How Australian Films performed globally at the box office in 2021

From Peter Rabbit 2 to Maya the Bee 3 and The Dry, Anthony Ginnane does his annual scorecard of Australian films' global theatrical performance.
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway Sony

This is the fourteenth year that I have presented an annual round-up of the international theatrical performance of Australian Feature Films for ScreenHub. Here we cover films released outside Australia from January 1 through to December 31, 2021.

This is the second year in which COVID has forced cinemas in many territories to close or operate at significantly reduced capacity, but when they have been open, with reduced competition from mainstream studio releases, independent and local productions have flourished.

In addition to theatrical releases I will also mention certain titles that have largely bypassed theatrical and were released directly (day and date) or virtually directly to VOD and SVOD in the US and/or Netflix or other streamers worldwide, or on pay TV only outside Australia.

The number of these titles, especially in the US, is increasing. Unfortunately, there is still very little hard data readily available on the results of digital exploitation despite the fact that for many Australian films these new media outlets have become the only available entrée into the US and many foreign markets. I have tried to note such releases for each title. The world-wide box office gap between major tent pole theatrical releases and micro theatrical releases of all English language titles – not just Australian films – continues to accelerate – despite 2021 being another unusual year.

But some form of theatrical release, however limited (and even via digital cinema or drive-ins), remains for many producers a hoped-for result as it is still a significant driver of ancillary revenue (the ultimate all media net result) particularly in territories where legislatively enforced or marketplace dictated windows currently curtail day and date ancillary release. But such a release is becoming harder to achieve.

In reviewing the results, it is worth recalling that in all these foreign territories Australian films complete for screen space with both the US majors – just as we do in Australia – and with high profile local language titles as well – but for a second year the majors’ presence in the theatrical space has been significantly reduced.

Read: How Australian films did globally in 2020

In 2021, 22 Australian films (20 films and 2 feature documentaries) received some level of international theatrical release – down from a record 33 in 2020. (There were 26 in 2015, 16 in 2016, 15 in 2017, 14 in 2018 and 22 in 2019.) COVID had a significant impact.

These 22 titles in international release were supplemented by another 10 titles from 2020, 1 from 2019, and 1 from 1994 that continued to move through additional territories or were re-issued. All of the premiere titles reported on this year have multiple territories licensed that have not released due to COVID closedowns and will carry over into 2022.

It is likely that future years will see a further reduction in titles in international cinema release as a result of 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 and the substantial reduction in box office for specialty and non-tent pole releases along with the virtual disappearance of pre-sales in the A territories for the majority of the films Australian producers are packaging.

It is likely that future years will see a further reduction in titles in international cinema release as a result of 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 and the substantial reduction in box office for specialty and non-tent pole releases along with the virtual disappearance of pre-sales in the A territories for the majority of the films Australian producers are packaging.

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.

Let’s begin with the years most successful titles. Readers should note that all box office figures quoted are in US dollars unless otherwise noted. 

Peter Rabbit 2 – The Runaway

With a domestic gross of $40,336,536 and an international gross (including Australia) of $113,400,000, Peter Rabbit 2 – The Runaway was Australia’s most successful international release in 2021.

Its worldwide total of $153,736,536 was less than half of the worldwide total of $351,496,066 the original grossed in 2018, but given COVID restrictions and release date timing issues this was a commendable result for Sony.

I will highlight a number of significant theatrical successes of the sequel and then provide a chart covering key territorial results versus the sequel.

On 3346 screens over 49 days a US gross of $40,190,823 was achieved in June.

The UK opening in May was the second-highest territory with $27,280,816 on 601 screens over 77 days. France releasing late June grossed $7,405,261 on 670 screens over 35 days.  Russia releasing in May grossed $4,891,977 on 1880 screens over 70 days. Germany in July grossed $4,003,207 and Spain also in July on 362 screens over 21 days took $1,506,475.

All these releases were handled by Sony, except for Russia where the Disney/Sony JV released.

