Nicole Kidman, David Wenham and Sunny Pawar in a scene from the movie Lion.
Nicole Kidman, David Wenham and Sunny Pawar in a scene from the movie Lion. Mark Rogers

Lion roars to straight to No 1 at Aussie box office

WITH Australia Day just over the horizon, Lion has opened with a roar at the box office as Aussies turned out in huge numbers to see a story of our own come to life on screen.

The movie - which tells the true story of Saroo Brierly, an Indian child who became lost in his homeland, was then adopted by a Tasmanian couple and many years later managed to find his Indian hometown and family by using Google Earth - opened at No 1 at the box office with $4.2 million.

That's the fifth best opening weekend of all time for an Australian movie behind The Great Gatsby ($6.79 million), Happy Feet ($6.6 million), Australia ($6.4 million) and Mad Max: Fury Road ($6.2 million).

In a statement, Lion's producers Iain Canning and Emile Sherman said it was "wonderful to see the film embraced like this by its home audience".

Lion's total box office has already passed $5 million, thanks to extensive advance previews which have helped fuel anticipation for the movie, which stars Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Rooney Mara and, as the young Saroo, Sunny Pawar.

Distributors Richard Payten and Andrew Mackie, of Transmission Films, said: "The fact that it is an Australian story and an Australian film makes it all the more satisfying."

Lion Trailer: Nicole Kidman stars in this emotional true story.
Lion Trailer: Nicole Kidman stars in this emotional true story.

The film's opening weekend tally is streets ahead of recent Aussie hits such as The Dressmaker ($3.16 million), The Water Diviner ($2.76 million), The Sapphires ($2.34 million) and Hacksaw Ridge ($1.61 million).

The big debut justifies the movie's long path to Australian cinemas - one no doubt aimed at maximising its awards chances.

After filming in India, Hobart and Melbourne in early 2015, it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September and has been in US cinemas since November 25. Its US gross stands at $21.7 million.

The film has nominations in the upcoming SAG and BAFTA awards and is expected to feature in several categories when the Oscar nominations are announced on Wednesday, Australian time.

While Lion is just getting started, six weeks into its release, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is inching ever closer to a $50 million total gross.

When it does pass that mark, it will be only the eighth film ever to do so at the Aussie box office.

Its weekend gross of just over $1 million pushed it to a total of $49 million; one last week of school holidays should see it over the line.

The stand-alone Star Wars instalment also passed an international landmark over the weekend, topping US$1 billion globally. Its worldwide gross in Australian currency stands at $1.34 billion.

Australia has been one of the biggest markets for Rogue One, sitting behind only the US, UK, China and Germany, and on par with Japan and France.