Throughout early summer, we tend to see one or two big blockbusters dominate the market each weekend, with the rest of the films on release competing for scraps.
The magnificent seven
As we move into August, the field typically becomes more even, with several mid-size pictures jostling for position. That was certainly the case last weekend, when no fewer than seven films achieved grosses in excess of £1m – the first time this has happened since February 2011, when Paul, Gnomeo and Juliet, The King's Speech, True Grit, Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, Yogi Bear and Tangled all delivered seven-figure sums in the same frame.
The winner #1
Topping the official Rentrak chart with £3.22m, The Smurfs 2 leads a crowded field of family titles including a still-potent Monsters University and Despicable Me 2. The figure for the Smurfs includes £1.45m in previews, and compares with a £3.78m debut (including £1.47m in previews) for the original Smurfs film two summers ago. You might have expected a bigger Smurfs 2 debut for two reasons: first, because sequels in general tend to deliver a relatively bigger proportion of their overall box office on opening weekend; second, because the original Smurfs film proved a real word-of-mouth winner with audiences, achieving a final gross that was 7.5 times its three-day opening. You'd expect the second Smurfs film to be the beneficiary of that warm audience afterglow.
Perhaps Smurfs 2 would have opened bigger had families not still been catching up with Monsters University and Despicable Me 2, to the collective tune of more than £3m for the weekend. After a slow start, Monsters University has now powered its way past £20m, becoming the ninth film to do so this year. With £38.45m to date, Despicable Me 2 is now the UK's biggest summer hit, overtaking Iron Man 3 (£36.96m). Animation has proved especially potent this year, with four films so far achieving £20m-plus, the others being Wreck-It Ralph and The Croods. Universal has now had the top two films of 2013 at UK cinemas: Les Miserables (£40.66m) and Despicable Me 2.
The winner #2
Ignoring previews and going solely by gross takings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, The Conjuring is the top film on current release, with £2.16m – compared with £1.77m for The Smurfs 2.
The last significant horror film on release was The Purge, which opened in late May with £1.02m. Before that, Evil Dead debuted in April with £1.38m, including £288,000 in previews. Focusing more on the supernatural genre, Dark Skies kicked off in April with £1.03m, including £323,000 in previews, while in February Mama took £1.51m. The last horror film to enjoy a bigger opening than The Conjuring was Paranormal Activity 4 (£2.54m) in October 2012, and even that did so only with the benefit of previews totalling £806,000.
Ignoring previews, the current top five runs in the following order: The Conjuring, The Wolverine, The Smurfs 2, Monsters University, The Heat. Significantly different, in other words, from the official chart (see below).
While fellow new releases The Conjuring, The Smurfs 2, The Heat and Red 2 targeted different segments of the broad multiplex audience, Nicolas Winding Refn's hyper-violent, 18-rated Only God Forgives offered an alternative. Building on the success of Drive, Winding Refn's previous collaboration with Ryan Gosling, Lionsgate, the film's distributor, may originally have envisioned a broader strategy. But some highly polarised reviews – five stars from the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, one from Time Out's Dave Calhoun, and an overall MetaCritic score of 37/100 – meant that targeting niche audiences turned out to be the wiser path. Only God Forgives opened with £466,000 from 188 screens, which compares with a £607,000 debut from 176 venues for Drive. Drive eventually maxed out just ahead of £3m, which represents a rather remote target for Only God Forgives.
In arthouses, the admired Frances Ha offered a less grisly alternative for specialised audiences. The Noah Baumbach film notched up £89,000 at the weekend. More noteworthy, though, is the £228,000 it's added in the past week overall, giving it a £378,000 total after 10 days; evidently this is a film performing as well on weekdays as it does at the weekend.
Thanks to a number of solid openings and those seven films at £1m-plus, takings are 16% up on the previous weekend. However, they are 16% down on the equivalent frame from 2012, when Ted took £9.33m including previews. The box-office battle should get interesting this weekend. Disney long ago chose 9 August for the release of its expensively produced western The Lone Ranger, which reunites Pirates of the Caribbean's Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp. At the time, the studio presumably wasn't too worried about competition from Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, which opens on 7 August; doubtless it feels different now. In addition, there's Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters and comedy sequel Grown Ups 2. In the specialised sector, Looking for Hortense is the latest French film featuring Kristin Scott Thomas, but fresh activity is relatively modest. Expect your local arthouse to be playing Alpha Papa on at least one of its screens.
Top 10 films
1. The Smurfs 2, £3,220,911 from 510 sites (new)
2. The Heat, £2,500,522 from 440 sites (new)
3. The Conjuring, £2,156,124 from 371 sites (new)
4. The Wolverine, £1,800,640 from 525 sites. Total: £9,532,590
5. Monsters University, £1,753,216 from 573 sites. Total: £20,836,976
6. Despicable Me 2, £1,289,450 from 527 sites. Total: £38,451,837
7. Red 2, £1,023,349 from 430 sites (new)
8. The World's End, £681,301 from 469 sites. Total: £7,467,170
9. Only God Forgives, £465,917 from 188 sites (new)
10. Now You See Me, £436,597 from 317 sites. Total: £10,260,473
From Up on Poppy Hill, 23 sites, £33,087
Naughty Jatts, seven sites, £15,217
Heaven's Gate, one site, £2,979
Paradise: Hope, five sites, £2,495
My Father and the Man in Black, two sites, £462
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