UK Box Office

It is accepted wisdom that today it is properties and characters, not movie stars, drive the global box office. For studio bosses, it’s all about acquiring commercially appealing intellectual property with an existing fanbase. The success of The Revenant, however, is hard to explain in these terms.

Following a robust debut in the US, The Revenant has opened in the UK with a stunning £5.09m (plus £146,000 in previews), knocking Star Wars: The Force Awakens off the top spot. Relative to the two fellow blockbuster best picture Oscar nominees, The Revenant’s number is well ahead of the debut of Mad Max: Fury Road (£3.90m, plus £639,000 in previews) and a little better than The Martian (£4.90m, plus £1.63m in previews). Fury Road is a virtually nonstop action movie based on a fondly remembered film franchise ; The Martian is based on Andy Weir’s bestselling science-fiction novel. The Revenant is based on the true story of frontiersman Hugh Glass and on Michael Punke’s novel of the same name, but audience familiarity with the character is hardly a factor in the film’s success. In terms of marketable elements, director Alejandro G Iñárritu’s Birdman won the best picture Oscar in 2015, but that film grossed £6.05m in total in the UK, having debuted with £1.53m including £369,000 in previews. The Revenant’s positioning as a western hardly suggests automatic endearment to British audiences, and a running time of 156 minutes might also be discouraging. The film’s title is a word many people would struggle to define.

On the positive side is significant critical adulation, 12 Oscar nominations, three Golden Globes, plus distributor Fox’s successful pitch that the film is somehow special, extraordinary and intensely cinematic. Then there’s the starry cast, which reunites Inception’s Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. The latter is coming off his two biggest hits as a lead, Legend (£18.35m) and Mad Max: Fury Road (£17.40m). DiCaprio is said to be a near certainty to win his first acting Oscar.

With the production budget for The Revenant believed to be around $135m (£94.92m), having escalated in stages from an initial $60m, investors including Fox, New Regency and Brett Ratner’s Ratpac had a lot riding on the film. Had the picture failed at the box office, inquests about fiscal irresponsibility and indulgence of out-of-control auteur talent would surely have followed. With its success, however, Iñárritu joins a short list of directors judged capable of turning the least likely subject matter into box office gold. DiCaprio’s Hollywood leverage also gets another assist, with his role in The Revenant following The Wolf of Wall Street, a three-hour drama with a reprehensible protagonist that earned $392m in cinemas worldwide.

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