How Australian films did globally in 2020

From The Invisible Man to Measure for Measure, Anthony Ginnane does his annual scorecard of Australian film's global theatrical performance. And COVID-19 turned out to be a real bonus.

This is the thirteenth year in Screenhub that I have presented an annual round up of the international theatrical performance of Australian Feature Films.  Here we cover films released outside Australia in the period from January 1st 2020 through December 31st 2020 using data through December 20th 2020.

Each year the figures tell the same important story – the list of films that have significant international income is very different from the pictures we value in our domestic market. Without our need for films that reflect local culture, the global market compares product from around the world, particularly in the Anglosphere.

Read more: Best Australian films 2020: plunging into genre, betting the audience gets the point

It has been an extraordinary year.  As a result of Covid, many cinemas in many jurisdictions have been closed for a large part of the year but when they have been open (including drive-ins which have made a resurgence in the US) independent productions have flourished, because the US majors have not been able to crowd them out. It is now clear that the exhibition circuit is desperate for new content in an international drought of popular films. 

Even a limited theatrical release remains valuable for many producers as a significant driver of ancillary revenue particularly in territories where legislatively enforced or marketplace dictated windows currently prevent day and date ancillary release. After, the all media net result is real measure of success. 

In addition to theatrical releases I will also refer to certain titles that have largely bypassed theatrical and were released directly (day and date) or virtually directly to VOD and SVOD or pay TV only. Rights may be North American or worldwide via the major streamers world wide except for Australia.

Unfortunately, there is still very little hard data readily available on the results of digital exploitation despite the fact that for many Australian films – particularly but not exclusively the micro budget titles – these new media outlets have become the only available entrée into the US and many foreign markets.  I have tried to note that release for each title.  The world-wide gap between major tent pole theatrical releases and micro theatrical releases of all English language titles – not just Australian films – continues to accelerate, despite 2020 being an aberrant year. 

In 2020, 33 film and feature documentaries with Australian involvement received some level of international theatrical release – up from a record 26 in 2015, and up from 2016 when 16 were released, 2017 with 15, 2018 with 14 and 2019 with 22.

These 33 titles in international release were supplemented by another 15 titles from prior year’s play-offs  that continued to move through additional territories.

Despite the increase in numbers of our titles in international release this year, the downward pressure has been relentless since the previous modern peak in 2015. The same factors which I noticed in 2019 will continue across 2021 as the market picks up: 

  • the increasing caution of acquisition executives as territory after territory looks to flat or diminishing cinema attendance figures;
  • the collapse of the middle budget market;
  • the substantial reduction in box office for specialty and non-tent pole releases and,
  • the virtual disappearance of pre-sales in the A territories for the majority of the films Australian producers are packaging.

Readers should note that all box office figures quoted are in US dollars unless otherwise noted.  The box office amounts cited do not themselves indicate the net return to the producer or the ultimate profitability of a title in a territory.  For such analysis other data including distribution terms for the territory including media licensed, MG (if any) and / or if the film was licensed on a flat or revenue share deal, the ad spend, the degree of cross collateralisation – all these metrics need to be factored in to get a net position.  However, theatrical box office numbers and length of run do indicate an initial level of success and marketplace acceptance.

Read more: The best TV of 2020 – a year in search of escape

The good news

Another great year for Australian cinema internationally with some highlights:

The curse of Australian films getting market share in New Zealand is well and truly over. In the weekend of December 10 – 13 a record of seven Australian films were in cinemas; Rams, 100% Wolf, I am Woman, Combat Wombat, Baby Teeth, Brock – Over the Top and Elle & Abby and in the preceding six weeks four to six titles were in release. 

  • A record number of Australian titles theatrically released in the UK – 7 – Escape from Pretoria, Relic , 100% Wolf, I am Woman, Judy and Punch and Black Water Abyss.
  • Goldwyn in the US picked up 7 Australian titles – The True Story of the Kelly Gang, Relic, Rams, H is for Happiness, Measure for Measure and Top End Wedding; Little Monsters, Kojo & Judy and Punch. IFC picked up 2 – Little Monsters, & Judy and Punch.
  • Australian animation features led by 100% Wolf achieving solid theatrical numbers.
  • A massive increase in the number of Australian films released directly to streaming by second tier US distributors like Vertical.

