Australian Cinema: The black sheep of the family

Okay for a moment think back, back to the last time you watched an Australian film, how did you pay or access it? How did you hear about it? Take the poll below and let me know.

Well if you didn’t know the Australian film industry is yet again at crisis point, with more local films failing to sell tickets, while some critics, such as David Dale (blogger for SMH) suggest that it is due to the lack of sophisticated screenwriting and believe that there is a “generation of producers which believe Australian moviegoers are cretins or bogans, or at least that they love to see cretins and bogans represented on screen” (Dale 2012). While the stereotype remains that Australian films have weak scripts, depressing subject matter and consist mainly of art-house filmmakers that are obsessed with “failed comedies, and miserable, suicidal and preaching strategies” (Dale 2012); recent critics are challenging the idea of substance being the problem by pointing rather to the lack of distribution.

After reflecting on these questions myself I can clearly say that for me, the problem definitely lies in the lack of access and distribution; living rurally means that the nearest cinema is quite a long drive away and isn’t very cheap. Plus based on the blog a few weeks ago, it’s not easy to organise a trip to the local Cineplex; so if I am going to go see a movie then it better be one that I know is going to be good. Well it got me thinking whether the lack of distribution can be a valid reason for these films failing, after all bad films can still sell tickets. Australian films still fail at domestic box offices despite receiving critical acclaim and PhD student Lauren Carroll-Harris, has spent many years researching this issue and believes that the solution lies in earlier home releases and increasing local cinema screenings (Kelly,2013).

Why are we shocked when an Australian film flops when it’s not accessible, not available, and most cinema goers don’t actually have the choice to watch it. LAUREN CARROLL-HARRIS, AUTHOR

Carroll- Harris points to success stories such as the film ‘The Hunter’, who made a bigger financial gain than the critically acclaimed film ‘Animal Kingdom’ by David Michod, the Aussie film’s success, accredited to its ‘flexible release strategy’ (Kelly 2013). The film was released on DVD and online on Video on demand (VOD) much earlier than other films, thus avoiding the mistake others made by “pursuing the traditional distribution strategy that ensures that most cinema goers can’t see it, and ensures failure” (Kelly 2013). Ms Carroll-Harris suggests that an outdated audience measurement system doesn’t recognise ‘The Hunter’s’ successful approach, as success is measured primarily through ticket sales, the PhD author suggest that a new research approach to measure Australian film consumption should be created and should take online distribution into account.

Audience behaviour has changed in the last decade, people physically attending cinemas is more often than not only done during special events or considered as an easy first dates option; and with only one in ten first-release films being viewed in cinema, it is no surprise that online distribution and film sharing continues to grow, with 65% of movies viewed primarily on VOD and DVD/ Blu-Ray. (Carrol- Harris 2011).

Other successful Aussie films such as ‘The Tunnel’ have also used file-sharing to their benefit to effectively reach their identified audience and drive interest to supplementary products (purchase of DVD and merchandise); reaching over 4 million viewers, selling over 25 000 DVDs and obtaining over 800 000 streams. The film still made more than $1 million at the box office, but is success may suggests that online distribution is a more effective and more expansive model than the traditional box office route (Caroll- Harris 2011). The cult horror film created by Carlo Ledesma was primarily crowdsourced and released mainly on torrented sites such as BitTorrent, which released the film to viewers for free, as a result the decision quickly became a “viral, word-of-mouth publicity stunt to sell tickets to specialists screenings, DVDs and merchandise” (Carroll-Harris 2011).

While traditional films primarily drive revenue from DVD, television licenses, and rarely spin-off merchandise (international sales, soundtracks, product placement) , Ms Carroll-Harris suggest that the Australian filmmakers should experiment with live events and festivals, describing ‘The Turning’s’ distribution as a ‘boutique release’ as the film was released in a handful of cinemas but transformed into an event including a Q&A session with the cast and crew, a beautiful theatre program and an intermission.

The best way for local filmmakers to tap into the next generation of cinema goers is to create a reason for them to put on some pants, hop in the car and drive to the cinemas, creating something more than just consuming a movie, which they can comfortably do from their homes and in their pajamas.

‘I know from my generation that we download heaps of stuff, but then we still go out to live events [because] we still want to be a part of something.’ LAUREN CARROLL-HARRIS, AUTHOR

I suggest that more research is needed about how we consume these films, this information will give filmmakers insights into not only new ways to distribute their films but assist them in creating films that the people want (an outside in approach). The box office is not where the success lies anymore, online markets are the real markets of the 21st century, and governments and local filmmakers are wasting money, because no matter how good the movie is if it can never reach the audience then it might as well have never existed.
For more information on government spending and issues facing the Australian Film Industry please feel free to read the Australian Government Film funding report.


Carroll- Harris, L 2011, How Do You Solve A Problem Like The Australian Film Industry, Junkee, accessed 27/09/2014,

Dale, D 2012, The year of the cringe in Australian film, SMH, accessed 25/09/2014,

Kelly,F 2013, The real reason Australian films flop, ABC,


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