Ice Age 4: Continental Drift floats off UK box office radar

Why has the fourth Ice Age film got such low numbers? Because England and Wales seem to have an official release freeze

The winner

With just £853,000 from 134 sites at the UK and Ireland box-office, Ice Age 4: Continental Drift is the first film to top the chart with a sum below £1m since The Other Guys did so on its third weekend of release in October 2010, and the lowest-grossing number-one film since Nicolas Cage actioner Next landed at the summit with £795,000 back in April 2007.

And if you're wondering why the fourth instalment of the hitherto-mega-grossing animated franchise is doing so badly, and playing on so few screens, the answer is simple: Ice Age 4 has officially opened only in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, where the school summer holidays kick off earlier. England and Wales officially get the film on 13 July, but in fact Ice Age 4 played nationwide previews on Saturday and Sunday in addition to the official Scottish/Irish/Northern Irish release. Had those takings been added in, the gross would have topped £3m.

For comparison, the two days of previews for Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs totalled £1.79m. However, those were on a Wednesday and Thursday, as opposed to a Saturday and Sunday on this occasion. The decision to start previewing Ice Age 4 two full weeks before the official release in England and Wales was reportedly taken late in the day, with England's elimination from Euro 2012 believed to be the clincher. London bus sides for the film don't mention the previews, but the public seems to have got the message from distributor 20th Century Fox that the picture was available everywhere.

The event

Now that Secret Cinema has ended its month-long run, it can be revealed that the chosen film was Ridley Scott's Prometheus. This is the first time that Secret Cinema has presented a major new-release blockbuster, and the numbers are encouraging. With more than 25,000 admissions, the event grossed £730,000, and represents the top site for Prometheus so far, ahead of the London Southbank BFI IMAX with £673,000. The BFI venue benefited from multiple playtimes each day, as opposed to just 38 showings over 28 days for Secret Cinema, although premium prices for the latter, reflecting the ambitious production values, boosted its takings.

Revenue splits between exhibitor and distributor are traditionally in the 70/30 ballpark in the UK, favouring the exhibitor. But its unlikely distributor 20th Century Fox will have received as much as 30% of the total Secret Cinema box-office, less VAT, since the ticket price (£35 for the non-concessionary rate) covers much more than just the experience of watching a film. The whole industry is notoriously secretive about revenue splits, and only a handful of people will know the terms for this fresh exhibition model.

Secret Cinema accounts for more than 3% of the total Prometheus UK box-office to date, and it can be argued that a significant chunk of this is incremental revenue from attendees who wouldn't necessarily have paid to see the film at another cinema, or who had already seen it. In other words, Secret Cinema grew the audience. Such calculations make a partnership with the event an attractive option for distributors in the future.

The also-rans

Both opening on more than 250 screens, romcom Friends with Kids and sci-fi/horror hybrid Storage 24 both debuted with disappointing numbers. Of the two, Jennifer Westfeldt's relationship comedy did better, but a screen average of £1,216 won't see champagne corks flying at distributor Lionsgate UK. Storage 24, from producer-writer-actor Noel Clarke, had a significantly lower production budget, but aggressively wide distribution dilutes the screen average to a dismal £459. This follows poor box-office returns for Fast Girls (Clarke has a screen credit and supporting role in that one), currently at £700,000. Next from the energetic multi-hyphenate: wedding-themed comedy The Knot, due in October.

Some nice weekend weather will have dented these numbers, but since Friends with Kids and Storage 24 landed in lowly seventh and 12th place, cinemagoers were clearly expressing other preferences at their local theatres. Released on fewer screens, and with an even weaker average, is Joyful Noise, starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton. With a gospel choir storyline, this was always going to be a tough sell to UK audiences, and it's fair to say that distributor Warner Bros didn't exactly bet the farm on the marketing push. With £32,000 from just over 100 cinemas, and 25th place in the chart, the picture is set for a rapid exit. If you fancy seeing it, don't dally. In the US, where Latifah and Parton are both marketable assets, and gospel choir fans an identifiable audience, Joyful Noise has grossed $31m (around £19m) since its January release.

The alternatives

Top arthouse title, with £209,000 from just 74 sites and the second-highest screen average in the top 10 after Ice Age 4, is William Friedkin's Killer Joe, adapted from the Tracy Letts stageplay. The film is rated 18 for containing "strong bloody and sadistic violence and sexual threat", and was successfully positioned as a critically acclaimed film (88% Fresh at Rotten Tomatoes) appealing to adventurous audiences. For anyone who didn't fancy seeing oral abuse of chicken drumsticks, there was indie relationship comedy-drama Your Sister's Sister, with nice Emily Blunt and Mark Duplass (£81,000 from 40 venues).

Not included in the official report is a simulcasted live event featuring Dutch violinist André Rieu playing in his home city of Maastricht, which took £151,000 from 109 UK cinemas on Saturday evening.

The future

Since the jubilee holiday a month ago, successive weekends in June have seen a dearth of commercially appealing new releases, with distributors reluctant to risk expensive blockbusters in competition with international football. At last, the wait for a major tentpole is over, with The Amazing Spider-Man now swinging into cinemas. For the country's exhibitors, the film can't arrive soon enough. The weekend saw grosses a full £10m below the equivalent frame from last year, when Transformers: Dark of the Moon landed at the top spot. Box-office for the current weekend represents a nadir for the past year, although the picture would improve if the English and Welsh Ice Age 4 takings were added in. Joining Spidey in the fight for audiences is documentary Katy Perry: Part of Me, arriving Thursday, and presumably there will be more Ice Age 4 previews on Saturday and Sunday.

Top 10 films

1. Ice Age 4: Continental Drift, £853,226 from 134 sites (New) (Ireland/Northern Ireland/Scotland only)

2. Prometheus, £750,652 from 394 sites. Total: £23,107,841

3. The Five-Year Engagement, £745,400 from 466 sites. Total: £2,617,531

4. Men in Black 3, £727,787 from 465 sites. Total: £20,265,340

5. Snow White and the Huntsman, £606,624 from 458 sites, Total: £14,489,872

6. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, £386,743 from 453 sites. Total: £2,061,175

7. Friends with Kids, £357,520 from 294 sites (New)

8. Chernobyl Diaries, £284,530 from 277 sites. Total: £1,150,720

9. Rock of Ages, £240,445 from 341 sites. Total: £2,556,436

10. Killer Joe, £208,553 from 74 sites (New)

Other openers

Storage 24, 286 sites, £131,342

Your Sister's Sister, 40 sites, £81,098

Jatt & Juliet, 8 sites, £37,369

Joyful Noise, 106 sites, £32,198

Lovely Molly, 39 sites, £22,089

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, 4 sites, £7,621 (+ £566 previews)

Dark Horse, 7 sites, £7,373

Last Flight to Abuja, 9 sites, £3,872

King of Devil's Island, 6 sites, £2,568 (+ £735 previews)

The Fairy, 4 sites, £1,505 (+ £3,294 previews)

Glastonbury the Movie in Flashback, 15 sites, £849


Charles Gant

The GuardianTramp

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