The film released in China in June fetching $25,900,000. Japan was the second highest Asian gross with $1,694,366.

Latin America release was COVID curtailed save for Mexico in May with $1,811,913 on 528 screens over 63 days and Colombia in September with $424,509 on 242 screens over 28 days.

Selected Release Comparisons of Peter Rabbit (2018) and Peter Rabbit 2 (2021)

TerritoryPeter Rabbit (2018)Peter Rabbit 2 (2021)
Belgium$2,712,081 
Brazil$3,871,618 
Bulgaria$462,000$60,608
China$26,289,411$25,900,000
Colombia$998,904$424,509
Croatia$387,319$109,306
France$12,043,790$7,405,261
Germany$12,153,464$4,003,207
Hong Kong$1,412,184$643,404
Iceland$146,701$86,330
Italy$3,087,454$1,372,889
Japan$4,952,589$1,634,366
Mexico$4,449,564$1,837,913
Portugal$1,315,421$220,768
Romania$722,490$335,108
South Africa$1,687,511$294,693
Spain$9,085,431$1,506,475
Turkey$516,167$99,957
UAE$1,676,411$1,293,643
Ukraine$1,142,933$738,760
Uruguay$196,329 
USA$114,276,056$27,280,816

Mortal Kombat

With a worldwide gross of $83,601,013, Mortal Kombat was Australia’s second-highest international title in 2021. A selection of grosses follows:

New Line WB achieved $42,201,013 over 3 weeks in the US in April / May.  Russia through WB scored the highest international gross with $11,300,000 over 5 weeks. Mexico through WB took $1,900,000. Spain through WB was the third highest international gross with $1,600,000 over 3 weeks in April/May closely followed by UAE with $1,500,000 on 78 screens over 21 days. Thailand through WB took $994,000 and Vietnam $842,304. UK on 310 screens over 14 days grossed $660,085. Hong Kong through WB took $559,392. Ukraine took $45,338 and in South Africa through TMF over 28 days it grossed $308,896. South Korea was one action territory that disappointed with only $365,442. Vertical in Romania grossed $101,022. Germany massively underperformed with $35,742 as did Japan with $907,000 – both partly due to COVID. The lack of a China release was also unfortunate.

But Mortal Kombat was a clear demonstration of South Australian production values worldwide.

By way of comparison to Mortal KombatKiller Elite (2011) achieved a worldwide gross (excluding Australia) of $56,400,000; Knowing (2009) grossed worldwide $183,658,498 and Hacksaw Ridge (2016) grossed worldwide $175,302,354. All were action titles shot in Australia.

Given COVID and given the film had an absence of strong lead cast and historically films based on a single person shooter game have not performed – Mortal Kombat did well.

Maya and the Bee – The Golden Orb

Australian indie animation for family audiences continues to be one of our global success stories. Studio Canal released in New Zealand on 42 screens achieving NZ$47,873 over 49 days. COVID definitely impacted that result. Monolith in Poland who have made a speciality of Australian indie animation grossed $554,487 on 232 screens over 21 days. Capella in Russia on 460 screens grossed $136,873 over 14 days. Kaleidoscope in the UK did a one-week pre-DVD release on 262 screens for $64,463. Universal on 793 screens over 14 days in Vietnam grossed $145,738. BNOP in South Africa over 14 days on 57 screens grossed $42,127. The UEAE took $38,309 on 9 screens over 14 days. 

Like its predecessors Maya and Maya 2, this will have an extended release pattern and more and more territories will roll out in 2022.

Great White

Altitude UK virtually sold out the world on this taught little thriller. A great release in Spain by Contracorriente grossed $348,5566 in May. UAE through Phars Film pulled a further $168,087. In Croatia in June the film grossed $29,906. Intercontinental released in Hong Kong in June and grossed $59,595 over one week. South Korea through Joy In Cinema in August grossed $19,907 over 2 weeks. Portugal through Contracorriente grossed $7,833 over 2 weeks. The film went direct to DVD in the Netherlands and the UK. Shudder took streaming rights in Germany and the US (after RLJE gave it a token ultra-limited cinema release in the US).