2021 looks like an other banner year despite the general trends

Two studio driven titles are likely to release; the delayed Peter Rabbit 2 by Sony at Easter and probably 3000 Years of Longing in December.

At the middle level Falling for Figaro should perform in English speaking territories as should The Dry. West End Films have sold Rams to various European markets and  China and Level K have sold H is for Happiness to Goldwyn in the US and various European and other territories. 

Penguin Bloom has already been grabbed by Netflix.

Lower budget titles like The Furnace and High Ground have specialty and streaming potential.

The majors will come back into the space progressively from Q2 though some of the second-tier indie distributors will be bruised by Covid, creating tough market conditions for us. But international buyers seek out our product and at both the theatrical and streaming level Australian productions are thoroughly in the market – subject only to the effect of the 40% – 30% offset reduction on the supply chain. 

Read more; 2020 Year in Policy, seeing the world in a different way

The major features 

Invisible Man

  • Invisible Man was the #1 Australian title at the Australian theatrical box office this year – powered by the might of Universal – it was an extraordinary international success both pre and post Covid.  Far surpassing Upgrade, Leigh Whannell’s previous international success, Invisible Man laid down some new records for a recent Australian film internationally.
  • In the US Invisible Man, released thru Universal, grossed a fantastic $64,419,685 on 3610 screens over 21 days while Upgrade was handled by Blum House Tilt and grossed $284,888.
  • In Korea Upgrade grossed $1,550,361 while Invisible Man grossed $4,084,636 in Korea,  $97,619 in Slovakia, in Turkey it took $254,319. Universal Pictures International handled the film in all four territories. 
  • Other outstanding Invisible Man grosses included France on 393 screens over an extended 168 days with $5,993,771. Germany on 411 screens over 161 days with $3,651,899; Indonesia with $1,952,287 over 14 days and Malaysia over an extended 136 days with $1,050,375.  Mexico over 161 days reached $5,182,228.
  • Toho Towa released in Japan – 176 screens over 42 days grossing $1,844,900. Universal opened in China on Dec 4 on 5955 screens grossing $2,763,701 – one may have expected more.
  • International grossed US$70,193,000.  Worldwide gross totalled US$140,603,000.
  • Covid helped the film play on and on even in smaller territories as the majors held back new titles: Peru for example played on and off for 41 weeks.
  • This is a truly amazing result proving that Australian genre films  can compete internationally off a cost-efficient production cost. The project was a co-venture between Goalpost Pictures and US horror expert Blumhouse so it took full advantage of the US studio marketing might building on the sheer quality of the film.  

100% Wolf

  •  Once again another independent Australian animated feature – 100% Wolf – has achieved a wide release internationally.
  • From the same stable as Blinky Bill and the Maya and the Bee series, 100% Wolf has grabbed some success aided by the lack of major titles in release this year.
  • Vertigo released in the UK beginning on 146 screens and moving to 360 over 84 days grossing $1,852,548.
  • Splendid released in the Netherlands on 122 screens over 4 weeks pulling $678,524.
  • Zirna in Mexico over 3 weeks grossed $288,354.
  • In New Zealand Universal’s 387 Film Distribution grossed NZ$539,507 over a 70 day run and is still continuing.
  • In Vietnam on 718 screens rising to 1502 screens over 7 weeks it achieved $361,539.
  • Wolf ran 9 weeks in Canada through Cineplex.
  • Constantin placed it with Super RTL in Germany.
  • The only territory where it disappointed was Hungary where ADS only managed $27,429 over 2 weeks.
  • To date Wolf has grossed $4,362,357 worldwide including $511,619 from Viva Pictures in the USA.
  • There are a number of key territories still to release in 2021 including most of Latin America, France and Scandinavia.
  • Clearly there remains plenty of space world wide both theatrically and via streaming for indie Australian animation.

Escape from Pretoria 

  • Warner Brothers released in Korea on 326 screens increasing to 405 screens and grossing a creditable $1,439,363 over 35 days.
  • Cineopolis in Mexico on 28 screens over 35 days grossed $250,529 .
  • Top Film in Russia / CIS on 236 screens playing on through Covid for 231 days grossed $540,461. 
  • Signature did a PVOD preview for a week in the UK grossing $12,808. 
  • It grossed $70,821 in the Ukraine and a disappointing $15,943 in Brazil. 
  • E1’s Momentum Pictures gave it a brief PVOD / TVOD preview and some limited screens. Grosses were not reported.
  • Worldwide box office to date is $2,408,201. 

