If France’s cinemas are packed, why aren’t Britain’s?
If anyone was going to do well in a global pandemic, it was always going to be the zombies. Over the last week, 2.1 million South Koreans have gone to the cinema to see Peninsula – Yeon Sang-ho’s long-awaited follow-up to his 2016 action-horror smash Train to Busan, in which the country is ravaged by an undead plague. Peninsula is currently playing on almost 2,000 screens around the country, and has grossed £12.4 million in its first week of release.
South Korea’s cinemas were never formally shut down – in fact, the country eschewed a formal lockdown, full stop – but many sites closed of their own accord. Last weekend, however, the top 10 films made £7.7 million between them: a little less than half of the equivalent weekend in 2019, which is all the more impressive when you factor in the staggered seating required by strict social-distancing protocols.
In the West, France’s grand re-opening is also going well. Last week’s box office recorded 1.17 million admissions – around a third of the average July seven-day tally, but up 200,000 week-on-week. The number one release was a new French comedy, Divorce Club, and the top 10 featured five further domestic productions.
And then we come to Britain. Box-office results here are measured in takings rather than admissions, but over the last weekend, the top 10 scraped £243,000: almost a clean 90 per cent drop from the £24.5 million taken by cinemas over the equivalent weekend last year. The top 10 featured only two new films – the Australian creature-feature Black Water: Abyss and the Danish CG animation Dreambuilders – and no British ones at all, unless you count a reissue of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets at number eight.
On top of that, in the last 24 hours alone, three more major 2020 titles were postponed: Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part II until April 2021, Top Gun: Maverick until July 2021, and Disney’s live-action Mulan remake until… well, who knows. At the time of writing – Friday morning – only five major live-action studio releases are still scheduled to open this year: Tenet, Black Widow, Wonder Woman 1984, No Time to Die (aka James Bond 25) and Dune. Will they hold the line? At the moment, I’d be amazed if they all did.
You don’t have to be a box-office obsessive to spot a worrying pattern. In countries with a distinctive and robustly free-standing film culture that local audiences will routinely go out and support, cinemas appear to be fast on the road to recovery. But in Britain, where our tastes tend to skew Hollywood-wards, they remain in queasy stasis…