Reviews were mixed, and the early April release date suggested a movie falling short of the blockbuster premier league, but there was nothing puny about the opening-weekend box office for Oblivion: £3.36m, plus Wednesday/Thursday previews totaling £1.60m.
The five-day £4.96m debut compares with £2.79m for GI Joe: Retaliation from a couple of weeks ago, and a previews-inflated £3.58m opening for star Tom Cruise's previous effort Jack Reacher in late December. Oblivion director Joseph Kosinski's earlier Tron: Legacy debuted with £1.97m back in 2010. Cruise also has a strong track record in the sci-fi genre. War of the Worlds debuted in July 2005 with £8.64m, and Minority Report in July 2002 with £4.51m.
Studios always review results for all their releases, and now Universal is in the happy position of wondering what went right with Oblivion. As a property, it benefited from significantly less pre-existing brand awareness than Jack Reacher, which is based on the popular crime fiction of Lee Child. Sunday sunshine saw dips for films right across the market, including for Oblivion, but the headline number remains robust. The science fiction audience has been underserved of late, unless you count horror hybrid Dark Skies, and family titles have dominated, with Oz the Great and Powerful and The Croods occupying the top spot for the previous five weeks. This time last year, Battleship kicked off the summer blockbuster season early. Cinemagoers were evidently ready for adult-skewing, star-driven big-screen entertainment mounted with scope and scale.
Moving down to second place after three weeks at the chart summit, The Croods has achieved a highly impressive £22.7m after 26 days of play. The DreamWorks Animation hit is almost dead level with rival Walt Disney Animation's Wreck-It Ralph, now at £23.3m after 10 weeks of release. This particular patch of the UK's all-time box-office chart is peppered with animated features, for some reason, with all three Madagascar movies in the £22-24m range, Shark Tale at £23.1m, WALL-E at £22.9m and Monsters vs Aliens at £21.4m.
The Croods will very soon overtake the Madagascar sequels to become DreamWorks Animation's biggest UK hit outside the Shrek franchise – a timely boost after the underperforming previous effort Rise of the Guardians (£12.8m) led to job losses at the studio. Meanwhile, Walt Disney Animation is celebrating Wreck-It Ralph as its biggest ever UK hit, overtaking The Lion King (£23.1m), although this ignores a hefty sum earned by the 2011 3D rerelease. Disney's Pixar is a separatedivision.
The indie hit
Steaming into fourth place, despite occupying fewer screens than 16 titles that placed lower in the chart, The Place Beyond the Pines is far and away the biggest earner currently in specialised release. With a stonking £660,000 from just 114 screens, plus modest previews totaling £11,000, the crime drama delivered an average of £5,794. Blue Valentine, the previous collaboration between director Derek Cianfrance and star Ryan Gosling, achieved £647,000 in total in the UK, although in fairness it was released on significantly fewer screens. Gosling's star has risen since Blue Valentine opened in January 2011, with Drive (debut of £607,000) positioning him as a leading man for fans of muscular indie cinema. Crazy Stupid Love (opening the same September 2011 weekend as Drive, with £860,000) and Gangster Squad (£2.09m debut including £275,000 previews) have helped cross him over to broader audiences. The presence of Bradley Cooper, coming off Silver Linings Playbook, will also have helped Pines break out of its niche. Look for the picture to expand into more screens from Friday.
Having successfully resuscitated its Scream franchise in 2011, Dimension revisits its spoof comedy moneyspinner Scary Movie, presenting the fifth installment in the lowbrow series. Local distributor Entertainment Films will be happy to crack seven figures, with a decent £1.09m for Scary Movie 5. That's somewhat down on the last edition from seven years ago (Scary Movie 4 debuted with £1.95m, including £319,000 in previews), but better than the spoof comedies at the tail end of the noughties' run. Superhero Movie opened with a decent £851,000 in June 2008, but a year later Dance Flick kicked off with a less-impressive £463,000. The anomaly is Vampires Suck, which in October 2010 capitalised on the currency of Twilight to deliver a debut of £1.09m, identical to the result just achieved by Scary Movie 5.
The plucky underdog
As the first featured to be directed by Marcus Markou, and with distribution coming from his own Double M Films in conjunction with the bookings service Miracle, the Anglo-Greek comedy Papadopoulos & Sons looked like yet another movie minnow. A cast led by Stephen Dillane looked unlikely to guarantee bums on seats. So industry observers were amazed when the film grossed more than £60,000 in its first seven days from just 13 cinemas. The total is now up to £72,000, and it has expanded its screen count to 16, with further bookings in the pipeline. That's a higher tally than has been achieved so far by the similarly self-distributed London gangster film All Things to All Men, aggressively marketed and released the same day at over 100 cinemas. This debut feature from George Isaac, producer of Kidulthood and Adulthood, has a rumoured production budget of £3m, and a cast including Rufus Sewell, Toby Stephens and Gabriel Byrne.
Despite nearly £5m from Oblivion, overall takings are 11% down on the equivalent weekend one year ago, when Battleship, Titanic 3D and Cabin in the Woods led the charge. The problem is that Oblivion and the other new entries are energising a weak market that has witnessed a dearth of strong new releases since the Easter school holiday began. In a fortnight, Iron Man 3 kicks off the official summer blockbuster season, but before then come the Gerard Butler action thriller Olympus Has Fallen, horror reboot Evil Dead, middle-aged romance Love Is All You Need and social-issue drama Promised Land, starring Matt Damon.
Top 10 films
1. Oblivion, £4,959,386 from 520 sites (New)
2. The Croods, £1,999,475 from 541 sites. Total: £22,736,517
3. Scary Movie 5, £1,085,932 from 413 sites (New)
4. The Place Beyond the Pines, £671,119 from 114 sites (New)
5. GI Joe: Retaliation, £525,234 from 407 sites. Total: £6,909,942
6. Jack the Giant Slayer, £451,509 from 427 sites. Total: £7,081,962
7. Oz the Great and Powerful, £391,733 from 420 sites. Total: £14,668,721
8. Trance, £339,480 from 365 sites. Total: £4,103,341
9. Dark Skies, £308,456 from 371 sites. Total: £1,872,838
10. The Host, £239,291 from 357 sites. Total: £3,227,965
The Gatekeepers, 15 sites, £18,051 (+ £3,732 previews)
Daddy Cool Munde Fool, 8 sites, £17,759
Nautanki Saala, 11 sites, £12,016
Pilgrim Hall, 8 sites, £10,482 (Ireland only)
Theorem, 2 sites, £9,294 (reissue)
Flying Blind, 3 sites, £2,624
First Position, 7 sites, £2,495
Bafta Shorts 2013, 1 site, £1,596
Simon Killer, 6 sites, £1,227 (+ £246 previews)
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image: © Sujin Kim