x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Critically acclaimed movies fail to draw big local audiences

Despite Golden Globe awards and Oscar nominations, some of the year's most critically acclaimed films have been dropped from cinema screens after just a week or two because of poor attendance.

DUBAI // Despite Golden Globe awards and Oscar nominations, some of the year's most critically acclaimed films have been dropped from cinema screens after just a week or two because of poor attendance. The Wrestler, for which Mickey Rourke won a Golden Globe for best actor and an Oscar nomination, was withdrawn after failing to reach the box office target set for an opening week.

Frost/Nixon, the Oscar-nominated film directed by Ron Howard and starring Michael Sheen and Frank Langella, suffered a similar fate last week after attracting insufficient interest from UAE audiences who, distributors say, are more interested in action and comedy. Nassim Khoury, of Front Row Filmed Entertainment - the independent Dubai-based company responsible for bringing films to the city's screens - said Frost/Nixon was the latest in a series of movies that had not "appealed to the masses" in the UAE.

"Cinemas have a minimum requirement for an opening week and if the film does not make it then it is dropped," he said. He would not reveal that minimum requirement, but added: "Let's just say that The Wrestler was released on 12 screens; the second week it was showing on only two screens across Dubai and that was only because we have a good relationship with the exhibitors." Mr Khoury said independent companies such as Front Row, which distributes films to exhibitors across the Middle East, were at the mercy of the audience's hunger for big-budget comedies and action films, as well as for Indian productions.

Even Slumdog Millionaire, the Danny Boyle film that is still drawing large audiences after winning eight Oscars, made little immediate impact. "The opening week was a huge flop for the film but then I think on the Sunday or Monday people starting talking about it and then everybody started shuffling in to watch the movie." Tilda Swinton's portrayal of an alcoholic in Julia won her critical acclaim but the film was shown on only four screens when it was released in the UAE. The average for a release is eight to 12.

Mr Khoury is now preparing to release Franklyn - a futuristic thriller starring Eva Green and Ryan Phillippe, on 14 screens. He said its strong visual effects and the actress's fan base would ensure its success, but admitted that it was costly and frustrating when internationally acclaimed films flopped in the region. Westerners living in the UAE, he said, preferred to wait for films to be released on DVD.

"We lose as an independent distributor because you pay royalties whether a film makes it or not," he said. loatway@thenational.ae