Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga has all the makings of a box office hit, overwhelmingly positive critical reviews, a cast featuring Australian star Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and the increasingly popular Anya-Taylor Joy (The Queen’s Gambit), and connections to a beloved (and profitable) pre-existing franchise. Yet, as the film enters its second week at the box office, it continues to underperform financially.

The film, which cost $252 million to make, took just $88 million worldwide in its first week, well below the $164 million its predecessor Fury Road racked up in 2015.

Its slow opening, however, reflects broader challenges being faced by the movie industry, from the rise of streaming to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2022 cinema complexes decreased by 9 per cent across Australia, with screens in remaining complexes decreasing a further 2 per cent in 2023 according to a Screen Australia report last year.

Despite the increased competition in the market and unpredictable ticket sales for major film house blockbusters, cinema-going itself seemed to be enjoying something of a resurgence, with last year’s Barbie and Oppenhiemer dominating the cultural zeitgeist with their simultaneous release dubbed ‘Barbenheimer‘.

Dr Ruari Elkington, a senior lecturer in creative industries at the Queensland University of Technology and an expert in the relationship between screen content and audiences, is optimistic about the future of cinema-going in Australia despite the challenges it currently faces.

“This narrative around the death of cinema, it’s not a new one,” he said. “Cinema-going, and I do mean the actual act of leaving your home and going to the cinema, has weathered so many technological and media storms, everything from radio, to TV to DVD, and now it’s dealing with streaming.

“Now, I don’t think anyone could say the impact of streaming is negligible, and you can see this in release windows, the length of time between a movie releasing and going to streaming is becoming very, very short.”

When any big films drop on a streaming service, they just join the great ocean of content sloshing around

Streaming services such as Netflix and Prime Video have completely changed the way audiences consume media. Major films such as Anne Hathaway’s The Idea of You and Jake Gyllenhaal’s Road House have opted to skip a theatrical window altogether in favour of releasing as exclusive Prime Originals.

Netflix chief executive Ted Sarandos recently said in an interview with The New York Times the impact of the recent Barbenheimer cultural moment would have been as significant if Netflix had released the two films. But Dr Elkington said it’s harder to measure the success of a movie released on streaming, and that they lack the cultural impact of theatrical releases.

“The streaming services, including Netflix have been far less open in their reporting of their views and subscribers, because they haven’t had to,” he added. “They’re not beholden to advertisers, so they can’t preach to them about it. So that’s one observation I’d make is that the clarity we have about measuring success on Netflix is very, very different from the transparency that cinemas have.

Barbenheimer was a rare instance post pandemic, where film, and specifically film in cinemas, became a true cultural moment, and I don’t believe that would have in any way happened with Netflix. I think the way that you can illustrate that is when any big films drop on a streaming service, they just join the great ocean of content sloshing around.”

Many reviewers and media outlets have rushed to labell Furiosa a ‘flop’ due to it’s poor financial start at the box-office. Dr Elkington takes issue with the notion of labelling a film a ‘flop’, saying it diminishes a film’s cultural value.

“It may have underperformed in line with expectations, but the difference between a film underperforming financially and being a flop? It’s pretty significant,” he said.

“I’m always intrigued by this media narrative, when something doesn’t perform quite as expected it becomes labelled a flop. Furiosa is an incredible film that needs to be seen on a big screen, the critical praise has been phenomenal, and I think the public discussion around the film reflects that.”


Dr Elkington believes the future of cinema-going in Australia hinges on the ability of cinemas to connect with audiences on a more personal level.

“You look around and see cinemas that are super successful, and often they’re not big multiplexes, often they’re cinemas embedded in local communities,” he said. “They’re connected to their audiences. And I think a thing people don’t realise, is that there is a great social benefit to going to the cinemas over watching something on streaming, with an epidemic of loneliness and isolation, people actually leaving their home and connecting with other people has real value.

“So, I think this attitude of cinemas really connecting with their audiences could grow and be adopted by lots more people. That’s kind of the hopeful view for me.”

Main image of Furiosa supplied by Warner Bros.