When the opening weekend numbers came in for Monsters University, Disney UK might be forgiven a moment of panic: the £3.46m three-day tally was only the 12th biggest debut of 2013, and way behind the pace of recent Pixar hits.
The family film surge
But with the long school summer holiday ahead of it, this was always going to be a marathon rather than a sprint, and opening in a heatwave clearly hadn't helped the initial number.
It's fair to speculate that the mood is more relaxed at Disney's Hammersmith, London HQ now that Monsters University has posted third-weekend takings of £3.11m, a highly encouraging 11% up on the second-frame haul of £2.79m. After 17 days of release, the animated prequel has grossed a solid £15.45m, with a nifty £6.82m achieved just in the last seven days. With kids now on holiday and available for cinema trips every afternoon of the week, the box-office pace has accelerated. Comparisons with last Pixar film Brave are hard to make, as that film opened in Scotland two weeks ahead of England. Disney's Wreck-It Ralph had reached £18.62m after 17 days, but by then it already used up its school-holiday platform (the February half term), and it fell hard thereafter. Until Monsters University starts declining, its lifetime total is very hard to predict.
Meanwhile a rampant Despicable Me 2 also went up at the weekend, rising a similar 12%. With £4.40m added in the past seven days for an amazing five-week total of £34.68m, the Universal Illumination picture is unlikely to be beaten by any rival animation this year. Despicable Me 2 is the first film since Skyfall to post fifth-weekend takings in excess of £2m, and the first animated feature to do so since Toy Story 3 delivered £2.11m on its fifth weekend in August 2010. (Arthur Christmas achieved a slightly different feat, clearing £2m on its first, second, third and seventh weekends of play – the latter being Christmas weekend 2011.)
Despicable Me 2 has recently overtaken Up, Shrek Forever After and The Incredibles in the all-time animated box-office pantheon, and is beaten only by – in ascending order – Ice Age III, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc, The Simpsons, Shrek the Third, Toy Story 2, Shrek 2 and Toy Story 3. Also Avatar, if you count that as animated.
The franchise veteran
The latest studio required to put a brave face on an opening number is Fox, with its £4.69m including £939,000 for The Wolverine. On the one hand that's down on both the debuts of 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine (£6.66m including £1.87m in previews) and 2011's X-Men: First Class (£5.44m including £2.01m in previews). On the other, the Origins film was not well received, and that was bound to impact the box-office for any film tied to the Wolverine brand. Moreover, the three-day weekend figure for The Wolverine is actually ahead of the number achieved by X-Men: First Class over the same three-day period. In all probability, there will be relief at Fox that the studio has got its Wolverine brand back on track after the Origins hiccup, but now it's the audience that will decide just how much staying power the hirsute mutant really has. Working in Fox's favour: no more big comic-book action blockbusters arriving in cinemas this summer, unless you count Kick-Ass 2.
The arthouse saviour
July 2013 has hitherto proved light on major films targeting specialised audiences, and for the 19-21 July weekend the top arthouse movies were The Bling Ring and Wadjda, both grossing less than £40,000 over the three days. So it's fair to say that independent exhibitors were all eagerly awaiting the arrival of Frances Ha, heralded by waves of critical affection since its premiere last September at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals. The result – £151,000 from 60 cinemas, including £3,600 in previews – delivers a site average of £2,511, which is hardly earth-shattering for a film in limited play. On the other hand, in the current climate, it's more than welcome.
Director Noah Baumbach's previous film, Greenberg, kicked off in June 2010 with £119,000 from 64 cinemas, yielding an average of £1,856. Before that, Margot at the Wedding began with a mediocre £33,000 from 16 locations in February 2008, arriving at the tail end of an awards season that at the time was still giving succour to Juno, There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men, among others. Distributor Metrodome reports that Frances Ha is Baumbach's biggest ever opener and is doing particularly well at London arthouses, the top site being £10,723 from Curzon Soho. The only non-London cinema in the film's top 10 sites is IFI Dublin, and the top plex is Islington Vue, the 11th-biggest earner. Metrodome reports Monday takings at £30,600 and predicts a 50:50 split for weekend (Fri-Sun) and weekday (Mon-Thu) takings. Based on exit polls, the audience skews 55% female and 46% over 40 years old.
