Given the huge popularity of the long-running London stage show, commercial expectations were always high for the film adaptation of Les Misérables. But a UK opening of £8.13m is certainly at the top end of the range of industry forecasts. The previous best debut for a movie musicalstood at £6.59m – for Mamma Mia! – but that tally included previews of £1.38m; over the comparative Friday-Sunday period it earned just £5.21m. Les Misérables is an impressive 56% ahead of Mamma Mia! pace. Backers Universal also announced the film as the biggest opening for a January release, beating 2005’s Meet the Fockers. The King’s Speech, Les Misérables director Tom Hooper‘s previous film, debuted exactly two years ago with £3.52m (including £227,000 in previews).
Les Misérables isn’t setting a UK box-office record in any absolute sense: last year, for example, Skyfall (debut of £20.18m), The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2(£15.85m) and The Dark Knight Rises(£14.36m) began their respective runs with much higher tallies. But it’s hardly fair to compare a West End stage adaptation to a tentpole action blockbuster or highly anticipated franchise picture, and the audience for a sung-through historical drama would normally be considered niche. Sweeney Toddis arguably the closest equivalent, and Tim Burton‘s film earned £11.1m in total during its 2008 UK run. Evita did better in 1996, with £14.2m.
Regardless of whether you include or exclude the previews in Mamma Mia!’s opening tally, the film went on to gross £69.2m, a total more than 10 times its debut takings. Will Les Misérables could go on to perform a similar feat? It seems doubtful, since that would take it into the realms of £80m-plus, making it the third biggest ever UK hit, behind Skyfall andAvatar. More plausibly, a multiple of five times the opening would be a decent target. Twitter reports suggest the film is provoking a strong response, with plenty of audience applause and crying. That would indicate the film is a talking point for a big swathe of the UK cinema audience. Repeat business is likely to be significant among core fans. So far, there is little evidence of audience appetite for a singalong version.
Buoyed by 11 Oscar and nine Bafta nominations, announced midway through last week and immediately trumpeted by distributor 20th Century Fox in advertising, Life of Pi posted a decent hold (down 30%), despite the competitive challenge of Les Misérables and the loss of 12% of its cinemas. With £21.92m so far, Ang Lee‘s literary adaptation becomes the 17th 2012 release to achieve £20m-plus at the UK box office. A final result in the high £20m now looks very achievable, and it’s even possible, with some big wins at next month’s awards ceremonies, that it could overtake the likes of Ice Age 4 (£30.1m) and Ted (£30.3m). Such an outcome would make Life of Pi the sixth biggest 2012 release, behind Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises, Avengers Assemble, The Hobbitand Breaking Dawn – Part 2.
The chasing pack
The success of Les Misérables is not the only reason the market, overall, posted a 55% increase on the equivalent frame from 2012: each of the weekend’s top eight titles grossed more than the equivalently placed film in last year’s chart. Boosted by Thursday previews of £275,000, Gangster Squad opened with a respectable £2.09m. Anecdotally, the presence of Ryan Gosling, rather than toplined starsJosh Brolin and Sean Penn, drove audience interest.
Dropping from first to fourth place, The Hobbit’s box office fell by 54%; as with Life of Pi, the loss of 15% of its cinemas was a factor. With a total of £48.48m so far, Peter Jackson’s film is clearly soon set to join fellow 2012 releases Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises and Avengers Assemble in the £50m club. It’s notable that four of last year’s cinema releases are achieving this elite benchmark, as against just one from 2011 (the finalHarry Potter film), and two each in the years 2008, 2009 and 2010.
The Impossible, with £1.86m, was just behind The Hobbit in fifth place, and drops a slim 25% from the previous weekend. The solidity in the current market is suggested by the fact that The Impossible’s weekend haul of £1.86m is the highest for a fifth-placed film, certainly for the past five years and probably ever. As recently as last July, The Five-Year Engagement found itself hanging on in fifth place one weekend, deep into its run, with just £77,000. The Impossible expanded again in the US at the weekend, and is now on 808 screens there, but, with an average in the current frame of just $3,133, significant further expansion is hard to envision. So far the film has grossed just $6.85m there, while in the UK – a much smaller market – it’s at £7.15m, and clearly headed for £10m-plus.
