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Comparing the taste for Aussie films in the US, the UK and at home

Penguins, pigs and crocs: nine titles have made the all-time top 20 Australian films in the US, UK and Australia.

Director Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, Alex Proyas’s Gods of Egypt and Garth Davis’s Lion have all elbowed their way onto the all-time top 20 list of Australian feature films that have been most popular with US cinema audiences. Killer Elite, Mad Max 2 and Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles have been pushed off the list as a result.

Lion is also an all-time top 20 title in the UK and Australia. The only newcomer in the last 12 months in both cases, it pushed out Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole and Young Einstein respectively. Driven by strong word of mouth and Oscars fever, Lion is likely to keep moving up all three ladders.

The US, UK and Australian favourites as of yesterday (February 14) are below. Nine films (in italics) have the honour of being hits in all three countries.

Internationally focussed big-budget Australian films financed by the Hollywood studios or the mini-majors and marketed worldwide with considerable grunt dominate the top of all three lists but fewer of them have won over Australian audiences.

Instead, independently financed films that very distinctively reflect Australian life and Australian sensibilities have prevailed. For these kinds of films international success is generally dependent on finding a number of distributors across a spread of countries to champion them after completion. There are 10 films hugely popular in Australia (in bold) that don’t appear on the US or UK lists.

<em>Hacksaw Ridge</em> Hacksaw Ridge

For the record Roadshow handled eight out of the top 20 films in Australia.

Why a film worked particularly well in the US or the UK but not elsewhere (in bold) is sometimes obvious. Steve Irwin’s significant following helped drive the success of The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course in the US. A much-loved children’s book by English writer Dick King-Smith was the source material for the first Babe movie and it showed: the film topped the UK list and that momentum gave Babe: Pig in the City a leg-up three years later.

In some cases the reasons are as much to do with the nature of the film business as the content. The Railway Man is a co-production between Australia and the UK and a from-the-ground-up cinema release in Australia’s partner producing country is built into the DNA of co-productions.

Two warnings: these lists would look very different if adjusted for inflation and the popularity of films in the cinemas of one country isn’t necessarily an indication of overall commercial success. On the second point just because a film is popular in one place doesn’t mean it is in another or across other platforms and also production and marketing costs have to be repaid out of gross box office.

<em>Lion</em> Lion

The relationship between theatrical and commercial success is just one aspect of a set of articles – soon to be published in Screen Intel – that aims to open up discussion about the commercial performance of independently financed film. This research drills down into the 94 feature films that Screen Australia has invested in between when the doors opened on July 1, 2008 and 30 June 2015. It identifies those that have exceled across certain financial indicators and explores reasons why that may be the case. Stand by.

TOP AUSTRALIAN FILMS OF ALL TIME IN CINEMAS

AS OF 14 FEBRUARY 2017

Australia

Ranking Film Year of Release Distributor Gross AU$m
1 Crocodile Dundee 1986 Hoyts $47.71m
2 Australia 2008 Fox $37.56m
3 Babe 1995 UIP $36.78m
4 Happy Feet 2006 Roadshow $31.79m
5 Moulin Rouge! 2001 Fox $27.73m
6 The Great Gatsby 2013 Roadshow $27.38m
7 Crocodile Dundee II 1988 Hoyts $24.92m
8 Strictly Ballroom 1992 Ronin $21.76m
9 Mad Max: Fury Road 2015 Roadshow $21.68m
10 Red Dog 2011 Roadshow $21.47m
11 The Dressmaker 2015 Universal $20.28m
12 Lion 2017 Transmission $19.82m
13 The Dish 2000 Roadshow $17m
14 The Man from Snowy River 1982 Hoyts $17.23m
15 The Adventure of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert 1994 Roadshow $16.46m
16 The Water Diviner 2014 Universal $15.87m
17 Muriel's Wedding 1994 Roadshow $15.77m
18 Mao's Last Dancer 2009 Roadshow $15.44m
19 The Sapphires 2012 eOne $14.53m
20 Tomorrow, When The War Began 2010 Paramount $13.51m

USA

Ranking Film Year of Release Distributor Gross US$m
1 Happy Feet 2006 Warner Bros $198m
2 Crocodile Dundee 1986 Paramount $174.70m
3 Mad Max: Fury Road 2015 Warner Bros $154.06m
4 The Great Gatsby 2013 Warner Bros $144.84m
5 Crocodile Dundee II 1988 Paramount $108.83m
6 Knowing 2009 Summit $79.96m
7 Hacksaw Ridge 2016 Lionsgate $66.57m
8 Happy Feet Two 2011 Warner Bros $64.01m
9 Babe 1995 Universal $63.66m
10 Moulin Rouge! 2001 Fox $57.39m
11 Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole 2010 Warner Bros $55.67m
12 Australia 2008 Fox $49.55m
13 The Piano 1993 Miramax $40.16m
14 Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome 1985 Warner Bros $36.23m
15 Shine 1996 Fine Line $35.89m
16 Gods of Egypt 2016 Lionsgate $31.15m
17 Lion 2017 The Weinstein Company $30.24m
18 Daybreakers 2010 Lionsgate $30.10m
19 Green Card 1990 Buena Vista $29.89m
20 The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course 2002 MGM/UA $28.44m

UK

Ranking Film Year of Release Distributor Gross £m
1 Babe 1995 Universal £20.29m
2 Crocodile Dundee 1986 Fox £20.07m
3 Happy Feet 2006 Warner Bros £19.24m
4 Moulin Rouge! 2001 Fox £18.50m
5 Mad Max: Fury Road 2015 Warner Bros £17.44m
6 The Great Gatsby 2013 Roadshow £15.73m
7 Crocodile Dundee II 1988 Hoyts £13.32m
8 Australia 2008 Fox £8.12m
9 Muriel's Wedding 1995 Buena Vista £8.01m
10 Knowing 2009 eOne Films £6.8m
11 Lion 2017 Entertainment £6.43m
12 Happy Feet Two 2011 Warner Bros £5.81m
13 The Railway Man 2014 Lionsgate £5.33m
14 Green Card 1991 Warner Bros £5.03m
15 The Piano 1993 Entertainment £4.85m
16 Daybreakers 2010 Lionsgate £4.55m
17 Shine 1997 Buena Vista £4.42m
18 Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome 1985 Columbia/EMI £4.1m
19 Babe: Pig in the City 1998 Universal £4.09m
20 The Delinquents 1989 Waner Bros £3.51m

Source: US & UK data is from Rentrack (it applies to films released since 1981 in the US and since 1979 in the UK); Australian data is from the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia (estimates are used for films released before 1988 if gross box office is unknown).
All figures as of 14 February 2017.
The titles the films are known by in Australia are used throughout.
The titles in bold are unique to one list only (10 in Australia, four in the US, three in the UK).
The titles in highlighted appear across all three lists (nine).
If IMAX films were included, Antarctica would be in fourth position in the US list.
Screen Australia’s research department is currently updating key gross box office data, including the list of Australian films that have earned more than US$100,000 at US cinemas since 1981 (currently there are 136) and more than £200,000 at UK cinema since 1979 (76).