Russell Crowe thriller Unhinged became the most high-profile UK cinema release in the pandemic era this week, taking a provisional $230K (£174,901) from 250 sites, an average of around $920, with venues still to report.
That number may look fairly minor on first glance but in the current context it offers reason for optimism. Two weeks ago, the entire UK box office totaled $253K with just 15% of cinemas operational (roughly 130). Now, we are at 323 sites open, representing 36% of the total real estate (919 sites). Slowly but surely, the industry is restarting.
The country’s two largest exhibitors, Odeon and Cineworld, are in the process of phased re-openings. Cineworld opened its first venues on Friday (July 31) while Odeon has been taking a slow and steady approach for a few weeks, but numerous major sites including key London venues remain shuttered. The UK’s third largest exhibitor Vue has delayed its re-opening until August 7, when it will open an initial ten sites.
However, a new stumbling block could be that wearing face masks will become mandatory in cinemas from August 8, as per a UK government announcement last week. As audiences tentatively venture back to the big screen, operators will be nervous that increased levels of PPE could prove off-putting.
Unhinged distributor Altitude marked its third post-lockdown cinema release with the title, following Black Water: Abyss and Stage Mother, and the company is continuing its recent efforts of being the most active UK theatrical releaser right now with the Oscar-nominated Les Miserables, UK indie pic Rocks and doc David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet all on the calendar for the coming weeks.
“Over the past few months we have shared the well-publicized concern about the state and future of cinema and the arts. Whilst this remains unclear as we all learn to cope with COVID-19, we’re encouraged by the support Unhinged received from cinemas and audiences in its opening weekend,” said an Altitude spokesperson.
“It’s bittersweet to herald a number one film at the box office during such uncertainty and hardship, but as cinemas continue to reopen with social distancing measures in place we hope that audience excitement for watching films on the big screen and in safe environments, contribute to further confidence in the cinema experience.”
Waiting in the wings now is Tenet. The Warner Bros pic is dated for August 26, when a number more UK cinemas will be open, and it could prove a major shot in the arm for the country’s beleaguered exhibitors, if the date holds this time.
Read more on this week’s international box office here.