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The UK's most popular films

Being something of both a film addict and stats man, I thought I would look at the most popular films shown in UK cinemas of all time to see what that might say about UK audiences, and perhaps how tastes have changed over the decades. 

But a word of warning first folks- the list (and my analysis) is based on box office receipts rather than admissions although the receipts are adjusted for inflation so the figures are comparable, and this only relates to films released since 1989. Why 1989 you might ask? Well, the British Film Institute (BFI) who have compiled these figures have concluded that prior to that date, UK box office data is not available- or at least reliable enough. However, they do have admissions data for films released from 1901 -2000 which may be more reliable and I shall present that in a later blog. 

What this means is that there is a big debate on whether it is possible to work out which films have been the most popular- but here goes anyway: 

1. Star Wars-The Force Awakens (2015) £122m

2. Skyfall (2012) £ 107m

3. Avatar (2009) £104m

4. Spectre (2015) £95m

5. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) £91m

6. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) £87m

7. Toy Story 3 (2010) £80m

8. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) £80m

9. Mamma Mia! (2008) £79m

10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011) £78m 

I guess the first thing you would say about this list is that it is dominated (80%) by what are called ‘franchise’ movies – we used to call them prequels and sequels but Star Wars, Harry Potter, James Bond, Toy Story and the Lord of the Rings are very big hitters this side of the ocean. 

British made films account for 60% of the top 10 although you might want to argue what defines a ‘British’ made film – the BFI for example regards the Star Wars, Harry Potter, Bond and Mamma Mia! films as made in the UK. I suspect that this is due to them being largely made or produced in the UK even though a lot of the money raised to make them may have been of USA or other countries’ origin. 

What do these figures suggest? That film audiences flock to the tried and tested things they enjoy with characters and storylines they are fond of and familiar with- especially if they are good (although that can be a matter of taste!). Going forward, I would expect the next ten years or so to look similar to this list in that we can anticipate that the Star Wars film will certainly dominate the rest of the current decade. Ditto the next part of the Harry Potter cycle with the Fantastic Beasts series of films to run to as many as 5, and there is no sign of the Bond franchise disappearing anytime soon-although who will be the next James Bond will have a lot to do with whether it will continue to have an extended life.

'Denial' - A first rate drama

Although not as lauded as the sensational ‘La La Land’ (25 nominations for the Oscars and the BAFTAs at the last time of counting), the much less well known ‘Denial’ is equally engrossing and worthy of peoples’ attentions.

Written by playwright David Hare and directed by Mick Jackson from Deborah Lipstadt’s book ‘History on Trial: My day in court with a Holocaust Denier’, recreates the events in 1996 when controversial British historian and Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall) sued Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) for libel.

The film succeeds with the tremendous (and largely British) casting. As Stirling who tries in vain to save his academic reputation, Timothy Spall gets under the skin of Irving by showing the various sides to his character- doting father one moment and holocaust denier later on. Rachel Weisz is very effective as Lipstadt who above all wants the holocaust survivors’ voices to be heard.

But front and centre are two powerful performances from Tom Wilkinson as Richard Rampton the lead Barrister in the court case (who had previously acted in the McDonalds ‘Mclibel’ case) and Andrew Scott (‘Moriarty’ in the recent Sherlock TV series) as Antony Julius as the solicitor who takes on her case –despite reservations about him that Lipstadt has to overcome.

There are as you would expect, some difficult scenes, when Rampton needs to go to Auschwitz to see for himself what Irving denies took place. But much of the drama is set at the Royal Courts of Justice in London where Irving defends himself and his reputation alone, against Deborah Lipstadt’s impressive legal team.

In writing the story for the screen, David Hare has done well to bring out several threads of the story which have real relevancy today- how to prove that Irving knew he was lying in denying the holocaust (as opposed to believing that the holocaust did not take place), how difficult it can be for the person being sued (in this case a very vocal Lipstadt) to say nothing in court and allow their legal team to fight the case for them, and the central point of free speech. People are free to say what they want but when facts as opposed to opinions are concerned; some peoples’ views are more credible and important than others.

Overall, whilst you will probably not leave ‘Denial’ with your feet tapping and a song in your heart as you probably will if you see ‘La La Land’, you will be engrossed throughout  its  122 minutes as well as be educated about a landmark case in both legal and world history.

