Fame grabs UK box-office spotlight
When Entertainment Films bought UK rights on the Fame remake at the Cannes film market in May 2008, rivals carped that the pricey acquisition represented a big risk, given it was to be directed by a 25-year-old dancer-choreographer (Kevin Tancharoen), who'd never made a feature film before. And in line with the teen-dance genre, the cast of young discoveries lacked marquee recognition.
Some distributors also questioned the value of the Fame brand, since the target audience of tween females would not be familiar with Alan Parker's original 1980 hit, or the TV spinoff series. Indeed, the new Fame underperformed in the US this weekend with its opening of $10m (£6.3m) suffering in comparison with recent titles such as Step Up. But here in the UK it's a different story: Fame's debut of £2.41m compares favorably with the openings of Step Up (£1.21m) and even Step Up 2: The Streets (£2.36m). Of course, Fame still fell far short of Disney tween phenomenon High School Musical 3, which began its lucrative run last October with £8.41m, including extensive previews.
The loser #1
Last October, Paramount announced that The Soloist, from British director Joe Wright, would have its release date pushed from December 2008 to March 2009, thereby missing out on that year's awards races. The UK rights holders, Universal and Working Title, reluctantly fell into step with the date switch, losing a film on which Bafta hopes had been pinned. In the event, Paramount released The Soloist in the US in April, when it debuted with a mediocre $9.72m. Here, Universal evidently believed the film would benefit from an autumn slot, delaying release all the way to 25 September, but the strategy has not been a commercial success. Based on the US result, a UK opening just under £1m might have been expected, so The Soloist's debut of £373,000 is more grim news for a studio whose pleasant surprises (notably Fast & Furious) this year have been outweighed by not-so-good ones (eg costly flop The Boat That Rocked). Wright's previous features Pride & Prejudice and Atonement opened here with £2.53m and £1.63m respectively.
The loser #2
If The Soloist's opening numbers make for grim reading, spare a thought for Creation, which failed to crack £200,000 from 246 screens, for a site average of just £845. The film, about Charles Darwin wrestling with the Bible-defying conclusions of his famed work On the Origin of Species, found only a modest audience. The obvious comparison is with spring 2007's Amazing Grace, about anti-slave trade campaigner William Wilberforce, which debuted with a more healthy, albeit unspectacular, £432,000. Both films were trounced by recent historical pictures featuring royal/aristocratic female subjects: Young Victoria opened with just over £1m and The Duchess with £1.4m. Posh frocks trump men in frock coats every time.
The sleeper hit
With successive weekly declines of 32%, 12% and 34%, (500) Days Of Summer is proving a steady early-autumn hit, suggesting that large audiences will embrace a quirky, indie romantic comedy, especially given the absence in the market of a more mainstream example of the genre. With takings of £4m in four weeks, the film has already surpassed the lifetime UK totals of previous Fox Searchlight comedy hits Sideways (£3.75m) and Little Miss Sunshine (£3.24m). However the company's monster breakout success Juno (£9.84m) remains far ahead of the rest.
Overall, the UK market feels fairly flat this month, with underperforming titles including Julie & Julia, Gamer, Sorority Row, The Firm, Adventureland, Away We Go and Whiteout. It's a surprise, therefore to see the top 15 films are a collective 12% up on the corresponding weekend from 2008. (It's less of a surprise if you recall that was when, ludicrously, Taken, Righteous Kill and Death Race all opened against each other, targeting similar audiences of male action fans.) On Friday, Ricky Gervais's appeal as a Hollywood leading man undergoes its latest test with the opening of The Invention of Lying – can it match the UK-sleeper-hit success of Ghost Town? Meanwhile, Disney releases a 3D version of Toy Story. As long as audiences realise they only have seven days to see it before it's yanked from cinemas, they may flock.
UK top 10, September 25-27
1. Fame, 459 sites, £2,408,242 (New)
2. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, 438 sites, £1,402,854. Total: £3,436,639
3. Surrogates, 356 sites, £961,271 (New)
4. District 9, 399 sites, £558,959. Total: £7,488,709
5. The Soloist, 351 sites, £373,151 (New)
6. (500) Days of Summer, 300 sites, £337,538. Total: £4,030,977
7. The Final Destination, 254 sites, £325,326. Total: £12,351,267
8. Dorian Gray, 302 sites, £233,639. Total: £2,349,962
9. Gamer, 313 sites, £209,805. Total: £1,181,049
10. Creation, 236 sites, £199,477 (New)
How the other openers did
Thomas & Friends: Hero of the Rails, 53 screens, £64,310
What's Your Raashee?, 42 screens, £54,264
Morris: A Life With Bells On, 20 screens, £18,252
The Godfather, 7 screens, £11,488
Born in 68, 1 screen, £1,284
Jack Said, 1 screen, £975
The Crimson Wing, 1 screen, £748
White Lightnin', 4 screens, £694
Heart of Fire, 1 screen, £212
Management, 1 screen, £203
Rage, 1 screen, no figures available