The Beach

A24 acquired limited online screening rights worldwide. There have been limited feature theatrical screenings.

Bullied

Titled Rock Sugar in Australia, Gravitas picked up the US/Canada rights and put it straight to TVOD in June.

Chasing Wonders

Gravitas acquired the US/Canada rights and ran a micro theatrical and VOD release. Grosses were not reported.

The Dry

Roadshow pushed the title in New Zealand to an excellent NZ$1,498,673 on 205 screens over 199 day extended release. IFC in the US on 186 screens over 28 days grossed $318,110. BIM in Italy took $209,330 on 205 screens over 14 days. Exponential in Russia/CIS went wide on 633 screens grossing $363,570 over 14 days. US, Italy and Russia were disappointing given the Australian results.

Let’s continue in alphabetical order with the remaining 2021 titles:

The Drover’s Wife – Legend of Molly Johnson

Roadshow ran a small festival skewed preview release in New Zealand in December grossing US $3,110. 2022 will see a US release plus the UK, Greece and Latin America and other B territories.

Ellie and Abbie (and Ellie’s Dead Aunt)

Kaleidoscope did a specialty one week release on 8 screens in the UK over 7 days in June grossing an anaemic US $646. Arcadia released in New Zealand on 20 screens over 14 days for a total of NZ$1,000.

Falling for Figaro

387 Films launched in New Zealand in November ahead of its Australian release on 58 screens. It has grossed NZ$189,060 over 5 weeks. A more than credible outcome given COVID lockdowns and restrictions during the release. In the US, IFC released in October/November on 44 screens hitting US$35,910 over 35 days.  Not terrific, but a good PVOD pre-launch. In the UK, Entertainment sold to Netflix forgoing a theatrical given the COVID reality.  More territories, including Australia, to open in 2022.

The Flood

A DVD/digital and VOD release in the UK in November and SVOD in the US also in November took place.

Girl’s Can’t Surf

Madman launched in New Zealand on 2 screens moving up to 28 screens over 105 days for a total gross of NZ$70,660

H is for Happiness

A small release by New Horizon in Poland netted $6,176 in March. In Russia/CIS on June 24 the film released on 54 screens and grossed $3,483 over 2 weeks. There are a number of territories still to release in 2022.

Initiation

UK released May 24 on PVOD and in the US on May 7 with a micro theatrical release and digital day and date. No grosses reported.

UAE released in July and grossed $21,729. Russia/CIS released in September grossing $41,975.

June Again

Studio Canal released in New Zealand in May on 47 screens grossing a credible NZ$121,045 over 98 days in release. Filmax released in Spain for a disappointing $29,547.

Nitram

To date only a small festival release through Madman in New Zealand for NZ$557 has taken place. The UK, USA, France etc to follow in 2022.

Occupation Rainfall

Monster released in New Zealand on 31 screens over 21 days grossing NZ$26,192. Russia released in June grossing only $8,653. Disappointing. Signature gave the film a pre PVOD/TVOD release in July in the UK grossing only $3,670. Saban acquired the US/Canada and went straight to PVOD/SVOD.

Penguin Bloom

Netflix picked up the majority of international territories but Roadshow released in New Zealand grossing NZ$359,283 on 101 screens over 35 days. Lithuania grossed $3,209 on 31 screens over 14 days. Central Partnership in Russia on 110 screens over 14 days grossed $9,414.

Rams

Roadshow released on 114 screens in New Zealand and grossed NZ$1,063,976 over an extended 147 days. A good outcome. Paradiso released in Russia/CIS grossing $3,705 over 2 weeks. A disappointment. A number of international territories including UK, US and UAE will release in 2022.

The Second

Gravitas gave the film a token pre streaming micro release in the US in December. Grosses were not reported.

Slim and I

Gravitas picked up the US/Canada rights and went straight to SVOD / TVOD.

