Partly inspired by the Korean box office analysis I previously posted here, I wanted to try something similar for the Malaysian box office. Unfortunately, that proved to be something that’s not as easy as 1-2-3.
For one, the dissemination of information about the Malaysian film box office always seems to be something like a dark art that only few can master. There are, of course, official figures from FINAS that you can find on its website, but beyond that, we are still far behind the Western nations in many ways when it comes to information and its promotion. While Americans feast upon the weekly breakdown and updates detailing which films hit number 1, I have only the figures of Box Office Mojo, a proficient company but perhaps not one well-versed in the local way of things, to back me up.
Figures, however, are figures. You can’t go wrong with the facts in hand. Or can you? What if you have two rather different sets of figures? That’s what we have here, and it is through this two sets of numbers that I will attempt to formulate a single interpretation.
The year kicked off with ‘Avatar’ still reigning supreme. That’s not much of a surprise, because it was reigning supreme pretty much everywhere else at around the same time. It wasn’t until the weekend of January 15th that it would be knocked off the top by ‘The Spy Next Door’, of all movies (in America, that honour went to ‘Dear John’).
The first Malaysian film to be released at the head of the year was ‘Adnan Sempit’ (‘Santau’ made a reentry a week earlier at no.19 with around RM8,000; in the same weekend, ‘Merantau’ made its debut with over RM150,000 at 9th place, if you want to argue for it as a Malay-languaged film). It was a film that I almost couldn’t stomach when watching it with my sister. We both wondered what was behind the success of this film, because a huge success it was. Made for a mere RM1.5 million, it ended up topping out at RM7.6 million. Released on the 14th of January, it hit No.2 with a deposit of RM1.1 million. If only ‘Legion’ had not made RM1.4 million the same weekend…they would have been the only Malaysian film to hit No.1. As it stands, ‘Adnan Sempit’ came the closest, with the typical Hollywood staple and less conventional choices such as ‘Solomon Kane’ and ’72 Tenants of Prosperity’ gobbling up the top spot from January to June.
I wouldn’t recommend ‘Adnan Sempit’, however, as the definitive Malaysian film, but it is a formulaic comedy that worked well. ‘Lu Pikirlah Sendiri The Movie’ is another testament to this formula, collecting RM2.15 million throughout its whole box office run. It started small, though, making over RM80,000 in its first week. This first week is difficult to ascertain; FINAS listed its release date as the 11th of February, but it made its first appearance in the weekly Box Office Mojo list in the weekend of February 25-28, coming in at 15th place. It is this kind of discrepancies that we’ll work with for now, made especially difficult by my absence on local shores at the time. But move forward we must.
Getting back to formulas, they may work, but it’s not a guaranteed way of working. Take a look at ‘Hooperz’, for example: made for RM1.27 million, it only grossed a total of RM290,000; it was only in its third week of release that it cracked the top 20 in May, clocking in a respectable-ish RM8,000 on 19 screens (although ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ pulled in slightly more on only 5 screens that weekend).
But we’re jumping ahead of ourselves for now. Coming back to early February, ‘2 Hati 1 Jiwa’ unfortunately suffered the same fate, failing to make half of its reported RM980,000 budget. RM400,000 was all it could muster; unlike ‘Hooperz’, it failed to even make the top 20 films, according to Box Office Mojo, at any point of its release.
February, however, did witness something astounding: on Valentine’s Day weekend, 8 of the top 10 films in the country were new entries. Led by ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief’, the list included films such as ‘The Wolfman’, ‘Little Big Soldier’ and…err, ‘Valentine’s Day’. In fact, this particular weekend saw the box office almost double in size from the previous week to slightly over RM6.6 million. Rounding up the top 10 was ‘Avatar’, a ghost that is still lingering until now (despite showing only on one screen, RM7,000-ish was enough to keep it in 15th place at the tail end of June) and ‘Tiger Woohoo’, a Malaysian film that was released in January. I had not heard of the film until my housemate told me about it. Further research revealed something of a revelation, a film that came up trumps with a total of around RM3.8 million. It wasn’t, however, listed in FINAS’s list of local films for the year.
‘Niyang Rapik’, a horror film, made a similar amount, banking in RM3.72 million from the RM1.64 million it took to make it. Funny thing was, that’s a big amount to make without breaking into the Box Office Mojo charts at any point during February or March (the film’s release date was jotted down as February 25th). I suspect that at times, there might have a small discrepancy between the timing of Box Office Mojo and reality, but covering the three weekends since that date, it did not make an appearance on the list at the time.
