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UK box office report, October 4–6: Joker laughs all the way to the bank

Joaquin Phoenix's Joker is the big success this week
Joaquin Phoenix's Joker is the big success this week Credit: Warner Bros

Joker has ridden its tricky publicity all the way to profit, writes Charles Gant in his weekly box office bulletin

The winner: Joker

For years, Warner Bros has had plenty of cause to envy Disney’s Marvel operation, which has delivered a steady stream of interconnected hits, delivering billions of dollars at the box office. Sure, Warners has leveraged considerable value from DC Entertainment properties such as Superman and Wonder Woman – but betting big on the creative services of Zack Snyder achieved mixed creative results. DC seemed to lack an in-house genius equivalent to Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige.

Now, however, Warners and DC can let the champagne corks fly. Premiering to some significant (if not universal) acclaim at the Venice Film Festival in August, Todd Phillips’s Joker is the first DC film of recent years that can truly be said to be beloved by audiences – recalling fan adulation for Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Both The Dark Knight and Joker enjoy a 9.0 (out of 10) rating on IMDB.com. (That said, Joker’s score is likely to dip over time, as a wider and wider audience gradually sees and rates the film.)

Debuting very much at the top end of expectations, Joker began at the UK box office with £12.6m from 666 sites. While that’s not quite up there with the debut of Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in March 2016 (£14.6m), it’s worth remembering that Joker is an origins story about a mentally-ill aspiring stand-up comedian, whereas Snyder’s film was a team-up between two of the most iconic comic-book characters of all time.

In the US, Joker debuted with $93.5m. Going by the industry rule-of-thumb, an equivalent result for the UK would be £9.35m – so Warners UK can pat itself on the back that it has over-delivered in this particular market.

It now remains to be seen just how far audience enthusiasm can carry Joker. DC’s top title at UK cinemas remains The Dark Knight Rises (£56.3m), with The Dark Knight (£48.9m) in second place. After its strong start, Batman v Superman lost momentum, maxing out at £36.6m. Joker would only have to triple its opening number to beat that total.

The runner-up: Judy

Releasing a film of commercial ambition the same week as Joker may seem like a foolish act, but Pathé and its distribution partner Fox had reason to hope that Judy could co-exist nicely – given an audience skew that’s distinctly different to DC’s violent dystopian drama. The biographical drama starring Renée Zellweger – focusing on an impecunious Judy Garland’s residency at London’s Talk of the Town in the winter of 1968 – has begun with a reasonably sturdy £1.55m from 633 cinemas, rising to £2.09m when takings from last Wednesday and Thursday are added in.

Judy was never likely to perform at the same level as recent hits Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody, which have reached £23.4m and £55.0m respectively at the UK box office. On the other hand, its backers had cause to hope for a better outcome than, say, My Week with Marilyn (£3.18m lifetime) – a 2011 film about a famed American star (Marilyn Monroe) coming to work in Britain.

Renée Zellweger in a scene from Judy Credit: David Hindley

Given its audience profile, Judy – from acclaimed theatre director Rupert Goold – is likely to perform well on weekdays, in daytime showings, and over a relatively sustained period. Older upscale audiences are notorious for their tendency to go see a film on a weekday matinee deep into a title’s run.

The marathon: Secret Cinema Presents Casino Royale

Although takings for Secret Cinema’s presentation of Casino Royale have dipped in the last couple of weeks, the total achieved by the immersive experience over the course of its 18-week run remains pretty remarkable: £8.43m. That is an average of £469,000 per week, for four whole months. It’s also the biggest ever total achieved by a Secret Cinema event – overtaking 2015’s run of The Empire Strikes Back (£6.32m).

Despite the enormous sums grossed by Secret Cinema, the massive costs of staging the events mean that the company has never been as profitable as many imagine to be the case. In fact, the business will only begin to make real sense when Secret Cinema achieves a scalable model, exploiting its assets on a global scale. It is at last beginning to do just that with its Casino Royale set to open in Shanghai on November 23. Secret Cinema has teamed up with Shanghai Media Group to deliver the event, and says it has “definite plans” to bring its shows to the US next year.

