difference in relative opening weekend ticket sales.

Before we start working our way up the chart, it’s worth noting that at number nine, Garfield has been in the top ten for a massive nine weeks. With a total of just over £9 million, it's currently the highest grossing film in the top ten and the 16th highest grossing film of the year.

Despite the fact that cell phones are known as mobile phones over here, Cellular survived with its original title to debut at number seven with a reasonable £400,000 or so. A solid advertising campaign and the striking visuals contained therein helped Hero to a respectable £9 million weekend. The Kim Basinger starrer came in at number three, behind Collateral in its second week. The well-received Tom Cruise thriller, last week’s number one, continued to perform well with a first weekend drop of only 36% in the number two spot.

As expected, this week’s number one film was the romantic sports comedy (or RomComSpor I guess) Wimbledon. £1.7 million is a little disappointing, but in September it’s enough for number one and the good news is that the film should have legs. However, a 50% first weekend drop in the US isn’t a good sign. The film opened considerably better in the UK, pulling in around four cents a person as opposed to two and a half in the US. All in all, it’s a mixed result for Paul Bettany’s first lead role in a major film.

In general, September has been an odd month at the UK box office. There were a number of relatively strong performances from independent and low-key films and fairly lackluster numbers from a lot of bigger releases that performed well in the US. Rather than a week-by-week, how about some awards?

September’s Hit of the Month: Collateral

The Michael Mann/Tom Cruise/Jamie Foxx thriller was the only film to open over £2 million this month. For a stylish adult thriller, heavy on the talking and light on the action, this result is fairly strong, even factoring Tom Cruise into the mix. Solid reviews and good word-of-mouth mean that it’s held up well, with a moderate drop-off compared to big numbers we’ve been seeing through the summer.

Once again Cruise outdid himself when it came to promoting the film. Love him or hate him, there is no denying that when his name is in the credits, you don’t just get one of the world’s most popular actor. You get a walking, talking, hand-shaking, grinning publicity machine for your film. Cruise’s rope work at premieres is legendary and he’s always been good to his UK fans.

Runner-Up: Open Water

More on this one later.

September’s Bomb of the Month: The Chronicles of Riddick

Technically it opened at the end of August, but it kept on bombing through September and I decided to give it the prize because I just love the following statistic.

Pitch Black
Estimated Budget: $23 million
UK Opening: £900,000

Estimated Budget: $110 million
UK Opening: £1,040,000

I’m sure some heads are rolling over that one. Sometimes you wonder if Hollywood is ever going to stop trying to capture lightning in a bottle.

Runner-Up: The Punisher

A competent, if not rather generic, action film was poorly marketed in the UK after a reasonable performance in the US.

September’s Surprise of the Month: Open Water

This one came out of nowhere. On its biggest weekend in the States Open Water came in around number five with an average of 3.6 cents spent per head of population. In the UK it stormed in at number one. A £1.9 million opening weekend marked it as the second biggest opener in September with a healthy 4.7 cents per person.

Runner-Up: Ummm… Well…..

Apart from Open Water, there really weren’t all that many surprises through September. If anything, The Village and Garfield's (both August openers) continuing performance, both closing around £10 million pounds in the face of poor reviews and advance word-of-mouth from the US is the only thing that really surprised me.

September’s Disappointment of the Month: Wicker Park

These days, BOP favorite Josh Hartnett tends to steer clear of the big event pictures, instead choosing more low-key personal projects than star vehicles. However, it’s tempting to think that a couple of more big commercial projects under his belt would help cement his reputation as one of Hollywood’s most interesting new talents. Either way, Wicker Park isn’t a film that’s going to raise his profile, certainly not in the UK. It brought in only .7 cents per person on opening, barely a third of its US performance. The film debuted at number eight and vanished without a trace the next week.

Runner-Up: The Punisher

The last film I can recall that did this poorly relative to its US performance was Hidalgo.

September’s British Mover and Shaker of the Month: Jude Law

To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Jude. While there is no doubt he can act, he just seems to be lacking a certain charisma or strength of character that he’ll need to catapult him from reliable supporting actor to true leading man. However, despite what I think, scoring a US number one with Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow isn’t going to hurt his prospects at all. The top spot in the US, coupled with this week's UK premiere and a few interesting projects to come over the next couple of years, is enough to secure him this month's title.

Runner-Up: Paul Bettany

Another British actor who is best known for his strong supporting roles got his first big lead this month. Unfortunately, Wimbledon wasn’t a huge success, managing only third in the US. In the UK it performed better, but still not convincingly enough to secure Bettany’s future as a leading man. That said, by the end of its run Wimbledon should have performed well enough to give Bettany another shot or two at the majors.

Next up is a heel turn as the villain in the Harrison Ford thriller The Wrong Element. He’s also been mentioned as the next James Bond. Of course, he’s a male actor under 50, so that’s pretty much a given. I’d be more suspicious if he hadn’t been mentioned.



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