Exodus: Gods and Kings

Following fast on the heels of other recent spiritual/faith-based movies such as ‘Noah’, ‘God is not Dead’ and ‘Heaven is for Real’, ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ is the most ambitious with a $140m budget but in my view the least successful of them.

Directed by Sir Ridley Scott (best known for ‘Alien’  ‘Blade Runner’ & ‘Gladiator’) the film starts with Moses (a less than convincing Christian Bale) being a full adult, a member of Pharaoh Rameses’ (Joel Edgerton) family and an Army General none the less, armed with sword. Moses fights the Hittites and in the battle saves the life of Rameses who at that stage he thinks is his Brother.

Now I am sure we all know well the story of Exodus (Moses learns that not only is he not a Brother of the Egyptian leader but is a Hebrew saved by his Mother, Moses is expelled by Rameses who then gets married, God communes with him to set the Hebrew people free, the ten plagues then arrive when Rameses refuses, there is much death and destruction and Moses leads his people across the Red Sea to liberty where God hands down The Ten Commandments and the Ark of the Covenant).

It is fair to say that ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ plays fast and loose with the biblical text in a number of important respects which may irritate- Moses is shown initially as an Army General with sword (and not staff), his encounters with God are given a ‘make over’ in that whilst there is a burning bush, from Moses point of view he is talking to God as a 10 year old boy but to an onlooker the impression is given that in fact Moses is talking to nobody- I suspect this is to appeal to both religious and atheist audiences but this sitting on a fence does not work .

Equally a ‘natural’ explanation for the parting of the Red Sea is suggested which although incredibly impressive to watch seems too convenient for the film makers.

That said, the film is substantive as it runs for 150 minutes, the photography of Egypt and its architecture, the exodus itself and the desert are sublime and it is a feast on the eyes- be warned though the plagues as filmed are very gory and not easy to watch.

In essence, I think Ridley Scott has made the wrong film as it is dedicated to his brother and fellow film maker Tony Scott who killed himself recently and it is really less about the story of the Exodus but about the bond between two ‘Brothers’. I would still say that the films does work in the sense that modern audiences who may have little knowledge of the Exodus story, of Moses and God will at least come face to face with some of the biblical story and any encounter with the faith story has to be good but the film is only a partial success.

'Take 2' - Not as bad as they say ...

I have a soft spot for movies that get awful reviews- and I have found that a good number like ‘The Pirate Movie’, ‘Jake Speed’, and ‘Mammia Mia!’ to count just a few are underserving of the bad press that they got. Now part of that may well be down to the criticism to begin with , because if a film gets slated badly, then your expectations of it are low and more often then not, you come out of it saying something like “It wasn’t that bad!” or “What are the critics going on about?”.

‘Taken 2’ also falls into this category having received very lame reviews but that has not stopped its audience appeal. It has already grossed around $280 million and counting. If you did not see the original 2008 ‘Taken’, this sequel follows on from the episode where Liam Neeson plays an ex CIA Operative Brian Mills who still acts as a ‘minder’ or ‘Security Consultant’ for the wealthy, but his mind is set on putting back together the pieces of his broken relationships with his estranged wife (Famke Janssen) and daughter (Maggie Grace).

In the original ‘Taken’, Grace was kidnapped by people smugglers in France. Here, Mills makes a rare mistake by inviting his family to holiday in Istanbul, where, yes you’ve guessed it, they get kidnapped –this time by the family of the men that Mills wiped out in the first film, thus, the scene is set for Mills to do his Bourne/Bond/Rambo thing and recover them again.

This all sounds very predictable and as you might expect, you will not get surprised by any complicated plot twists, but what you do get is a superior action movie- it rises to a level above what you normally could expect by some strong performances by the trio of actors especially Liam Neeson. Yes, it is easy to say that he must be slumming it here again. Granted that ‘Taken 2’ is a long, long way from his roles in ‘Kinsey’ and ‘Schindlers List’, but you are charmed by him the playing of his character and there is subtle about his intense passion to protect his family.

Like Bond films of old, you are never in doubt as to who the bad guys are and that makes for a straight forward ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ epic. The film is violent, it is reminiscent of the Charles Bronson ‘Death Wish’ films with a very strong leading man leading his fight to the front line demolishing pretty much whoever gets in his way. But it still makes for some very good sub-James Bond entertainment that should satisfy you ahead of the real thing…