Last month’s film, The Sapphires, was Australian; there was a large audience of members and their guests and the feedback was very positive.
It is easy to name other Australian films – Walkabout, Mad Max, Gallipoli, Rabbit Proof Fence (top), The Year of Living Dangerously (centre) Picnic at Hanging Rock, Shine (bottom), Crocodile Dundee, Lantana, and more. Each of these films attracted large audiences in the US and the UK and most were produced on modest budgets whilst being far more successful than the average American film costing far more to produce. So what accounts for the success of Australian films shown in the US and the UK, and are Australian films all this good?
In his book The Economic Naturalist, Robert Frank suggests that perhaps it isn’t simply that Australian culture is more nurturing of creative endeavour, but that Australian films shown in the US and UK may not be a representative sample.
It costs more to launch a film in the US than anywhere else and advertising budgets can exceed tens of millions of dollars, so only if film industry executives can expect large audiences and a good return will they invest that much. Films with favourable reviews or popular actors and directors can influence people to buy a ticket, so can sequels that have a ready-made audience, but most important of all is that people attend films through of word of mouth.
When Australian films first began to be shown in the US and the UK the directors and actors involved were unknown to film-goers – although some have since become household names, like Mel Gibson and Peter Weir.
Only films that are good enough to ensure critical acclaim, have positive word of mouth and succeed in the US and the UK get to be launched, so that the average quality of Australian films may seem to be high simply because only the best films from down under make it here.
Perhaps it takes an economist to underline the obvious, but that’s the conclusion Robert Frank comes too and he’s probably right – but there are exceptions. Early this August, Film 4 showed Primal, an Australian film from director Josh Reed made in 2010. It is an example of ‘ozploitation’, an unoriginal gore fest where ‘something nasty in the outback’ terrorises annoying, squabbling teenagers. It was not critically well received and showing it in the early hours just before teleshopping probably tells us all we need to know. rh