Lion takes another honour: highest grossing Australian film last year

Director Garth Davis' new film may be caught in the turmoil surrounding the Weinstein Company, but his breakthrough hit, Lion, has finished a remarkable success at the box office.

On figures released by the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia, the heartfelt drama about a lost Indian boy trying to track down his mother as an adult took $29.5 million at the Australian box office - becoming the fifth highest earner behind Crocodile Dundee, Australia, Babe and Happy Feet.

It was far and away the highest-grossing Australian film in a year when the country's share of the box office was 4.1 per cent - up from a dismal 1.9 per cent the previous year.

The highest share in the past decade was 7.2 per cent when Mad Max: Fury Road, The Dressmaker and Oddball were among the Australian hits in 2015.

The best of the other releases last year were Red Dog: True Blue (earned $5.9 million of its $7.5 million after being released late the previous year), Jasper Jones ($2.7 million), Dance Academy ($2.1 million) and the documentary Mountain ($2 million).

As well as acclaim that included six Oscar nominations, Lion took an exceptional $177.9 million in 57 territories around the world.

Davis' next film is the Biblical drama Mary Magdalene, which he shot in Italy with Rooney Mara in the title role, Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Peter the Apostle.

Just as with Lion, the Weinstein Company planned to push it for Hollywood awards consideration but the chaos that followed the mounting sexual claims against Harvey Weinstein has upset the plan for a US release on March 30.

Deadline Hollywood reported this week that Mary Magdalene is one of three Weinstein movies pulled from their release dates - now considered as "unset 2018" - ahead of the company's expected sale.

Total box office in Australia was $1.201 billion last year - down 4.6 per cent on the previous year's record $I.259 billion, which reflects the disappointing performance of a number of Hollywood sequels despite rising ticket prices.

The MPDAA reported that Beauty and the Beast was last year's highest-grossing movie, taking $47.9 million, though earnings split over two years make both the last Star Wars movies more successful over the past 14 months.

Following on from The Force Awakens' massive $93.9 million, Rogue One took $50.2 million and The Last Jedi has reached $56.1 million so far.

Calling it "a great year for Australian film", Screen Australia chief executive Graeme Mason said the continuing trend for indie films being squeezed into smaller releases meant they were earning less at the box office.

"In 2007, blockbusters took around 23 per cent of the Australian box office but 10 years later they took over 50 per cent," he said.

This story Lion takes another honour: highest grossing Australian film last year first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.