Relic 

  • Like Babadook, Relic has been a success outside Australia.  Film Constellation virtually sold it out worldwide.
  • Starinvest released in France on 200 screens over 21 days and grossed $599,915. 
  • DFW grossed $300,000 in Benelux over 21 days. 
  • Signature released in the UK for seven days on 10 screens as a PVOD / TVOD promo. It grossed $3,809 should have done better.
  • Europa in Norway grossed $39,898 on 89 screens over seven days.
  • Mockingbird in Japan released on 747 screens over 2 weeks with $78,403 dollars.
  • MGM took Latin America and some smaller Euro territories.
  • The standout was in the US. IFC over 35 days from July 10th in a combo of hardtops and drive-ins starting on 69 screens and moving up to 141 screens achieved $1,047,083. 
  • More territories to come in 2021. 
  • Good genre works. 

Black Water Abyss

  • The sales team at Altitude in London are imbued with the spirit of the old Optimum Film Group in the UK which was bought by Studio Canal when they first set up a UK presence.
  • Black Water Abyss – a reboot of Andrew Traucki’s low budget animal epic of a decade ago – proved just the ticket in a variety of territories where good exploitation at the exhibition level can still round up 2-3 weeks of business.
  • In Vietnam it ran over 42 days and grossed $346,552.
  • In UAE Pars Film secured $145,850 over 42 days.
  • Screen Media gave it a token 7 day mini theatrical release in the US on 36 drive ins and hard tops and then went straight to PVOD and TVOD – no figures available.
  • Altitude released it itself on 79 screens in the UK and grossed $25,409 over 7 days – a disappointment – but a promo set up for DVD, TVOD and other ancillaries.
  • Centennial in Portugal grossed $28,293 over 35 days.
  • There are a number of licensed territories still to release in 2021.
  • The lesson here is to keep your budget economical and give the buyers who still want big animal pictures what they need.

Babyteeth

  • Critically lauded in Australia the film was a moderate success in the UK through Picture House opening on 139 screens and moving to 153 screens over 2 weeks grossing $144,666.
  • Universal released in New Zealand grossing to date NZ $35,495 on 23 screens over 42 days.
  • Film Art on one screen in Russia managed only $9,430.
  • In the US IFC on 12 screens over 14 days in June only managed $4,300. They then on licenced to Hulu.
  • Romania over 28 days grossed $12,551 on 10 screens.
  • France and Germany are yet to release.
  • Czech Republic opening on 91 screens and moving to 149 screens grossed $50,885.
  • Netherlands performed well with $266,646 on 237 screens. 
  • Spain on 33 screens grossed $10,635. 
  • South Korea disappointed with three $31,197 on 91 screens.

The True History of the Kelly Gang

  • Transmission scored NZ $14,963 in New Zealand on four screens over 14 days.
  • Studio Canal released in the UK and grossed $110,846.
  • Volga in the Ukraine on 85 screens over 14 days hit $11,149.
  • Bit Film in Turkey grossed $7,788.
  • IFC released on April 24th in the US and grossed – during Covid – drive in heavy – $55,758 over 63 days on five screens!
  • Worldwide gross to date is $433,381.

I am Woman

  • The Australian direct to Stan release marked this as a more a TV movie than a theatrical internationally.
  • Transmission have grossed NZ $303,958 in New Zealand over 28 days (and still playing) – a good result.
  • But Portugal through Lusmondo on 16 screens over 2 weeks only managed $6,359 and Vertigo in the UK on 33 screens over seven days grossed $3,763. Both disappointing.
  • Aqute went direct to PVOD and then Netflix in the US and Canada in October.
  • A number of territories are still to play in 2021 including France and Spain

Ms Fisher & The Crypt of Tears

  • Roadshow released in New Zealand over seven days pre Covid. Gross was NZ $191.
  • Accom TV bought all US rights (they are handling the various TV series) and after a limited release (40 screens) on March 13th went straight to TVOD / PVOD.
  • France and Russia went direct to TVOD / PVOD.
  • UK went direct to TV.
  • Canada went direct to DVD. 

