Would you pay £3 to see Top Gun: Maverick again? Cinemas are banking on it

Idris Elba in Beast
Idris Elba in Beast
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It’s violins, 1, lions, 0, as the latest Maastricht summer concert from Andre Rieu vanquishes safari action adventure Beast to top the UK and Ireland box office. The Dutch violinist and conductor has been releasing his summer concert into UK cinemas every year since 2011, gradually building up box office to a pre-pandemic peak in 2019 with £1.8m for the event.

The new concert (subtitled Happy Days Are Here Again) grossed an OK £799,000 on Saturday and Sunday, and so will need a heroic amount of encore play to match the event’s earlier box office heights. Beast, starring Idris Elba, opened with a ho-hum £600,000.

In box office terms, late August has long been viewed as the dog days of summer, with studios clearing out some of their less-appealing titles, hoping to take advantage of a not-so-competitive landscape in cinemas. But even by the standard of late summer, the box office in the UK, North America and around the world looks notably feeble right now.

The £799,000 generated by Rieu’s concert represents the lowest box office for a chart-topping film in the UK and Ireland since cinemas reopened after a long lockdown in May 2021. Similarly, in North America, where horror film The Invitation topped the latest weekend box office with a mediocre $6.8m, you would have to go all the way back to May 2021, when cinemas were still severely restricted by the Covid pandemic, to find a chart-topping film with lower weekend takings.

At the global box office, Minions: The Rise of Gru has returned to the chart summit in its ninth week of release – or 10th week of release, if you include its early rollout in Australia. The animated adventure grossed $17.7m worldwide at the weekend – representing the lowest number for a number 1 film in this ranking since data gatherer Comscore started publishing the chart in June 2021.

Minions: the Rise of Gru
Minions: the Rise of Gru

None of this is good news for cinemas, which on the whole have enjoyed a decent 2022, making a strong recovery from pandemic-battered 2020 and 2021, but still failing to return to pre-pandemic normality. For the first seven months of 2022, UK and Ireland box office was running at an encouraging 80 per cent of the level achieved in the equivalent period of 2019 – a healthy outcome, but still 20 per cent behind the pace of recent pre-pandemic times.

The heavily indebted Cineworld Group, which operates Cineworld and Picturehouse venues in the UK, cited a thin autumn release calendar as a negative factor when issuing a public statement earlier this month about its ongoing liquidity challenges. Big movies – such as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical and Avatar: The Way of Water – are coming this year, but the first of that trio to reach our cinemas lands on November 11.

Cinema operators don’t control the release calendar – all they can do is programme the available titles, making the best of what is on offer. But this year, the chains are gaining some agency, teaming up with their colleagues in distribution to present National Cinema Day this coming Saturday (September 3). At more than 560 UK cinemas, all cinema tickets will be priced just £3.

While it would be easy to dismiss this as a simple attempt to boost cinemagoing at a time when the film offer is short of fresh blockbuster releases, the initiative does have bigger strategic aims, including tempting wider audiences into plexes, and exposing them to trailers and marketing for the autumn crop of films. In France and Spain, the long-running equivalent events – La Fête du Cinéma and Fiesta del Cine – have been built up into significant success stories. In the UK, seemingly, it has taken a pandemic to knock industry heads together to revive an event that was last staged in the country in 1997.

While this weekend’s UK and Ireland box office sees the chart – very unusually – topped by a title that grossed less than £1m, overall it’s not such a dismal story. The market total for the weekend is £7.05m – and even in pre-pandemic times, it wasn’t unprecedented to see the weekend total dip below £6m. The weekend total is also up on the equivalent late-August session from 2021, which generated total box office of £6.87m. (Free Guy was the top title that week.)

Austin Butler as Elvis
Austin Butler as Elvis

While the current UK and Ireland market lacks strength, it does benefit from some depth: no fewer than 11 titles grossed at least £300,000 at the weekend, and seven managed above £500,000. Top Gun: Maverick, which has now pushed through the £80m barrier, saw its box office rise by 5 per cent from the previous weekend, despite the fact that the film is now available to buy on digital for home viewing. Elvis, which has gone past £25m is another big success story – a box office record for director Baz Luhrmann. NT Live’s Prima Facie, starring Jodie Comer, is at a sensational £4.26m, and is closing in on Fleabag (£4.43m) to become the biggest event cinema title ever in UK and Ireland.

The coming weekend sees the likes of The Forgiven (with Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain and Matt Smith) and Three Thousand Years of Longing (with Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba) land in cinemas – and it will be interesting to see if the £3 ticket offer on Saturday gives those films a boost. More plausibly, audiences that have somehow not got round to seeing the likes of Minions: The Rise Of Gru, Elvis and Top Gun: Maverick, and are now enticed by the value offer, will make this a belated opportunity to catch up.

Top 10 films, August 26-28

  1. Andre Rieu’s Maastricht Summer Concert 2022, £799,000 from 607 sites (new)

  2. Beast £600,000 from 599 sites (new)

  3. DC League of Super-Pets £599,000 from 665 sites. Total: £12.3m (5 weeks)

  4. Bullet Train £593,000 from 561 sites. Total: £8.15m (4 weeks)

  5. Nope £577,000 from 609 sites. Total: £6.00m (3 weeks)

  6. Minions: The Rise of Gru £573,000 from 645 sites. Total: £42.4m (9 weeks)

  7. Top Gun: Maverick £549,000 from 587 sites. Total: £80.6m (13 weeks)

  8. Elvis £382,000 from 508 sites. Total: £25.8m (10 weeks)

  9. Thor: Love and Thunder £322,000 from 467 sites. Total: £36.5m (8 weeks)

  10. Fisherman’s Friends: One and All £317,000 from 622 sites. Total: £1.79m (2 weeks)


Thanks to Comscore; @cSMoviesUK