New Zealand is up, Oz is down

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New Zealand ended 2013 with a slight increase in box-office receipts for the year. The year's total was NZ$174.9 million, up 1.1% over 2012. Although The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was only released three weeks before the end of 2013, it proved so popular that it was the year's highest-grossing film.

Australia's 2013 result was down 2.2% over 2012 with a box-office gross total of $1.1 billion. It was no brighter for local films, as they had their worst result in eight years. However, local cinema operators are feeling very optimistic about 2014. The Boxing Day week in December 2013 was the highest-grossing week of all time at the Australian box office and summer results have continued to sizzle. In addition, the majority of cinema chains reported a growth in purchases at concession stands, accompanied by a reduction in costs. One chain also reported a lower labor cost per patron than in previous years. Hoyts chairman David Kirk says that 2014 and 2015 "look like two of the strongest years ever.”

New U.S. theatrical distributor Gravitas Theatrical has selected an Australian film as part of their first year's lineup. They will release the thriller Felony, which stars Joel Edgerton, Tom Wilkinson, Jai Courtney and Melissa George late in the U.S. summer season. An Australian release is planned for August. Edgerton plays a cop trying to cover up a tragic event.

Also gaining overseas sales is The Babadook, following its premiere at Sundance. It has been picked up for France, Germany and Switzerland. IFC Midnight acquired U.S. rights and plans a release in September/October. In this horror tale, a single mother and her son live in a house that has an evil presence, which particularly affects the son. No date has been announced for its local release.

Awards can often result in a good deal of controversy, and this year was no exception at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards (AACTA). The U.S.-financed but Australia-shot The Great Gatsby scooped the pool with 13 awards including Best Film, Director (Baz Luhrmann), Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Adapted Screenplay. There was a great deal of talk in social media about whether it was fair to compare a $160 million 3D epic against smaller $2 million local films. Many also found it strange that American DiCaprio was named Australia's Best Actor. Television ratings for the show were up from last year.

Send your Australia/New Zealand news to David Pearce at insidemovies@hotmail.com