Dirt Music

  • A disappointment.
  • Goldwyn bought for US and Canada and went straight to TVOD and PVOD on June 17. It’s still currently playing on Fandango, Vudu, Amazon and Apple. 
  • No other foreign releases as of writing. 
  • Level 33 bought US rights for a PVOD / TVOD release in December 2019 / January 2020.
  • Eastern Europe South Korea and the Middle East are still to release. 
  • Spain, Ukraine and the UK went straight to TVOD / PVOD. 
  • Japan went direct to DVD.

Read more: is 2020 the year of the classy short?

Smaller films

This is basically the indy gang, often financed with minimal or no help from agencies. Some of these results are positive, some are disappointing, but they all derive from producers engaging with the marketplace.

2067

  • Limited international release yet for this title and almost no figures to date.
  • RLJE / AMC Gave it a US limited theatrical on October 2 with day and date PVOD / TVOD window as did Signature in the UK. 
  • In its opening week on TVOD it was #4 on Google play holding at #6 in week two. It was #4 on iTunes in its opening week. 
  • Koch went straight to DVD in Italy and Germany.
  • Turkey played one week on two screens and grossed $2,560.
  • Southeast Asian territories like Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia will release in 2021.
  • XYZ took over the film in April after the collapse of Content Media.  

2099: Soldier Protocol – aka The Wheel

  • Vertical bought US rights for a PVOD / TVOD release. A very limited theatrical pre-release in the USA took place on March 27th. 

Advocate

  • This feature had a one-week season in the US on January 3 at the Quad in New York and the Laemle in Los Angeles. 

Awoken

  • Vertical acquired US rights and released to TVOD on 8 May 2020.
  • The film also released in Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, South Korea and Bolivia. No numbers reported.
  • UK release, also via Vertical was direct to streaming as was Netherlands and Germany.
  • Exponenta released in Russia on 728 screens and it grossed $213,987 over 2 weeks.

Brock: Over The top

  • Universal’s 387 Films released in NZ over 2 weeks grossing NZ$4,330 on 38 screens.

Blood Vessel

  • Released in the US on streaming on July 20 on Fandango Now and Vudu. 

Combat Wombat

  • Another Australian animated feature with thus far limited international successful. 
  • Universal’s 367 Films over 42 days achieved NZ $82,683 in New Zealand. Front Row in UAE grossed $11,821 on three screens.
  • Israel, Spain, Ukraine, Vietnam and Yugoslavia are still to playoff. 

The Faceless Man

  • Went straight to streaming in English speaking territories on Amazon, Vimeo and Real House on August 28. Freedom Cinema are handling US DVD. 

The Flipside

  • The film released in the US on TVOD on 9 June 2020 via Freestyle Digital Media.
  • No other international sales reported to date.

 Go

  • Netflix picked up the worldwide rights excluding Australia and New Zealand and retitled it Go Carts. Aqute Media did the deal.

Hearts And Bones

  • Sky Cinema picked up the UK from Parkland Entertainment for a direct to TVOD and pay TV release.
  • UK release was on the 6th September. Gravitas Ventures released to TVOD in the US in May. 

I Met A Girl

  • The film went straight to TVOD in the USA in September 2020 through Gravitas Ventures and via Fandango, Vudu, Amazon and Apple.
  • France Germany and Italy are still to release.
  • It went straight to streaming in the UK.

Intersection

  • Breaking Glass acquired US and went to TVOD on 31 August 2020, also releasing on DVD.
  • UK went straight to streaming.

Koko – A Red Dog Story

  • Goldwyn bought US rights to this feature documentary and released to TVOD, streaming and DVD. 
  • The film went straight to DVD and streaming in Bulgaria, Canada, France, Mexico, Russia and the UK.

Measure For Measure

  • Goldwyn, who have been quite active in acquiring Australian titles for North America over the last two years picked up this title in June and released on TVOD and PVOD September 4. No figures available.
  • Bankside are working on other international territories restricted by COVID-19 delays.  

Never Too Late

  • Disclosure: I produced this title.
  • Never Too Late had a small digital cinema and hardtop release in the US via Blue Fox grossing $40,000 and then moved into its TVOD window where it charted in the top 10 on Spectrum in its opening week.
  • ADS released in Hungary over 2 weeks on 9 screens for a disappointing $1,220.
  • 2021 upcoming releases include Middle East through Jaguar, Latin America via MGM and a theatrical release in the UK and in New Zealand via 387 Films.
  • Splendid went direct to SVOD in Benelux. 

