Aamir Khan's religious satire PK becomes India's most successful film

In this week’s instalment of our series tracking cinema’s worldwide winners …

• Aamir Khan breaks Bollywood worldwide record for the fourth time
• Big Hero 6’s Japanese overtures go down well in the far east
• Angelina Jolie earns her box-office stripes with Unbroken

The winner

A fourth consecutive week at No 1 for the final Hobbit. Crossing $200m in US domestic this week was one more milestone on Bilbo’s journey – but the question is how much it has left in the tank. Overseas, it’s actually lagging a touch on previous episodes at the same point (Unexpected Journey, week four: $562.8m; Desolation: $528.1m; Five Armies: $504.7m), so perhaps Peter Jackson has forced the pace too much after six Tolkien outings in 13 years. The Chinese release on 23 January, though, should be a pick-me-up if it follows the upwardly bound trajectory of the series there, with Unexpected Journey taking $49m and Desolation of Smaug $74.2m. $900m worldwide looks within reach for Five Armies; $1bn not so much.

Thinking man’s Bollywood

It can’t be disputed now: Aamir Khan has the global touch. His satire on world religion, PK – in 16th place on this week’s chart – breaches the $90m mark worldwide this week and in doing so becomes the highest grossing Bollywood film ever. It’s the fourth time he has claimed that record, after the Memento-inspired thriller Ghajini ($30m, 2008), college drama 3 Idiots ($62m, 2009) and action extravaganza Dhoom 3 ($85m, 2013). In last week’s 2014 roundup, I speculated that the $100m Bollywood wasn’t far enough – right around the corner, it transpires. What gives the Khan edge in global terms? One factor is that he has a quirkiness and innocence on screen that sets him apart from cookie-cutter Bollywood glam gods – things on show in PK, in which his Mr Bean-like alien gets to grips with the absurdities of organised religion on planet Earth. Khan’s star vehicles seem more substantial and reflective than the bulk of the Indian mainstream (3 Idiots, in which he played a similar kind of holy fool, was a plea for better educational standards). Perhaps this gives them greater resonance with a diaspora inclined to getting impatient with the old masala clichés.

Of course, the PK phenomenon has strong foundations in India, where it has also become the most successful local film ever (currently on $48m, passing Dhoom 3’s $41m). Not only does it delve headfirst into the syncretic melee of different faiths in that country, it takes direct aim at “godmen”, the guru figures who proliferate there. PK actually had a relatively slow start on home turf – well under Happy New Year’s record-breaking opening in October – but the film’s quality and the controversy generated by the subject matter has seen it make up the gap in no time. Despite protests by some Hindu groups, the film isn’t that provocative, though; more of a playful shove in the direction of greater tolerance and a more questioning attitude to institutionalised religion. So there’s definitely scope for the film to appeal to spiritually concerned non-Indians, too - in China for starters, where 3 Idiots and Dhoom 3 both built a following for Khan. No word of a release there yet.

Occidental tourist

Western attempts at eastern culture aren’t always embraced on the opposite side of the globe – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was one that underwhelmed box-office-wise. But Disney’s cross-cultural animation Big Hero 6, set in the US-Japanese fusion city of San Fransoyko and with its anime-styled teen hero, seems to have nailed it. Early indications, including No 1 openings in Malaysia and Singapore in November, were good. And, released in Japan under the name Baymax (the film’s inflatable robot sidekick) over the Christmas period, it has passed the key litmus test. Its $5.35m No 2 opening (beaten by the mightily monikered Yokai Watch the Movie: The Secret Is Created, Nyan!) compares favourably with the record-breaking Frozen’s $6.37m at the beginning of 2014. Big Hero 6 dropped -20% on the second weekend, but rose +38% this one gone, taking its running total to $34.6m, sure to place it comfortably in Japan’s 2015 top 10. It’s also doing well in Taiwan, where it debuted this week, and releases in the big-boy South Korean and Chinese markets are imminent on 22 January and 28 February respectively. Disney has opted for a long release curve, and the film currently stands at $378.7m worldwide just over halfway along. $600m, and a place in the top 20 highest grossing animations might be within its grasp – depending on how excited the likes of Germany (22 Jan), the UK (30 Jan) and France (11 Feb) are still capable of getting about the Japanimation aesthetic. Big Hero 6 has also been winning praise for its multicultural ensemble, which might expand its appeal further in the west. But it doesn’t quite have the universal-fairytale-denominator of Frozen.

All-American girl

One frequent visitor to the worldwide chart these days is the Chinese local hit; global by virtue of a whopping domestic gross, despite showing virtually nowhere else. The Angelina Jolie-directed second world war drama Unbroken could be shaping up to be the American equivalent. It will get a full international rollout in close to 60 countries, but results from the first few have been disappointing. Spain is currently outpacing the UK, where star Jack O’Connell (who plays former PoW Louis Zamperini) is from, which must be a disappointment for distributor Universal.

