empire of light m3gan

Source: Disney / Universal

‘Empire Of Light’, ‘M3gan’

Sam Mendes’ Empire Of Light goes up against viral marketing success M3GAN at the UK-Ireland box office this weekend, with cinemas searching for a January hit to match previous years.

Distributed in 690 sites by Disney, Empire Of Light is having the biggest-ever opening by number of locations for a title from the studio’s Searchlight Pictures banner, surpassing the 610 sites for The Menu from November.

Empire Of Light opened in cinemas on Monday, January 9; the film premiered at Telluride Film Festival in September, going on to play Toronto, the BFI London Film Festival and Red Sea.

The film depicts the lives of the workers at a cinema in an English coastal town in the early 1980s, especially depressed duty manager Hilary and new employee Stephen. A first solo writing credit for Mendes, it is inspired by his youth and family, and includes themes of mental health, gender inequality and racism.

Olivia Colman and Screen Star of Tomorrow 2020 Micheal Ward lead the cast, which also includes Colin Firth, Toby Jones and Tanya Moodie.

Empire Of Light has received awards attention, especially for Roger Deakins’ cinematography and Ward’s supporting performance. Both have been longlisted for the Baftas, with the film also in the outstanding British film, score (for Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross), and production design (for Mark Tildesley) categories.

Mendes has now directed nine feature films, with an impressive box office record across his previous eight. He started with 1999’s American Beauty, which opened to £713,392 and went on to a huge £21.4m. He then took the James Bond franchise to new heights with 2012’s Skyfall  (opened: £20.2m; closed: £103.2m) and 2015’s Spectre (£20m; £95.2m), currently the second- and fifth-highest-grossing films of all time in the UK and Ireland.

The director even scored the highest-grossing film of the pandemic-afflicted 2020 box office with 1917, which opened to £7.3m in January 2020 and had reached £44.1m before its run was curtailed by the closure of cinemas in March.

1917 is the type of New Year hit needed by cinemas currently living off Avatar: The Way Of Water, which is heading into its fifth weekend at over £60m. Recent January successes have included 2018’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri  (£2.4m; £15.3m); 2019’s The Favourite  (opened: £4m; total: £17m); and even last year’s post-pandemic Belfast  (£2.4m; £15.6m).

All four of those films have significant UK or Irish involvement. While that isn’t true of horror M3GAN – opening in 565 sites through Universal – the film has engineered a viral marketing campaign that pushed it to a superb $30.2m (£24.7m) opening in North America last weekend, already recouping more than 150% of its reported $12m budget.

Elements of the marketing campaign have included troupes of dancers dressed as the eponymous doll appearing at high-profile sports and arts events; and a dance that has gone viral on TikTok. Distributors will be looking to harness the power of the short-form video-sharing platform following the viral success of last year’s Minions: The Rise Of Gru, which is still in cinemas after 29 weeks and up to a £46.9m total.

Directed by Gerard Johnstone, who previously made 2014 horror Housebound, M3GAN is the latest low-budget, high-output success for horror specialists Blumhouse. Newcomer Amie Donald plays the title character, with the cast also including Blumhouse’s Get Out  alumna Allison Williams. The company’s chief Jason Blum is one of four producers on the title; as is co-writer James Wan, the Australian co-creator of the Saw and Insidious franchises.

TÁR’ starts

Another major player in awards season starts its UK-Ireland run this weekend: Todd Field’s TÁR’ opens in 135 locations for Universal.


Source: Universal


The film charts the downfall of fictional composer and conductor Lydia Tár, played by Cate Blanchett, who won the Volpi Cup for best actress when the film debuted in competition at Venice in September.

Blanchett is the current front-runner to win the best actress Oscar for her performance, although she faces competition from Everything Everywhere All At Once star Michelle Yeoh.

The winner of the Volpi Cup has gone on to take the best actress Oscar on five occasions, starting with the first Volpi Cup winner Helen Hayes for The Sin Of Madelon Claudet in 1932.

There is also an increasing trend between the two: four of the last six Volpi Cup winners have been nominated for the Oscar, with two of them winning – Olivia Colman in 2019 for The Favourite, and Emma Stone in 2017 for La La Land.

Tár is US director Field’s third feature, after 2001’s In The Bedroom  (£87,294; £916,686) and 2006’s Little Children (£158,012; £470,157).

BFI Distribution is starting Enys Men, the second film from Cornish filmmaker Mark Jenkin, in 49 locations.

A folk horror set in 1973 on an uninhabited island off the Cornish coast, Enys Men debuted in Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes last year, and had backing from Film4 and the BFI.

Jenkin scored an indie hit in 2019 with monochrome debut feature Bait, which turned a micro budget into a £536,532 gross in the UK and Ireland.

Altitude is also back in cinemas this weekend, with Brett Donowho’s western The Old Way starring Nicolas Cage in 11 sites.

In event cinema, the latest Met Opera screening Fedora will play in 153 venues on Saturday 14 through Trafalgar Releasing, with a number of them ‘delayed live’ over the following days; while Unique X will stream the boxing match between YouTubers KSI and FaZe Temperrr on the same evening, in 65 cinemas.

Disney’s Avatar: The Way Of Water leads the holdovers as it continues the climb the all-time chart. Other titles looking to build on strong performances last weekend include Sony’s Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody, Mubi’s Aftersun and Picturehouse Entertainment’s Corsage.