Outback

  • Lionsgate acquired all US rights and released through Grindstone on June 29 2020 to iTunes, Amazon, Vudu and on DVD.

Romance On The Menu

  • Netflix picked up the world outside Australia on this title. It dropped on September 24th.
  • Koan had the international sales rights. 

Sequin In A Blue Room

  • Licenced to a variety of LGBTQI focus distributors in Europe including Optimale in France, Salzberger in Germany and Pecadillo in the UK and USA . 
  • Covid delays have pushed releases for this title – other than festival one offs – to 2021. 

Swimming For Gold

  • Mar Vista licenced this Steve Jaggi title into the US first on TVOD via iTunes, Amazon and Vudu and then to Hulu in October.
  • Germany the UK and Netherlands went straight to streaming. Universal took a number of other European territories. 

The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee

  • Amazon took New Zealand as well as Australia.
  • Kathy Morgan has been pushing international.
  • It had a very limited release in Singapore coordinated by one of the investors and opens in the Netherlands on SVO D in January 7 2021.
  • Russia, UK, Germany and Italy are licenced but undated.

Wishmas Tree

  • The third Australian animation title in international release this year.
  • Kino Swait In Poland clocked up $540,229 on 221 screens over three weeks in release. A great result. 
  • Poland is becoming a very strong market for Australian animated titles.
  • 2021 territories to release – due to Covid delays – include Portugal, Spain and Israel.
  • Signature in the UK went straight to PVOD. 

Carry Overs from Previous Years:

These figures build on the 2019 performance:

2040 (2019)

  • Released in the US on February 26 on limited screens and DVD.

Australian Dream (2019)

  • Madman released in New Zealand on 13 screens over 91 days grossing NZ $11,097.  

Book Week (2019)

  • The film played VOD in the US on July 1 after a 14 screen theatrical release. 

Buoyancy (2019)

  • Kino Lorber did a virtual cinema release in the US.

Danger Close – The Battle of Long Tan (2019)

  • Released in Japan on April 17th. 

Furies, The (2019)

  • Released on DVD in Japan on January 10th. 

Innuendo (2017)

  • Released in Finland in April and on Amazon in the US and UK. 

Little Monsters (2019)

  • A combo deal for the US with Neon and Hulu was anecdotally extremely lucrative.  A number over 7 figures was mentioned. That would be the best Australian film result for the US this year.
  • Altitude released in the UK on 68 screens over seven days and grossed $43,064. It should have done better.
  • Russia / CIS grossed $49,097 over 4 weeks.
  • UAE grossed $15,949 over seven days.
  • France and Germany are still to release. 

Mystify: Michael Hutchence (2019)

  • Netflix acquired Central and South America and BBC TV played in the UK. 

Ride Like A Girl (2019)

  • It went to digital in the UK on June 26 and in the US on March 12 through Saban Films. 

Storm Boy (2019)

  • Pixma / Pioneer added a couple of extra weeks in Russia bringing the total growth to $30,782. 

Suzi Q (2019)

  • Released in Germany on June 3rd and then to VOD. Utopia released on DVD in the US on July 3. 

Top End Wedding (2019)

  • Goldwyn did a VOD release on February 21 in the USA 

Upgrade (2019)

  • BH Tilt went to TVOD in the USA on October 13 coming in #9 on Apple TV priced at $3.99 

Whistleblower (2019)

  • China Lion continued the New Zealand release in January finally grossing NZ $9,365. 
Antony I. Ginnane
About the Author
p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px 'Helvetica Neue'; color: #000000; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} Melbourne born Antony I. Ginnane has produced or executive produced 70 feature films, MOW’s, miniseries and TV series over 48 years including award winning classics like Patrick, High Tide, The Lighthorsemen, Screamers and Last Dance and most recently (in partnership with Kris Wyld) the TV series Pulse for ABC-TV. His Australian production company F G Film Productions (Australia) Pty. Ltd. is in preproduction on feature film The Chainbreakers. He was President of SPAA from 2008 - 2011, attends the major world markets and is based in Los Angeles and Melbourne. “The Unusual Suspects – 104 Films That Made World Cinema” his first book was published by Currency Press in November 2015.