Australian box office breaks record

U.S. pics take 83% of territory's $1 billion total

SYDNEY — Coming in at A$1.09 billion ($1 billion), the 2009 Australian box office achieved a record high, with U.S. pics accounting for 83% of the total.

U.K. films came a distant second with 9%, while Aussie films accounted for a decent 5% of the overall takings, according to figures released by the Motion Picture Distributors Assn. of Australia.

After a few dismal years of around 3%-to-4%, the result for local pics is the best showing since 2001, when they grabbed 8% of B.O. due to Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge,” Anthony LaPaglia starrer “Lantana” and helmer Mark Joffe’s “The Man Who Sued God.”

The 2009 pics driving the local resurgence were Bruce Beresford’s “Mao’s Last Dancer,” which was the local B.O. champion of the year with a $13.7 million haul, road-trip tale “Charlie and Boots” and critics’ fave “Samson and Delilah.”

A holdover from 2008, Luhrmann’s Outback epic “Australia” took a further $9.7 million for an overall haul of $34.3 million, making it the second highest earning Aussie film of all time.

Reports show that 1.4 million more Australians went to see homegrown films in 2009 than in 2008, a 45% increase, said Screen Australia topper Ruth Harley.

The top five films provide a snapshot of the impressive array of genres on offer in 2009, from the confronting, yet ultimately uplifting, drama depicted in “Samson and Delilah” and “Mao’s Last Dancer,” to the romance of “Australia,” the comedy of “Charlie and Boots” and the special effects-driven action of “Knowing.”

Harley, who talked about the desire to raise the percentage of local films’ B.O. take and the difficulty of doing so at November’s Screen Producers Assn. of Australia conference, added that a big B.O. was not the only measure of success.

Many titles, such as “Footy Legends,” saw cinema count for less that 10% of final auds, something that the film org wanted to explore.

It’s a high priority for Screen Australia in 2010 to better understand downstream viewings as we refine a new range of measures to reflect audience engagement with Australian screen production,” Harley said.

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