With Oscar nominations announced this Thursday, the annual awards season is now in full swing, presenting the perfect opportunity for a potentially challenging adult drama – Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave – to engage cinema audiences.
And so it proved, with a very healthy £2.51m opening for the gritty true story from just 207 cinemas, delivering a site average of £12,132.
Local distributor eOne was quick to trumpet this achievement as bigger than the UK opening of Slumdog Millionaire (£1.83m from 324 cinemas), and with a higher screen average than the debut of The King’s Speech (£8,919). Both those titles were massive feel-good crowdpleasers that went on to achieve enormous multiples of their opening numbers. Although 12 Years a Slave does ultimately cohere to the triumph-over-adversity template, there is perhaps more in the way of adversity and less of triumph than some of the broader audiences that embraced Danny Boyle and Tom Hooper’s Oscar-winners may prefer.
In any case, it’s certainly a very strong start for a film with tough subject matter from a director whose previous pictures (Hunger, Shame) were both resolutely art-house fare. Shame opened exactly two years ago with £542,000 from 114 cinemas. Hunger kicked off in October 2008 with £136,000 from 68 venues.
The arrival of 12 Years a Slave pushes American Hustle down to second place, but with a decline from the previous weekend of just 18%. After 12 days of wide release, David O Russell’s latest has grossed an impressive £6.78m, which compares with £2.71m for Silver Linings Playbook at the same stage of its run. The earlier Russell film went on to reach £5.3m over the course of a marathon six-month theatrical session, and a similar trajectory would see American Hustle max out around £13m. After winning the Golden Globe for best comedy/musical on Sunday and picking up 10 Bafta nominations last week, the film would appear to have a sustained run within its grasp.