UK Box Office

The winner: La La Land

Each awards season, the market typically anoints one runaway box-office winner that captures the imagination of audiences, with notable examples from the last decade being The King’s Speech (2011) and Slumdog Millionaire (2009). Last year, that film was The Revenant – a 156-minute survival ordeal that hardly looked a commercial slam-dunk on paper, but which achieved a muscular £23.4m by the end of its UK run.

This year, the winner is La La Land, which grossed £4.37m in its second weekend of play (down a slim 23% from the opening frame), for an 11-day total of £14.91m. For comparison, The Revenant had reached £12.01m after two weekends. While La La Land benefits from some strong commercial elements, notably likable actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in the lead roles, the film represented a huge risk. Successful movie musicals in recent years have overwhelmingly been adapted from stage hits, from Chicago to Mamma Mia! and Dreamgirls. La La Land benefits from no existing audience familiarity with the source material. As for director Damien Chazelle, his biggest previous hit in the UK, Whiplash, grossed £2.3m.

La La Land has an 8.7/10 user rating at IMDb, and a 93/100 score at MetaCritic. It equalled the Oscars record this week with 14 nominations.

The runner-up: Split

Despite a nice run of hits with The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000) and Signs (2002), film-maker M Night Shyamalan has proved commercially patchy over the last decade, underwhelming with Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth. His last effort, the low-budget The Visit, would have returned a healthy profit thanks to a worldwide cinema gross just below $100m. Now Shyamalan’s latest offering, Split, opens in the UK with £2.55m from 450 cinemas. That’s his biggest box office debut since The Villagekicked off with £2.95m in 2004. The Visit began with £1.03m from 413 venues, including previews of £209,000, in September 2015, on its way to a total of £2.93m.

Split also represents a good result for star James McAvoy, who has lately struggled to deliver commercial hits beyond X-Men and animation (Arthur Christmas, Gnomeo & Juliet). Victor Frankenstein was an expensive flop, with a lifetime gross of just £923,000. In 2013, Danny Boyle’s Trance (£4.53m lifetime) was considered a disappointment, and ditto Eran Creevy’s Welcome to the Punch(£1.17m). Jon Baird’s low-budget Filth, based on the Irvine Welsh novel, delivered a profitable £3.91m at UK cinemas.

The real runner-up: Sing

Missing from the comScore chart because its official release date is this Friday is Sing, the latest animation from Universal’s Illumination Entertainment (Despicable Me, The Secret Life of Pets). However, the film played extensive previews on Saturday and Sunday, delivering a very robust £4.2m. That’s the biggest preview figure for a non-sequel animation, and augurs yet another sizable hit for Illumination. The Secret Life of Pets reached £36.4m last year.

The awards season battle

While La La Land is the runaway winner among this year’s awards contenders, three other titles in the UK top 10 are battling for the attention of audiences. Lion(£1.27m from 369 cinemas) and Jackie (£663,000 from 197) both debuted at the weekend, while Manchester By the Sea (second frame takings of £522,000) continued its successful run. Kenneth Lonergan’s drama has now reached £1.65m after 10 days.

Of the three, Garth Davis’ inspirational true tale Lion is the most obvious commercial crowdpleaser, and is less dependent on success in the awards races. Pablo Larraín’s Jackie benefits from audience investment in the subject matter and star names in the cast, but it’s fair to say that Natalie Portman’s Oscar-nominated lead performance is a big asset.

Manchester By the Sea, starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams, has benefited hugely from its status as a major awards contender, overcoming rather tough subject matter for audiences. Lonergan’s previous film Margaret had only token distribution in the UK, achieving just £81,000 at the box office. His directorial debut You Can Count on Me, starring Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, grossed £423,000 in 2001.

With indie cinemas attempting to jam in showtimes for La La Land, Jackie, Manchester By the Sea and Lion – and many also giving a berth to the Met Opera’s Romeo et Juliette on Saturday and the Bolshoi Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty on Sunday – it’s been a tough time for any film not in the running for major awards. Martin Scorsese’s Silence, for example, found itself in just 77 cinemas at the weekend (down from 359 for the previous frame), resulting in a precipitous drop in box office: cumulative total is £2.17m. It has picked up some nominations and the odd win, notably from critics groups, but was shut out at the Baftas and Golden Globes.

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