The genre alternative
While January is the traditional month for awards contenders, Lionsgate offered an alternative with the 18-certificate horror franchise entry Texas Chainsaw 3D. Four days of previews totalling £584,000 helped the film scrape up a £1.25m opening figure. A squeeze on screen availability meant it was consigned mainly to late-evening showtimes. The previous entry in the series, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, directed by Jonathan Liebesman, debuted in 2006 with £670,000. In 2003, the Marcus Nispel-directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, starring Jessica Biel and Jonathan Tucker, kicked off with £1.35m.
The midweek marvel
Although Quartet only managed sixth place in the chart, down from fourth the previous weekend, its midweek business has been much more robust. The older audience often tends to avoid cinemas on busy Friday and Saturday nights, opting for daytime showings in the week. Last Thursday, for one day only, Quartet was the top film in the market, ahead of The Hobbit, Life of Pi and newly released Gangster Squad. In its first full week of release, Quartet achieved 54% of its box office in the Monday-Thursday period, against just 46% for Friday-Sunday. That’s a stronger midweek skew than other films aimed at the older audience, with Monday-Thursday proportions in the first week of release as follows: The Iron Lady (42%), Miss Potter (45%), The Queen (51%) andThe Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (52%).
While Stuart Urban’s vigilante satire May I Kill U? earned one-star reviews pretty much across the board, an unlikely source of support came from the Observer’s veteran critic, Philip French. “Nowhere near the standard of the most ordinary telly drama,” offered the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw in his one-star assessment, a view echoed by the Daily Telegraph (“sets a terrifyingly low benchmark”), Empire (“makes Paul Blart look like Taxi Driver”), Total Film (“makes an early case for most misguided film of 2013”), and the Sun (“a dumb farce which is neither funny or scary”), among many other scathing dismissals. French disagreed: “It’s funny, sharp and ruthless.” The film earned £938 from London’s Prince Charles Cinema and is set to expand in late January.
With the market, as mentioned, 55% up on the equivalent frame from 2012, we have now witnessed 13 consecutive weekends – a full three months – achieving rises on the year-prior equivalent. A week after Les Misérables, the market now takes a relative pause for breath. But cinemas will have high hopes for Django Unchained, already Quentin Tarantino‘s biggest hit in the US. Disney could score some decent business with a 3D version of Monsters, Inc, ahead of prequel Monsters University, arriving in July. The 18-certificate V/H/S will battle Texas Chainsaw for the horror audience. The Sessions, which scored supporting actress Bafta and Oscar nominations for Helen Hunt, enters a very crowded space for upmarket fare.
Top 10 films
1. Les Misérables, £8.12m from 589 sites (New)
2. Life of Pi, £2.33m from 499 sites. Total: £21.92m
3. Gangster Squad, £2.09m from 436 sites (New)
4. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, £1.86m from 480 sites. Total:£48.49m
5. The Impossible, £1.86m from 378 sites. Total: £7.15m
6. Texas Chainsaw 3D, £1.25m from 284 sites (New)
7. Quartet, £891,829 from 408 sites. Total: £4.72m
8. Jack Reacher, £690,043 from 383 sites. Total: £8.61m
9. Pitch Perfect, £453,205 from 317 sites. Total: £5.78m
10. Parental Guidance, £401,627 from 385 sites. Total: £3.98m
Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola, 63 sites, £97,660
What Richard Did, nine sites, £26,374 (+ £1,977 previews) (not including Ireland and Northern Ireland)
Saadi Love Story, 15 sites, £18,055
Alex Pandian, 12 sites, £15,482
Jiro: Dreams of Sushi, six sites, £8,491 (+ £396 previews)
Kannu Laddu Thinna Assaiya, three sites, £5,326
Underground, two sites, £4,396 (+ £1,744 previews)
Dance with the Jackals 2, four sites, £2,334
May I Kill U?, one site, £938
Midnight Son, three sites, £603