When StudioCanal jumped on board Paddington, after Warners opted not to proceed with a screenplay it had long developed, the company was taking a significant risk. Its biggest ever UK production had the potential to reach a large audience, especially in the UK, but it came with a hefty price tag, due to the cost of blending live action with a CGI character. And did children really know, and care about, Paddington bear, who owed his origins to Michael Bond’s stories dating back to 1958? A late switch of voice actor from Colin Firth to Ben Whishaw could be interpreted negatively as a problem that needed fixing.
It’s doubtless with a mix of relief and jubilation that StudioCanal tallied initial box office receipts. An opening weekend of £5.13m is the second biggest debut for a family film this year, behind The Lego Movie. (Maleficent’s £6.59m opening frame includes £2.77m in previews.) Frozen, which proved the top draw for families last Christmas, began with £4.70m. Paddington has delivered the biggest opening weekend for a live-action family film since Alice in Wonderland, in March 2010 – unless you count the final Harry Potter film, which was a 12A certificate.
StudioCanal’s previous biggest hit was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, taking £14.21m. It’s a dead certainty that Paddington will exceed that total, and the well-reviewed film, which enjoys a 7.9/10 user rating at IMDb, could go a lot further. StudioCanal also currently has The Imitation Game in play at £9.48m so far, and with a fair wind – including Bafta and Oscar nominations – the second world war codebreaking drama could reach Tinker Tailor levels.
In order to create a feature-length storyline for Paddington, writer-director Paul King (who shares the story credits with Hamish McColl), created an arc – and a villain – that are not to be found in the source material. Having successfully done so, Paddington is in great shape for further film adventures, with another freshly created storyline peppered with comic misadventures drawn from, or inspired by, Bond’s text. Discussions with the film’s producer David Heyman (Harry Potter franchise) are presumably already under way.
The arrival of Paddington proved predictably detrimental to Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey?!, which fell 49%. After three weekends of play, the festive sequel stands at £4.65m, which compares with £4.38m for predecessor Danger in the Manger after the same amount of play. Dude released one week earlier in the calendar than Danger, so has an extra week at UK cinemas before losing the attention of audiences after Christmas Day.
The only Hunger Games film so far not to spend a second week at the top spot, Mockingjay Part 1 finds itself unceremoniously elbowed aside by the marmalade-loving bear. Lionsgate probably isn’t panicking. Eleven-day receipts of £21.25m compare very equivalently with £21.71m for Catching Fire at the same stage of its run, and the film has another whole week of relatively little competition until it gets clobbered on 12 December by The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.