This Little Love of Mine

Netflix acquired worldwide rights and released in July.

Carry-overs from previous years

100% Wolf (2020)

The Russian release in 2020 continued into 2021 with a fantastic total gross at year end of $1,586,927 over 231 screens. BIM released in Italy and grossed $445,476 on 193 screens over 35 days. France in May scored $1,265,089. Czech Republic through Bonton grossed $118,292 on 117 screens over 28 days in September. Bonton also released in Slovenia grossing $75,203 over 28 days. Germany through Constantin for Super RTL grossed $211,882 in July. Pro Films in September released in Bulgaria grossing $12,193. 

This has been a very successful indie family film.

Ascendant (2020)

Goldwyn gave the title a micro pre-streaming release in the US in June under the title Rising Wolf. Grosses not reported. Goldwyn had acquired all rights outside Australia/New Zealand.

Black Water Abyss (2020)

A good result in Mexico in September saw $332,539 over 2 weeks. International gross is now $990,649.

Combat Wombat (2020)

Green Media released in February through WB in Vietnam on 310 screens and grossed $25,669 over 14 days. Not great. Magic in Russia has been holding the title at matinee screenings over 56 days since September grossing $29,556 to date.

Dirt Music (2020)

Blue Finch gave the film a token theatrical release in the UK in June.

I Met A Girl (2020)

After its US PVOD release via Gravitas in 2020, the film launched on Hulu and Amazon. Korea and Germany are still to release. Netflix acquired New Zealand rights.

Innuendo (2017)

The film received a micro release in Finland but grosses were not reported.

Muriel’s Wedding (1994)

Disney released in South Africa on December 4 on 20 screens grossing $3,321. Hardly worth it.

Never Too Late (2020)

387 Films released in New Zealand in February 2021 and grossed NZ$135,000 despite Auckland’s COVID shutdown. UK release through Studio Soho is scheduled for January 2022.

Romance On The Menu (2020)

Retitled Hearts Down Under for its post Netflix release, it played the Hallmark Channel in April.

Sequin In A Blue Room (2020)

A UK PVOD release through Pecadillo took place in April.

Storm Boy (2019)

Pixma/Pioneer continue to play this title on and off during the year with gross now at $36,397. Colombia grossed $20,919. Italy through Medusa released in July bringing the local gross to $49,076.

Wishmas Tree (2020)

Croatia released in January grossing $50,857. Russia through Vorel released in February on 14 screens and played matinees throughout the year. Total is $56,832.

Summary of International box office

An acceptable year for Australian cinema internationally given COVID.

Here are some highlights:

  • Again we had 2 international breakouts with Peter Rabbit 2 and Mortal Combat.  We need to continue this momentum going forward.
  • New Zealand continues its 2019/2020 encouraging run with Australian films including The Dry, Penguin Bloom and Never Too Late.
  • Russia continues its love affair with Australian Indie family animation including Combat Wombat, Wishmas Tree, Maya the Bee and 100% Wolf.
  • Gravitas in the US are now running beside Goldwyn in their enthusiasm for Australian product stateside.

Looking ahead to 2022 box office

This year is looking positive with Elvis, 3,000 Years of Longing and Black Light, which should perform strongly world wide. 

On the genre front, Interceptor, Gold, Wyrmwood: Apocalypse and Recoil should work in action markets; Portable Door and Blueback with family audiences, and How to Please a Woman with the seniors. This is potentially a good balanced slate for international. And hopefully we have now passed a COVID tipping point for cinema exhibition.

Melbourne born Antony I. Ginnane has produced or executive produced 72 feature films, MOW's, miniseries and TV series over 50 years including Patrick, High Tide, The Lighthorsemen, Screamers, Last Dance and most recently (in partnership with Kris Wyld) the TV series Pulse for ABC-TV, Never Too Late with James Cromwell and Jacki Weaver. His latest feature The Girl At The Window, with Radha Mitchell is in post production. The Unusual Suspects, his first book, was published by Currency Press in 2015.