There was one prize at this year’s Canadian Screen Awards that wasn’t up to the judges to decide. 23 Décembre, a Christmas film from Quebec, won the Golden Screen Award on Thursday for the Canadian film that brought in the most money in Canada after earning more than $2 million.
Six of the last seven winners have been French-language films, the lone exception being PAW Patrol: The Movie, which took home last year’s prize after grossing just over $7.5 million.
The Golden Screen Award presents a fleeting glimpse at Canadian box office data for specific films, which isn’t regularly available to the public outside of Quebec.
For decades, weekly box office totals have been published by outlets such as Variety, Box Office Mojo and IndieWire. Those numbers are separated into domestic and international categories, with the domestic number including a movie’s ticket sales in both Canada and the United States.
The website Box Office Mojo lists data on the top grossing films in more than 70 countries, but not Canada. Why are there no easily accessible Canadian box office figures, and what could be gained from sharing them?
The U.S. and Canadian figures “have always been combined, and that’s just the way they’re reported,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with Comscore, a U.S company that collects box office data. “Canada is never broken out into the international bucket or into that international silo. It’s part of North America. So there’s really nothing strange going on.”
Data from theatres goes into Comscore’s system, and from there studios compile and send out the box office data that’s traditionally reported. The company advertises that it tracks 99 per cent of theatre screens in the U.S. and Canada, and 95 per cent of the global box office.
Ultimately it’s up to movie studios to decide what data is released to the public, Dergarabedian said.
WATCH | Trailer for 23 Décembre:
Quebec company Cinéac compiles box office data for the province and releases a weekly top 10 list, but there appears to be no equivalent for the rest of the country. A representative from Cinéac declined a request for an interview.
“If we’re going to talk about Canadian box office overall, I mean 80 per cent of it’s going to go to Quebec films,” said Olivier Gauthier-Mercier, vice-president of distribution with Canadian distributor Sphere Films.
Because of this, he said, there’s a need for more detailed box office reporting in Quebec than the rest of Canada. “That’s where Cinéac comes in.”
Gauthier-Mercier said attention around Canadian movies tends to be very localized, with films getting more attention in the regions where they were produced.
“I think we’re still in that kind of Tragically Hip lyric, ‘They made a movie in my town,’ sort of a thing as opposed to literally gaining an understanding and consistent updating of a business.”
He also noted that there isn’t a major new Canadian release hitting theatres every week to merit weekly box office reporting that’s specific to Canada.
Gauthier-Mercier said it’s rare for an English-Canadian film to break the $1-million mark at the local box office, but for French language films, “a million dollars would have been the basement for a successful Canadian film” — although, he added, the situation has been tempered somewhat by the pandemic.
Demand for data?
Nuria Bronfman, executive director of the Movie Theatre Association of Canada, said there hasn’t been a big demand for publicly available Canadian box office data.
“It’s not something necessarily that we publish for the public because I’m not sure that there would be a huge interest in that,” she said. “It’s a little bit of ‘this is the way we’ve sort of always done it.'”
Those inside the industry using the Comscore system, such as theatre owners and distributors, have access to the data across the board — not just for their own films.
“The data does exist — it’s not like Canada is in a vacuum … but the companies that are doing it are selling it,” Bronfman said. “So it’s not something that I guess is available for public consumption unless they choose to publicize it.”
Independent producers trying to make movies in Canada need to be able to make a business case to potential buyers by presenting comparable films and how they did, first-time feature producer Alexandra Roberts said, adding it can be difficult to find that information.
“It’s never really as granular as you hope it’s going to be,” she said.
Roberts, whose first film, the micro-budget drama Soft, which was released this month, said she thinks more transparency in Canadian film data would make conversations about the industry more constructive.
“I think that a lot of people’s opinions on Canadian cinema are born out of suspicion and feeling and personal experience, and it’s valuable for us to be having these conversations born out of real data,” she said.
Canadian film industry trade magazine Playback used to publish box office data for Canadian films in a weekly column called Hot Sheet, but since last June there haven’t been any new numbers for films. Aggregate box office data on Canadian films is published by the Canadian Media Producers Association in an annual profile using data from the Movie Theatre Association of Canada.