In recognition of the increasing value of live events to the cinema sector, data gatherer Rentrak started including this alternative content in its UK box office reports last November. Now, for the first time, a live event has topped the UK box office chart. Despite playing just one performance on Sunday, Billy Elliot the Musical Live took more money (£1.90m) than any other film over the Friday-to-Sunday period. Denzel Washington action thriller The Equalizer, playing a typical 12 times in each venue over the weekend period, was edged into second place.
Repeat screenings – encores, in the industry parlance – should soon see the Billy Elliot musical push past the £2m mark, although it has a long way to go to catch the market leader in this sector, the National Theatre’s production of War Horse (£2.7m in UK cinemas).
While unseasonably warm late-September weather at the weekend will have affected box office negatively across the market, Billy Elliot seems to have proved the exception. Most audience members will have pre-booked their tickets, and this was their one chance to see a show that returned Liam Mower (an original Billy) to the stage as the older Billy, and presented 26 of the actors who had played the title role over the years in a mash-up finale. The fact that Billy Elliot the Musical Live began at 2pm, meaning that cinemas could still programme films in their regular evening slots, represented a big win for them.
Having convincingly led the market on Friday and Saturday, Sony will be disappointed that The Equalizer was pipped at the post by Billy Elliot’s stunning Sunday gross. The £1.89m debut compares with a £1.42m opening for Washington’s previous film, 2 Guns. It’s the biggest opening for Washington since Safe House, co-starring Ryan Reynolds, began its run in February 2012 with £2.14m.