Australians are watching films less like Americans … we think

In this weekend’s (May 9/10, 2009) Sydney Morning Herald, David Dale writes that for years Australians have been “predictable mini-mes of American moviegoers”.  But something seems to be changing.

For thirty years, he reports, film distributors:

Have operated on the assumption that any big budget international movie will make in Australian dollars roughly one tenth of what it made in American dollars.  Thus Titanic made $US601 million over there and $58m here, becoming the highest grossing film of all time in both countries. Jurassic Park made $US357m and $33m; The Sixth Sense made $US290m and $29m; Independence Day made $US306m and $29m; Forrest Gump made $330m and $31m; Shrek the Third made $US321m and $34m.

But, shock! horror! something has changed.  In order to follow this pattern, the Hugh Jackman film Wolverine – with a great local angle and a much beloved Australian star “should have sold $8.5 million worth of tickets on its first weekend (in Australia).  In fact, it sold $6.6 million worth.  That left a giant question mark hanging over our national identity.”

What’s happening?  Dale looks at the most popular films in the USA and Australia over the last 12 months and concludes the following:

“The one-tenth-of-America rule no longer applies….  The majority of moviegoers in the United States appear to be boys under the age of 14, or people who think like boys under the age of 14….  and Australians are more diverse in their tastes than our cousins across the Pacific.  In addition to action adventures and kiddy cartoons, we are open to historic melodramas, musical comedies, epic romances and teenage vampires.”

These conclusions are different than his of a year ago (May 19, 2008), when he wrote an article entitled “In film, it’s not independence day yet” and analysed the respective box office performance of the top 25 performing films in Australian box office through mid-May 2008, testing it against the “one tenth” formula.  Although he had expected a significant divergence from the formula, he found that one half of the films closely followed the “power of 10” formula, with Australians liking British films substantially more.

Quirky accident, or a changing cultural trend?  Within the margin of error, or a new mark for Australian culture?  We shall see.  Watch this space for more comparative Australian-American cultural analysis.

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