Aussie cinemas hit by 2024 box office slump, with industry on verge of collapse

This is supposed to be a hit.

Furiosa: The Mad Max Saga featured Australian Hollywood heartthrob Chris Hemsworth and rising star Anya Taylor-Joy in the popular franchise, roaring critical acclaim including a six-minute standing ovation at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France and a global marketing campaign by entertainment giant Warner Bros. Bro.

But the action extravaganza flopped, pulling in just $32 million over the four-day Memorial Day weekend in the U.S., short of a projected $40 million, for $59 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.

The film’s massive $170 million budget means it’s now in contention for a breakthrough.

Furiosa is the latest disappointment in a string of dramatic failures to hit the box office in 2024, with repercussions being felt everywhere from Los Angeles to secluded cinemas across Australia.

For Stephen Goddard, manager of a three-screen cinema in the central Queensland coal town of Emerald, the setbacks could spell the end of moviegoing in western Queensland.

“Furiosa is actually a really good movie, but that’s not going to matter,” he told NewsWire.

“We’re probably going to close, truth be told, and I know Mount Isa is in the same boat. I’ve spoken to them and they’re looking at it.”

“It will almost mean you have no live cinema in the west at all.

“I can say with certainty that we won’t make it until December.”

The drop in cinema revenue is obvious.

Mr Goddard said he sold just 222 tickets for Furiosa in its first week.

Normally a hit would sell 1,050 tickets in a week.

“It followed the same pattern as Fall Guy, Planet of the Apes, Indiana Jones,” he said.

“And yet every comment I get about the exit is ‘wow, that was good.’

“They kind of come out and are surprised that it was good.”

Across Australia, Furiosa grossed $3.3 million in its opening weekend, Numero reports.

Barbie and Top Gun: Maverick were Mr. Goddard’s last two “big hits,” each selling more than 3,000 seats in their four-week run.

However, there seems to be a decline in structures.

“If you go back to 2006 to 2009, the top movies had 4,500, 5,000 seats,” he said.

“And there were many more. I would have three or four films a year.”

“During this entire period, from 2005 to 2009, we made 66,000 seats.

“We might do 30,000 seats this year if we’re lucky.

“These are the cold hard facts and of course our costs went through the roof. The cost of electricity is outrageous.

“I don’t understand how we’re still here.”

There are several reasons for the slow decline.

The Covid pandemic and associated lockdowns have affected cinemas and many are struggling to return to 2019 attendance levels.

In 2023, Numero recorded 58.1 million Australian cinemas, up from 84.7 million in 2019.

The emergence of streaming giants such as Netflix and Amazon Prime and improvements in home TV technology mean that movie lovers can quickly access quality entertainment from the comfort of their own homes.

And a dual strike by the Screen Actors Guild and Screenwriters Guild shut down production across Hollywood from May to November 2023.

Cinema operators are essentially receptacles for American-produced content, and the 2023 strikes blew up the pipeline.

“We understood we were going to be going into a difficult time with the writers’ strike and getting out of it,” Mr. Goddard said.

“We really haven’t solved that yet.”

There is also a sense of fear that the creative power of Hollywood could fade.

“I think I watch a lot of movies, we’ve had a lot of Indian Joneses, Furiosas, Planet of the Apes, they seem like very real movies,” Mr Goddard said.

“It’s almost as if there was a formula that would fail miserably.”

Mr Goddard said cinemas would probably need to diversify and establish new revenue streams separate from the films in the cinema complex, such as adding bowling lanes or new restaurants or cafes.

“There’s going to be a lot of us who won’t do it because we just don’t have the capital,” he said.

But Cameron Mitchell, chief executive of Cinema Association Australia, presents a more hopeful assessment, saying ticket sales in 2024 were likely to match 2023 at 58 million and the industry was “tight” about 2025 and 2026.

“Coming off Cinemacon in Las Vegas in April and the recent Cinema Association Australasia content showcase in Sydney, the local industry is optimistic about the next three years,” he told NewsWire.

“The box office in 2024 is expected to be the same as in 2023, only due to a reduction in content publishing attributable to the now resolved 2023 cast and writer strikes.

“However, it is important that local and international studios are adjusting their lineups to ensure a solid slate in 2024 and beyond, and we expect to release more than 100 films in Australian cinemas between now and the end of the year.

“The box office in 2024 will be boosted by investment from local Australian exhibitors to upgrade their existing cinemas and develop new experiences, with new cinemas to be offered nationally, including the Event IMAX Sydney location, Reading’s Angelika cinema in Woolloongabba and the Dendy Powerhouse. Open-air cinema in New Farm. In January, IMAX Sydney was the top-grossing IMAX screen in the world, and as of March, IMAX Sydney was the third highest-grossing IMAX cinema in the world.

He also said that tech giants Apple and Amazon have committed to investing $1 billion annually in the creation and marketing of cinematic content.

“(It) highlights the appeal of cinema, even for streaming companies,” he said.

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