Second in the arthouse league table is Wadjda, down in takings from the previous weekend by just 4%, despite a drop in screens from 40 to 29. By shedding sites where the Saudi Arabian crowdpleaser was not working, and adding fresh ones, distributor Soda has nimbly positioned Haifaa Al-Mansour's film for a solid run. Sustained advertising spend in week two was noticeable, made possible by a £150,000 Breakout award from the British Film Institute's Distribution Fund. With £123,000 after 10 days of play, Wadjda looks on track to become one of the top non-Bollywood foreign language hits of the year, a field currently led by I'm So Excited (£843,000) and In the House (£828,000).
Admissions numbers for the month of June are now in, and at 13.03m they are 5% up on June 2012, which was hit by Euro 2012 football (June 8-July 1). Overall, cinema admissions for the first half of 2013 are 82.45m, compared to 81.44m tickets sold in the first six months of 2012. Cinema owners will be pleased that it's not just box office – which tends to glide up thanks to ticket price inflation – but actual bums on seats are up on a year ago.
However, it's worth recalling that 2012 presented a notably back-loaded schedule, with big winners Skyfall, the final Twilight and the first Hobbit all arriving in the fourth quarter. The same cannot be said for 2013, and July box-office looks behind the pace set by The Amazing Spider-Man, Ice Age: Continental Drift and The Dark Knight Rises last year.
It's not just family films that are holding up at the box office. Thanks to the end of the heatwave, films across the market saw relatively modest drops, notably eOne's Now You See Me, down just 5%. Despite spending only one week in the UK top 3, the film has never been out of the top 5, and has quietly built up box-office of £9.06m from four weeks of release. In contrast, Universal must be concerned that Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright's The World's End fell 33% from its soft opening figure, the third biggest drop in the top 10 (after Pacific Rim and Man of Steel). Falling 33% would usually be considered a decent hold, but with the market bouncing back strongly overall, the number looks underpowered. The World's End has notched up an OK £5.44m in 10 days.
After three straight weekends where the market was well down on the 2012 equivalent periods, box office bounces back, 12% up on the same frame from last year, when Dr Seuss' The Lorax landed disappointingly in second place, behind a rampant Dark Knight Rises. Moving into August, the Hollywood studios have already unleashed their biggest winners for the summer, but this week Fox will have high hopes for Sandra Bullock-Melissa McCarthy comedy The Heat, especially after stellar results Stateside. Warners has horror picture The Conjuring, which exploded out of the genre niche in the US, reaching the broad date-movie market. Sequel Smurfs 2 looks a sure thing, and RED 2 has a similarly defined (albeit different) audience to aim at. Nicolas Winding Refn's 18-certificate Only God Forgives, starring Ryan Gosling, is being more narrowly – but still aggressively – targeted than predecessor Drive.
Top 10 films
1. The Wolverine, £4,694,092 from 522 sites (New)
2. Monsters University, £3,114,562 from 563 sites. Total: £15,453,747
3. Despicable Me 2, £2,085,392 from 560 sites. Total: £34,676,246
4. The World's End, £1,435,469 from 548 sites. Total: £5,438,289
5. Now You See Me, £880,783 from 397 sites. Total: £9,064,766
6. Pacific Rim, £732,249 from 442 sites. Total: £7,053,651
7. The Internship, £174,945 from 140 sites. Total: £3,258,226
8. World War Z, £168,060 from 188 sites. Total: £14,223,380
9. Frances Ha, £150,689 from 60 sites (New)
10. Man of Steel, £78,014 from 109 sites. Total: £29,764,997
Best of Luck, 14 sites, £31,258
Blackfish, 18 sites, £26,595
Pattathu Yaanai, 12 sites, £14,079
Dial M for Murder, 8 sites, £12,450 (rerelease)
Bajate Raho, 18 sites, £8,899
Sonna Puriyatha, 4 sites, £1,727
Days of Grace, 1 site, £391
Viramundo: A Musical Journey with Gilberto Gil, 1 site, £169
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image: © Jessica Diamond