The Australian industry was quick to celebrate its haul of Oscar 13 nominations for “Lion” and “Hacksaw Ridge” and a first-ever nod in the foreign-language category, for “Tanna.” But Australian-made films are struggling at their local box office.
Overall theatrical box office in Australia grew by 2.7% in local currency terms in 2016, according to newly released figures from the Motion Picture Distributors Assn. of Australia. Revenue grew from A$1.23 billion in 2015 to A$1.26 billion.
In U.S. dollar terms, the gain was greater, from US$845 million in 2015 to US$955 million, using end-of-year exchange rates for each year. That reflected the gradual strengthening of the Australian dollar over the past year.
But Australian films saw their share of the home market crumble from 7.2% in 2015 to just 1.9% in 2016. In 2015 they accounted for a record A$88 million, but last year they managed to pull in just A$24 million, with “Hacksaw Ridge” the top scorer on A$8.6 million.
The new year may hold brighter prospects. “Lion” enjoyed an A$5 million start at local theaters, the largest opening ever for an Australian independent film. The movie collected six Oscar nominations, including one for best picture and a fourth acting nomination for past winner Nicole Kidman.
“What a perfect way to end the opening week at the Australian box office for this remarkable film,” said Richard Payten of distributor Transmission Films. “‘Lion’ is truly a film that Australian and international audiences have fallen in love with, and it is thrilling to see it getting the critical acclaim it deserve.”
Australia has previously put forward other films in the foreign-language category. “Tanna,” a Nauvhal-language film directed by Bentley Dean and Martin Butler on Vanuatu island, is the first to have been shortlisted by the Academy.
At the top of the 2016 Australian box office, it was Hollywood all the way. The highest-earning movie of 2016 was “Finding Dory” with A$48.6 million, ahead of “Deadpool” with A$43.2 million. The No. 10 film, “The Secret Life of Pets,” scored A$29.6 million, more than the combined total of all Australian–made titles.
A new streaming video service, showing only Australian-made movies, is scheduled launch Thursday, on Australia Day.