Casino Royale began 2019 in 23rd place in the all-time UK box office chart, with £55.6m. Overtaken this year by Avengers: Endgame, The Lion King and Toy Story 4, it tumbles three places. If Secret Cinema’s takings were added in, however, Casino Royale would rise eight places up the all-time chart, putting it now in 18th position.

Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh in 2000's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Credit: AP

The breakthrough: Chinese blockbusters

While Bollywood consistently produces solid box office in the UK market (the latest is Siddarth Anand’s action thriller War, in eighth place in the UK chart), the burgeoning modern Chinese film industry has yet to achieve a similar impact. True, titles such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2001) drove big numbers in the past, but that was a different kind of cinema for a different kind of audience.

Chinese blockbuster Wolf Warrior 2 ($854m in China) was released in the UK in 2017, but achieved less than £100,000. Detective Chinatown 2 (£152,000 in 2018), Ip Man 3 (£257,000 in 2016) and action comedy Lost in Hong Kong (£178,000 in 2015) did better.

Two new patriotic titles – The Captain and My Country, My People – dominate the Chinese box office currently, and both earned more than $250m over the seven-day holiday including National Day (October 1). Meanwhile, another new film, The Climbers, achieved $108m over the holiday week period.

In the UK, these titles grossed £135,000 (My People, My Country), £85,000 (The Captain) and £23,000 (The Climbers). Those numbers are modest compared to the Chinese outcomes, but are nevertheless encouraging sums for this growing sector.

Frozen II could see the numbers start to thaw Credit: Film Stills

The market

Numbers are in for the whole month of September, and they show takings 21 per cent up on the equivalent month of 2018, boosted by the likes of Downton Abbey and It: Chapter Two. But after a poor start to 2018, box office for the year to date remains 3 per cent behind the first nine months of 2018. In monetary terms, 2019 is trailing last year by £28m. This means that to catch up, the final quarter needs to somehow deliver that extra revenue – for example, if the three biggest hits were all £10m bigger than the top three films in the same period last year.

Given that Frozen II, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Jumanji: The Next Level are all set to land, cinema operators have reason to be confident that this box office goal can be achieved. Last year, the fourth quarter offered hits such as Bohemian Rhapsody, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald and Mary Poppins Returns.

Top 10 films, October 4–6

  1. Joker, £12,555,329 from 666 sites (new)
  2. Judy, £2,086,969 from 633 sites (new)
  3. Downton Abbey, £1,461,074 from 668 sites. Total: £23,109,145 (4 weeks)
  4. Hustlers, £580,646 from 415 sites. Total: £6,178,019 (4 weeks)
  5. Ad Astra, £467,983 from 511 sites. Total: £5,546,154 (3 weeks)
  6. The Lion King, £366,121 from 524 sites. Total: £75,317,983 (12 weeks)
  7. It: Chapter Two, £358,877 from 398 sites. Total: £18,494,495 (5 weeks)
  8. War, £345,418 from 94 sites (new)
  9. Dora and the Lost City of Gold, £304,580 from 466 sites. Total: £6,197,559 (8 weeks)
  10. Ready or Not, £253,340 from 401 sites. Total: £1,637,064 (2 weeks)

Other openers

  • Hitsville: The Making of Motown, £235,542 (including £229,952 previews) from 7 sites
  • My People, My Country, £135,349 (including £60,885 previews) from 18 sites
  • The Captain, £85,264 from 24 sites
  • Vampirina: Fang-Tastic Party, £74,628 from 426 sites
  • Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy, £63,164 from 39 sites
  • Asuran, £29,797 from 14 sites
  • The Climbers, £22,795 from 24 sites
  • Unplanned, £21,770 from 28 sites
  • Good Posture, £14,184 from 36 sites
  • Werewolf, £2,890 from 7 sites
  • Losing Alaska, £2,411 from 3 sites
  • Annem, £2,120 from 2 sites

Thanks to Comscore. All figures relate to takings in UK and Ireland cinemas