Is Australian cinema making a comeback? 

At GWI we love solving business problems through information and data, but we also like to apply these skills to some interesting social and pop-culture questions.

In our latest Data Insights blog we turned our minds and our skills to find out if Australian cinema peaked with Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome or whether the 2015 box office record is the sign of a bright future.

Crunching the data

Since the 1906 adaptation of The Story of the Kelly Gang Australians have been flocking to cinemas to see Australian stories on the big screen.

While there have been many hits, and many misses, the question has been asked: are Australia’s best cinematic days behind us, or are the best days yet to come?

To answer this question we took to the Internet Movie Database and analysed the completed feature films which are marked as Australian movies.

After discovering that box office revenue was a more reliable indicator of the distribution of the movie than the quality of the film, and the data was not readily available for movies that were released more than a decade ago, we turned to the user rating as the key measure of the film’s quality.

  • 2258 movies were analysed
  • The sample size stretched from 1911 to January 2018
  • We used 17776044 votes by users of the site to rank the movies.

We found that the average Australian movie on imdb had 6.1 stars.

We then determined the percentage of movies in each year which exceeded the average number of stars.

After excluding the years prior to 1969, when there were a small number of movies produced, we discovered that 1978 was the peak year with all but one of the movies released exceeding the average rating.

The Golden Era…

The period from 1975 to 1981 saw 130 movies released, only 29 of which were below the historical average star-rating, the highest sustained period of excellence in Australian cinematic history.

The films below were all released in this period, not only forming part of Australia’s shared cultural experience, but marking the epoch or “Golden Era” of Australian film:

Data is useless without interpretation. What was different about this Golden Era as compared to those which came before and after?

That era coincided with the establishment of the Australian Film and Television School (AFTRS) in 1973, a school which counts as its alumni Gillian Armstrong, one of the foremost directors of that era. It also lines up with the establishment of the Australian Film Commission (now part of Screen Australia), an Australian government agency with a mandate to promote the creation and distribution of films in Australia.

While better skills and money for distribution accounts for an increase in the quality of Australian cinema in the short term, what explains the decrease in quality since?

From the first release of an Australian film in 1906 until 2006, the Australian film industry remained a relatively small cottage industry never producing more than 60 films each year.

After the Australian dollar depreciated against the US dollar, Australia became a very attractive destination to shoot low-budget, low-quality films, like the 2005 Paris Hilton movie, House of Wax, and the number of Australian films per year increased to almost 90.

When the Australian dollar appreciated, the number of Australian films decreased, with only 70 films being released in 2014.

The films of the last two years have been highly rated at levels we haven’t seen since 1978.

A new dawn

It looks like we are seeing a new dawn of Australian cinema, where more people with high calibre production skills are producing a smaller number of high quality films. It appears Australian cinema has used the short “sugar rush” caused by a large number of films being produced in Australia to upskill and develop a better product.

Hopefully films like Holding the Man and The Dressmaker are emblematic of the new paradigm of high quality Australian entertainment. Movies like these, where Australian stories are very well told, are likely to lead us to the second great era in Australian cinematic history