U.K. box office: English people like cartoons about escaped zoo animals

That’s the only way to explain it. In the U.K. last weekend, people flocked to see Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, and not so much else:

1. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa: £6.3 million (NEW)
2. Four Christmases: £1.5 million (2nd week; drops 34%)
3. Transporter 3: £.96 million (NEW)
4. Changeling: £.721 million (2nd week; drops 41%)
5. Quantum of Solace: £.72 million

(actual numbers, not estimates)
Of course, the same thing happened when the animal flick opened in the U.S. a month ago. So it’s at least an English-language thing that wisecracking zoo critters on the run are totally irresistible.

Apparently that £6.3 million figure for Madagascar 2 includes last weekend’s sneak previews, according to Charles Gant at the Guardian’s Film blog (I wish I knew where he was getting his information!). But it’s still a phenomenal number. And it gives the film one of the biggest U.K. openings of 2008:

1. Quantum of Solace: £15,384,217 (opened October 31)
2. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: £12,227,799 (May 23)
3. The Dark Knight: £11,191,824 (July 25)
4. Hancock: £9,589,095 (July 4)
5. Sex and the City: The Movie: £8,767,265 (May 30)
6. High School Musical 3: £8,409,375 (October 24)
7. Mamma Mia!: £6,594,058 (July 11)
8. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa: £6,342,997 (November 5)
9. Kung Fu Panda: £6,069,679 (July 4; opened at No. 2)
10. Iron Man: £5,465,103 (May 2)

Certainly, Madagascar 2 helped push the overall U.K. box office up 59 percent over the previous weekend, exactly the opposite of how this first weekend in December typically plays in North America. (It’s not quite true that no one went to see anything other than Madagascar 2 — Gant at the Guardian points out that Jason Statham had his biggest British opening ever as a headliner with Transporter 3. And Four Christmases held strong, perhaps on the strength of the seasonal tie-in.)

Completely opposite from North America, too, is how the per-screen averages fall out: the top five movies overall enjoyed the best per-screens as well:

1. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa: £12,198 (at each of 520 cinemas)
2. Four Christmases: £3,445 (435 cinemas)
3. Transporter 3: £2,977 (322 cinemas)
4. Changeling: £2,049 (352 cinemas)
5. Quantum of Solace: £1,679 (429 cinemas)

Oops, I lie: the fifth strongest showing, on a per-screen basis and just a few quid ahead of Bond, was The Dark Knight, earning £1,688 on each of two screens. Which means the film is holding stronger in the U.K. than it is in the U.S., where it earned, last weekend, $697 at each of 269 locations (which landed it at No. 21 in the weekend ranking). It’ll be interesting to see whether this week’s DVD release of the film — in both Region 1 and Region 2 — will cause a dropoff in attendence (it’ll still be on 205 screens in North America this coming weekend), or whether Thursday’s Golden Globe nomination for Heath Ledger will actually boost ticket sales.

I’m still mystified as to why there’s such a difference between the U.S. and the U.K. when it comes arthouse releases. The big mainstream movies are the most popular movies in the U.K. with everyone… period. There’s none of the flocking — on a relative scale — to limited releases we see in the U.S. I’m still pondering why that could be.

[numbers via UK Film Council]

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