Australian audiences are loyal to 'Red Dog'


There is a statue of a dog in the small mining town of Dampier in the remote northwestern area of Australia. It says "Red Dog, Died 21st November 1979, Erected by the many friends made during his travels." In April 1998, British author Louis De Bernieres (Captain Corelli's Mandolin) was in Western Australia for a literary event. At that time he heard about the Red Dog and came back several months later to find out more. The result was his 2002 book Red Dog. That book is now a movie and is the most talked-about Australian film of the year, a picture that has exhibitors smiling as screen averages go up week after week. It stars American actor Josh Lucas (The Lincoln Lawyer, J Edgar) along with Australian stars Rachael Taylor, Noah Taylor and Bill Hunter, and was directed by Kriv Stenders.

This is a feel-good film that tells the semi-legendary story of a red dog that lived among the rough miners of the region. He often travelled between towns in the cabins of semi-trailer truck drivers. The dog adopted one driver as a sort of owner, but kept his independence. Red Dog the movie concentrates as much on the people as on the dog.

In its first week in early August, Red Dog opened in fourth place with $1.80 million at 245 screens and an average of $7,365. For its second weekend, it added three screens, moved up to third spot and had an increase in both box office ($1.88 million) and screen average ($7,580). The third weekend was the best so far. It moved up to second spot on the box-office chart, added another five screens and increased both its box-office takings ($2.53 million) and screen average ($8,832). In its fourth weekend, Red Dog dropped 13% to $1.94 million, stayed in second spot and had a screen average of $7,548. As of press time, it had grossed $10.5 million, with many weeks left in cinemas. All figures are in Australian dollars with an Australian dollar worth US$1.05 at press time.

Red Dog arrived with little fanfare amidst some of the most overhyped Hollywood summer blockbusters of the year. Roadshow Film Distributors had great faith in their film and built up what was one of the best campaigns I have seen in years to promote it. Their campaign has obviously worked wonders. A U.K. release will follow in October. Prior to its Australian release, there had been some American bids for distribution, but the producers decided to hold out until the film had proved itself locally.

It seems like the unusual levels of rain in outback New South Wales have kept farmers happy, but not George Miller and Warner Bros. The rain has turned the desert fields around Broken Hill green and the new Mad Max film may well be shot in Namibia rather than here in Australia.

The final Harry Potter film has done what none of the others could. It is in the top 10 all-time films at the Australian box office at number three behind Avatar and Titanic. No other Harry Potter films are in the top 10.

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