‘V3: Samseng Jalanan’ and ‘KL Drift 2’ were films that did show up. Both released almost back to back in March, they accumulated a combined total of over RM8.5 million. ‘V3’ made its debut in the middle of the month; by the end of March, it has collected RM3.88 million from RM1.72 million. ‘KL Drift 2’, meanwhile, had Yusof Haslam laughing even harder all the way to the bank he probably owns by now, with RM5.67 million from RM1.92 million. As much as the authorities may want to clamp down on films on illegal activities, it is they who help to drive the film industry forward.
Flying the flag for romantic films, ‘Semerah Cinta Stiletto’ also took in a good bite of the box office, all RM2.13 million of them. There’s another formula to be garnered here, for it starred Farid Kamil, the director of the aforementioned ‘V3’ and is directed by Ahmad Idham, who also made ‘Adnan Sempit’ and ‘Niyang Rapik’. That brings his gross this year to over RM13 million, though only the gross of ‘Niyang Rapik’ went into his own Excellent Pictures Sdn. Bhd. The rest is gobbled up by David Teo, who also produced ‘Santau’ and ‘V3’. He probably bought him something nice in return.
However, amidst all this incestuous list of filmmakers, the new boys of Preston Zaidan Sdn. Bhd. threw their wild card on the table with ‘Belukar’…and lost. The film, starring Bront Palarae, Daphne Iking and Linora Low, may have cost RM2.1 million to make, but it made only RM300,000. As it stands, it is the second-lowest grossing Malaysian film of the year, with only ‘Hooperz’ around to prop them up. The similarly-disappointing and onerously-titled ‘Andartu Terlampau 21 Hari Mencari Suami’ took in slightly more than ‘Belukar’, grossing around RM500,000. That should be placed in context, though; around the same time of its release, the top 10 was dominated by sequels, remakes and epics such as ‘Robin Hood’, ‘Shrek Forever After’, ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’, ‘Ip Man 2’, ‘Iron Man 2’ and ‘Clash of the Titans’, amongst others. In fact, the weekend when ‘Iron Man 2’ was released saw a jump of 229% in box office revenue from the previous week; the previous weekend saw the lowest box office take for the year since ‘Avatar’ retook the top spot in the first February weekend (and even then the difference is less than RM4,000). It suggested that audiences were saving their money not only for ‘Iron Man 2’, but also for the other sequel, ‘Ip Man 2’. The difference between the two was a sizeable RM1.5 million, but consider that the third place movie, ‘The Losers’, made only RM325,000.
Another romantic film did make a big impact. ‘Lagenda Budak Setan’, based on a popular novel, cheated a bit with its poster, with the leafy logos of international awards and film festivals dotted all over the place. If you wonder what international awards or films festivals it it garnered acclaim and entry into…wonder no more, for it didn’t. It was merely used to promote the awards that the people involved had won in the past, which were mainly Malaysian awards. It’s personally a little disconcerting to see such tactics at play, but whatever I may think of that, it did make RM4.26 million, making it the third highest grossing film of the year. While we are on the subject of romance, we should not disregard the film ‘Ice Kacang Puppy Love’. Many thought that it was a Chinese or Hong Kong film, but in truth, I consider it to be as Malaysian as any of the others I’ve listed here. It’s made by and stars many Malaysians, and the money came from Primeworks Studio Sdn. Bhd., or TCFKAGB (the company formerly known as Grand Brilliance…sort of). A stayer in comparison with other local movies, it collected around RM3.5 million by the end of its two-month run.
Getting back to the list of ‘official’ Malaysian films, ‘Kecoh Betul’ made a ruckus early June with RM2.03 million collected. ‘Kapooww!!’ followed hot on its heels in the middle of June, but unfortunately it didn’t have the same success, making back only RM270,000 of its near RM2 million budget. It suffered from screening at the beginning of the bigger budget films leading up to the summer season, with ‘Toy Story 3’, ‘The Karate Kid’ and ‘Prince of Persia’ taking the top spots for the month (‘Toy Story 3’ alone made over RM3.4 million during its opening weekend).
As a whole, then, the year has not been so bad for Malaysian films. More than half of them made their budget back; many of these even doubled the money put into them. Unfortunately, those that did fail did spectacularly bad. As a whole, the Malaysian films made a total of RM41.82 million, for an average gross of RM2.6 million. Given that ‘Belukar’ was the most expensive film released in the first half of the year at the cost of RM2.1 million, the average gross would have seen every film make a decent profit. Even taking out the abnormal takings of ‘Adnan Sempit’, it still would mean an average gross of around RM2.2 million, which meant that business-wise, things are above the board.
But when you consider that the Malaysian box office made RM165.4 million during the same time period, and that we only have a less-than 40% share of the market…it makes you realise how far Malaysian films still have to go.
Fikri couldn’t answer the question of why he’s doing all this for free.
Featured image credit: How To Save Money