The UK summer box office started with a bang this year, with Avengers: Infinity War delivering just shy of $90.5m (£71m), so becoming the 10th-biggest movie ever at UK cinemas. “We all expected it to be big,” says Tom Linay, head of film at Digital Cinema Media. “It was even bigger than most expected it to be.”
With the World Cup looming on June 14, what quickly followed Infinity War — namely Deadpool 2, Solo: A Star Wars Story and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom — was a pile-up of blockbusters.
“That early period of the summer when we had four really big films in six weeks was always going to be a testing time,” says Linay. “We consider a heavy cinemagoer to go seven times a year, so going four times in the space of six weeks, it was going to be interesting to see the outcome.”
Inevitably, one of the films did suffer. “The one big disappointment this summer, and there’s no getting away from it, is Solo: A Star Wars Story,” says Linay. “Everyone was expecting more from it. It didn’t get to £20m [$25m]. When I was discussing it beforehand, even if Solo did badly, I still expected it to get to £30m [$38m]. Two Star Wars films in the space of six months was clearly too much. It just felt inessential.”
After the World Cup began, major new releases were scarce. For four successive weeks, the biggest titles released each weekend in the UK were as follows: Hereditary, Ocean’s 8, Sicario 2: Soldado and The First Purge. In 2014, the equivalent World Cup period produced bigger hits including The Fault In Our Starsand Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie. And thanks to England’s early exit from the tournament in 2014, Paramount was able to add six days of previews ahead of the official release of Transformers: Age Of Extinction, essentially giving it a July 5 release date.
Keith Pullinger’s The Light cinemas chain operates nine multiplexes in the UK. “It’s been up and down,” he says. “Our problem month was June. We were expecting that, but Jurassic carried us through quite well. The World Cup and the first part of the weather definitely affected us. There wasn’t a really strong slate. The football and the sun didn’t help.”
UK & Ireland total summer box office over past five years
Grosses for 15 weeks from last weekend in April: Source: comScore
For the World Cup period, Linay points to Hereditary and The First Purge as handy successes — the latter, on $7.4m (£5.8m), recovering dramatically from the $3.1m (£2.4m) achieved by 2016’s The Purge: Election Year. “The main disappointment during the World Cup was Sicario 2,” he adds. “It came out on June 29, the day after England’s final group game. I don’t know if Lionsgate were banking on England being out of the World Cup by then.” Sicario 2: Soldado reached $2.7m (£2.1m) — way below Sicario’s $6.4m (£5m) haul in 2015.
Going into the weekend of the World Cup final, major new releases started to return to UK cinemas, with the arrival of Incredibles 2, followed in quick succession by Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Hotel Transylvania 3: A Monster Vacation, Ant-Man And The Wasp and The Meg. While the market again witnessed some cannibalisation — Ant-Man And The Wasp opened lower in the UK than Ant-Man did in 2015 — the cumulative effect has been dramatic, with audiences flooding back into cinemas. And thanks to a strong May, UK box office for the summer period is up 5.2% on 2017.
As of August 12, both Incredibles 2 and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again continue to show strong legs, and Pullinger expects both titles to run until children in England and Wales return to school in September.
For Pullinger, 2018 has been notable as not just a good year for “film audiences” but specifically for “cinema audiences” and particular successes have come from titles benefiting from a communal experience. “You won’t get that experience seeing The Greatest Showman or Mamma Mia! at home as you get at the cinema with 200 people all enjoying it together.”