LONDON — Blighty’s red-hot box office summer shows no signs of cooling.
Thanks chiefly to the whammo success of feelgood tuner “Mamma Mia!,” summer 2008 admissions were the biggest since 1969 (according to the Film Distributors Associates). And with Disney’s bigscreen “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” whipping teens and tweens into a full-blooded frenzy, cinema trade looks set to remain upbeat this fall despite the tough economic climate.
While “HSM3” doesn’t open until Oct. 22, Disney reports that as of Oct. 8, U.K. cinemas have taken advance bookings of $2 million. This makes the pic the biggest advance ticket-seller, including the “Harry Potter” pics, for this stage prior to release.
The speed of advance ticket sales has stunned and delighted Brit exhibs at a time of year when B.O. takings often dip.
“This is a phenomenal and record-breaking start for ‘High School Musical 3,'” says Rupert Gavin, CEO of Odeon, the U.K.’s largest cinema chain. “Our cinemas have been inundated with calls to pre-book tickets for what could be the year’s biggest kids- and teen-audience movie. With schools breaking up for half term just as ‘High School Musical 3’ opens, we at Odeon are bracing ourselves for a huge first week run.”
It’s not just Odeon. Stuart Boreman of exhib Vue reports that three weeks ahead of release, 35,000 “HSM3” tickets had been snapped up — 4,000 more than the pre-release tix it sold for “Mamma Mia!”Sure to add to the frenzy is the extensive press coverage of the Oct. 7 U.K. premiere. The cast led by Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, received a frenzied reception the likes of which is rarely seen in London. More than 8,000 young fans, mostly lovestruck schoolgirlsscreamed deliriously for Efron in scenes reminiscent of ’60s Beatlemania.
Inside the theaters wasn’t any different. Burly security men were deployed to prevent fans from swarming Efron to show their affection. Declared the star: “This is the best reception so far on the European press tour.”
While the whammo advances have taken most industryites by surprise, indicators were there. The two previous telepics are endlessly repeated to big viewership on British TV. “HSM3” merchandising is red-hot; last year, “HSM” was the biggest-selling calendar in the U.K., beating out the ever-popular Manchester United Football Club brand.
And teen dance movies have a decent track record at U.K. wickets. Last year, Universal’s sequel “Step Up 2: The Streets” followed up on the homevid success of the original “Step Up” with an impressive $4.7 million opening en route to a $20.8 million cume.
The pre-release “HSM3” buzz has exhibs projecting a five-day opening of at least £10.5 million ($18 million). With heat like this, it’s no surprise “High School Musical 4” is already in the works at Disney. And the fourth instalment could prove an even bigger boon to the Blighty B.O. given that “HSM3” introduces a U.K. thesp — Jemma McKenzie-Brown — to the cast.