Who goes to see Canadian movies? It is quite sad to think that Canada’s locally produced film industry goes mostly ignored. There can be a million reasons why people won’t give Canadian movies their due. The biggest of these reasons is the fact that, like most countries around the world, the majority of the films released and watched in Canada are produced in the United States. This bombardment of American pop culture is somewhat worse in Canada, since there are so many similarities between the two countries. This can make Canadian films hard to distinguish from the films from the United States, which would even result in some considering the movies that come from Canada to be quite inferior to the output from their American cousins.
Of course, there is also a very important distinction that has to be made. When the question is asked about whether Canadians go to see Canadian movies, it is in reference to the films produced in English Canada. This is because Canada has a very thriving French-language film industry, which is a beast onto itself. In fact, one only needs to look at the box office rankings for Canadian films to see how dominant the films that come from Quebec and other French-speaking areas of Canada are. The goal here is to look at some of the English-language Canadian films that broke into the national rankings and break down the numbers to see how well they truly performed.
While this discussion is going to largely ignore French-Canadian movies, for the reasons stated above, there is one filmmaker who shouldn’t be left out. That of course would be Xavier Dolan, who probably had the best year of his career in 2014, with the national releases of Tom at the Farm in the spring and Mommy in the fall. The latter was one of the most profitable Canadian movies to be released last year and breaking down the box office helps to demonstrate the discrepancy between the French and English Canadian box offices.
Mommy opened in 65 theatres the week of September 19, 2014 and earned a total box office gross of $768,788, averaging $11,828 per theatre. However, only $31,482 of that gross was from the English-language box office. By the end of the year, Mommy was still charting with a total gross of $3,299,661, even though only $318,539 of that income was from English-language theatres. This helps to show that, even though French-Canadian films, such as Mommy, are highly profitable, they only receive a fraction of their income from English-speaking viewers.
Moving on to the top grossing English-language films, it should be noted that the label of “Canadian film” can get blurred when co-productions are taken into account. This can be seen by the fact that the top grossing Canadian movie in 2014 was Paul W.S. Anderson’s Pompeii, which had a total box office gross of $4,062,187 by the time it left the charts. While on its surface a Hollywood film, Pompeii was partially shot in Toronto and is officially considered a co-production of Canada, the United States, and Germany. While Pompeii‘s box office earnings is not really in the scope of this discussion, it is still something that is worth mentioning.
Not surprisingly, the Canadian movies that were the most profitable in 2014, were the ones the received fairly wide releases. The most successful of these was The Grand Seduction, which opened in 91 theatres on the weekend of May 20, 2014 and made an opening week box office of $519,244. While not the biggest opening gross of the year, The Grand Seduction remained on the charts for 20 weeks, earning a total of $2,733,161.
Probably the most surprising opening for a Canadian movie in 2014 belonged to the comedy Dr. Cabbie. Opening the week of September 19, 2014 in only 55 theatres, the film ended up earning an amazing $1,030,463 during its first week, averaging $18,736 per theatre. Not only was this enough for Dr. Cabbie to beat Mommy to the top of the Canadian box office, but it was one of the best Canadian openings of the year. In comparison, when Trailer Park Boys: Don’t Legalize It opened the week of April 18, 2014, the film earned $1,173,574 in 148 theatres, averaging $7,930 per theatre. By this fact alone, it can be suggested that Dr. Cabbie could have been a much more profitable film, if it received a wider release.
The pattern that emerges when looking at the profitable Canadian films is that they are films that receive fairly wide distribution. It is also interesting to note that most of these films are distributed by eOne, which practically has a monopoly on film distribution in Canada. However, there are still some films that manage to chart without a wide release or distribution by eOne. As the winner of the CineCoup Film Accelerator, the horror-comedy WolfCop was guaranteed a release in Cineplex theatres. Even though the film was released in only six theatres on the week of June 6, 2014, WolfCop ended up doing quite well in its limited release, with the film making an average of $6,384 per theatre for an opening week gross of $38,306, which was enough for second place. However, even though WolfCop expanded to nine theatres for its second week, it was not as successful, averaging only $2,279 per theatre. It is reasonable to assume that WolfCop might have made more at the box office, if it was given a wider release during its first week.
Of course, WolfCop charting with a single-digit theatre count is the exception rather than the rule. Ingrid Veninger’s The Animal Project opened the same week as WolfCop, yet is nowhere to be found on the charts. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that no one bothered to see the film, it just means that not enough people saw the film for it to make the box office rankings. In fact, there are some films that opened in only one theatre, such as It Was You Charlie and Fall, which did end up making the charts.
Once again, do Canadians go to see Canadian movies? Based on these box office examples, the answer to this question is that Canadians indeed go to see some, but not all Canadian movies. Probably the most concerning discovery is how practically every profitable Canadian movie is distributed by either eOne or their French subsidiary Séville. If there are Canadian movies that don’t get seen, they are smaller films that don’t receive the same level of marketing or distribution. These are films that will show up on a single screen for a week or two, then disappear. The question now is what can be done about this single distributor monopoly, which is preventing these smaller films from being noticed. That will be a question to answer another time.