With Unbroken looking US-centric, it’s worth reflecting on what Jolie has achieved there. A $30.6m debut was far ahead of expectations; better than openings for other straight dramas that have gone on to $200m+ over the last couple of years, like Captain Phillips ($25.7m) and Wolf of Wall Street ($18.3m). Jolie’s name is a factor (the film showed a slight first-weekend female-audience bias, unusually for such macho material), but the crucial decision seems to have been to open the film wide – over 3,000 theatres – rather than as a specialty release. Post-Christmas, it excelled as counter-programmed alternative to the CGI fantasy of The Hobbit and Into the Woods – enabling Jolie to bypass some stinging notices. That might be not be as easy elsewhere (South Korea and the Netherlands are up next), where the level of local interest in Zamperini’s story won’t win Unbroken as much ground-entry box office. But with $94.6m current global tally, on a $65m budget, one thing is for sure: Jolie has opened her account as a viable commercial director (her debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, took just $1.2m).

The rest of the world

Brian Eno fans will be chuffed to see Hong Kong maestro Tsui Hark’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain at the top of the Chinese box office. Based on the Peking opera about a People’s Liberation Army/bandit standoff (which also inspired the Englishman’s 1974 album), Hark’s 3D epic has recovered from a fractionally under-par $25m opening to a very robust $110m take at the end of its first full week. Fellow Chinese blockbusters Gone With the Bullets ($81.3m) and John Woo’s The Crossing ($32.3m) can now be filed as slight and major letdowns, respectively.

The Woman In Black 2 manifested, sans Daniel Radcliffe, in the US to a quarter less than the original: $15m, enough with an assorted $3.5m in overseas change, to put it at ninth on the global list. Holding fast at the top of the Korean chart and 11th globally is Yoon Je-kyoon’s Ode to My Father, which gives an operatic, almost blockbuster-style treatment to the saga of an economic migrant who becomes the family breadwinner in the wake of the Korean war. Italian comedy Si Accettano Miracoli – about a family who fabricate a religious miracle – is another No 1 local strike (19th worldwide) for director-star, Neapolitan comedian Alessandro Siani, after 2013’s Il Principe Abusivo. In Germany, fellow multi-hyphenate Til Schweiger is at 21st on the global rankings with Honig im Kopf, on which he serves as director, writer and actor. With its tale of a young girl who kidnaps her grandfather, who has Alzheimer’s, Schweiger reportedly adds a sombre note to his usual rather slushy director’s outings. With Honig currently standing at $18.5m, he, and long-time distribution pals Warner, will be hoping it hits the heights of his $42.9m for 2011’s Kokowääh.

The future

Grumpy action codger Liam Neeson – being softly spoken about his “special skills” in South Korea and Hong Kong this frame – brings Taken 3 to around 40 more countries, including the US, UK, Germany, Australia and Japan. Unbroken breaks in a smattering of European countries, and Rob Marshall’s fairytale Sondheim adaptation Into the Woods expands, too. No space to examine its performance in detail this week - nor that of Universal’s fantasy romp The Seventh Son, already No 1 in Russia (home for director Sergei Bodrov), Ukraine and plenty of the rest of the former Soviet Union. Starring Ben Barnes, Kit Harington, Julianne Moore and Jeff Bridges, it brings its dank visuals and mancheistic bluster to further marches of eastern Europe and, more exotically, to a couple of African territories as well.

Top 10 global box office, 2-4 January

1. The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, $75.9m from 66 territories. $725.5m cumulative – 69.4% international; 30.6% US
2. Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, $40.5m from 57 territories. $182.1m cum – 50.7% int; 49.3% US
3. Exodus: Gods and Kings, $35.2m from 52 territories. $203.7m cum – 69.9% int; 30.1% US
4. Penguins of Madagascar, $25.9m from 44 territories. $271.6m cum – 71.2% int; 28.8% US
5. Big Hero 6, $25m from 54 territories. $378.7m cum – 44.2% int; 55.8% US
6. The Taking of Tiger Mountain, $23.8m from 1 territory. $109.9m cum – 100% int
7. Unbroken, $20.7m from 12 territories. $94.6m cum – 7.2% int; 92.8% US
8. Into the Woods, $20.1m from 11 territories. $97m cum – 6% int; 94% US
9. (New) The Woman in Black: The Angel of Death, $18.6m from 5 territories – 18.8% int; 81.2% US
10. (New) Seventh Son, $18.6m from 24 territories. $22m cum – 100% int

• Thanks to Rentrak. Some of this week’s figures are based on estimates; all historical figures unadjusted, unless otherwise stated.


Phil Hoad

The GuardianTramp

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