Oz locals hit record low

'Bedfellows,' 'Somersault' highest grossers

SYDNEY — The 16 Aussie films released Down Under last year grossed just A$11.8 million ($8.8 million) for a market share of 1.3% — the lowest in the 27 years the stats have been kept.

U.S. pics accounted for nearly 86% of the territory’s record $680.4 million box office, up from 83.8% in 2003, according to an Australian Film Commission report issued Thursday.

Some 200 U.S. titles were released, 63% of the 318 films that were distributed theatrically in 2004.

The highest-grossing Oz pics were Paul Hogan starrer “Strange Bedfellows” ($3.6 million) and writer-director Cate Shortland’s “Somersault” ($1.5 million).

Twelve local features and four docs debuted last year, down from 22 pics and one docu in 2003.

Last year was “undeniably a difficult year for the Australian film industry both in terms of box office receipts and production levels,” said AFC chief exec Kim Dalton. “In recent years we’ve released around 20 features per year. When output almost halves, as it did last year, there is less chance you will see a big hit.

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“The box office results point to significant problems facing the Australian production industry.”

Dalton noted the government is responding. It has launched another private investment scheme, dubbed Flics; reviewing tax breaks for Aussie films; and given extra coin to the Film Finance Corp. and the AFC, which is boosting script development and supporting low-budget features.

The industry is looking for an upturn over the next two years from high-profile pics including “Candy,” starring Heath Ledger and Geoffrey Rush; “Little Fish,” Cate Blanchett’s first Oz film since the mid-1990s; “Happy Feet,” Kennedy Miller’s animated feature for Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow; horror pic “Wolf Creek,” which Miramax collared for the U.S. and selected territories; helmer Ray Lawrence’s “Jindabyne”; and Fox Searchlight’s “Eucalyptus,” toplining Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman.