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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

U.K. box office: all-American ‘High School Musical 3’ wows the Brits, too

The British box office looked a helluva lot like the North American one this weekend, with singing teens and psycho killers raking in the dough:

1. High School Musical 3: Senior Year: £8.4 million (NEW)
2. Saw V: £2.4 million (NEW)
3. Burn After Reading: £1.4 million (2nd week; drops 30%)
4. Ghost Town: £1.3 million (NEW)
5. Eagle Eye: £.7 million (2nd week; drops 37%)
I’m sort of surprised, actually, that HSM3 did so very well in the U.K. That’s not a slight against the film, which is perfectly cute and pleasant: I’m just sort of stunned to see how American pop culture — and this is very American pop culture, in this instance — dominates around the world. The success of Saw V overseas surprises me less: that kind of horror seems less specifically American — though the moral justification for torture that is the central of that series may be specifically American, alas.

I mean, I always knew, intellectually, that American pop culture is inescapable outside of the U.S., but after having traveled to both France and England this year and seeing that firsthand, I’m both more aware of it on a visceral level and more appalled by it, as an American who doesn’t think our cultural hegemony is automatically a good thing, and, also, more aware of how limited Americans’ exposure to foreign pop culture is. One of the most striking things I remember from my trip to Paris in the spring is sitting in a restaurant and listening to the radio station playing there, and noting how every other song was by an American artist, and noting how all the great French pop that was interspersed with it was nothing I would have ever heard on an American radio station.

I apologize if I’m sounding like the ugly American who assumes that the U.S. is the center of the world. I promise you that I don’t think that. I’m just trying to lead you through my thoughts as my brain expands to make some room for actually, honestly, really thinking about consciously noticing, you know, that the water is wet.

Anyway, this does sort of tie into something I noticed last week, which is that unlike in North America, the films in the U.K. with the best per-screen averages don’t tend to be the smaller arthouse releases but the wider releases with a more general appear. This week, the best per-screens were:

1. HSM3: £17,058 at each of 493 cinemas
2. Saw V: £6,640 (367 cinemas)
3. Ghost Town: £3,929 (343 cinemas)
4. Burn After Reading: £3,629 (395 cinemas)
5. Gomorrah: £2,468 (37 cinemas)

Only Gomorrah — an Italian narrative film about the mafia that played at the New York Film Festival this autumn and will open in limited release in the U.S. in February — was a limited release. That seems to suggest that there’s less of a divide between the arthouse crowd and the mainstream crowd than there is in the U.S. Of course, these last two weeks could be a fluke, and this might not hold true in the long run for the U.K. It’s something I’ll be keeping an eye on.

In other box office notes, Incendiary, the terrorism drama starring Michelle Williams and Ewan McGregor, did not open well, taking in only £18,964 at 16 cinemas, a per-screen average of £1,185. I thought the trailer looked intriguing, but British critics savaged it — it’s at only 26 percent Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

On the flip side, Bigger Picture Research notes that, after this weekend, Mamma Mia!, which has been an absolute sensation in the U.K.

took £257,705 from 284 screens. This brings the cumulative box office haul to £66,827,983, still just shy of Titanic’s 1998 total although it is now the highest grossing UK film of all time (judged on box office figures unadjusted for inflation)

Next week, it’ll be all Quantum of Solace, the new James Bond movie, which opens in the U.K. this Friday, October 31, two weeks ahead of the North American opening. Sony is holding the film from North American critics till just over 24 hours before it opens here (in New York City we’ll see it in the evening of Wednesday, November 12, and it opens with 12:01am showings on Friday, November 14), which is not an indication of great confidence in the film. So far, British critics rate it 76 percent Fresh at Rotten Tomatoes. Whatever the critics say, though, it’s hard to imagine the film being so terrible that it won’t be box office gold on both side of the Atlantic.

[numbers via UK Film Council]

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