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Two of the top three movies at the UK box office were produced on Watford outskirts

Greta Gerwig’s Barbie was the UK and Ireland’s highest grossing film of 2023 in a vote of “confidence” for Hertfordshire’s film industry.

Two of the top three performers at the UK and Ireland box office were produced at Warner Bros Studios Leavesden, on the outskirts of Watford. According to the British Film Institute (BFI), Barbie earned £95.6million in box office revenue.

Wonka starring Timothée Chalamet and Olivia Colman came in third. The Warner Bros production grossed at £58.4m. It missed out on second place to Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer which grossed at £58.9m.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One which used the Leavesden studios came in at eighth (£26.6m).

Culture secretary Lucy Frazer told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Hertfordshire is the jewel in the crown of the British film industry.

“From Star Wars to Paddington, it’s the proud birthplace of some of the most cherished moments in cinema history, so it’s no surprise that Barbie – filmed not in Hollywood but at the remarkable Leavesden Studios – has smashed UK box office records.

“Millions of pounds are spent on film and high-end TV production in Hertfordshire each year and the county’s success lies in its attractiveness to world-renowned studios and its highly talented workforce.

“I launched plans last year to grow the creative industries by £50billion by 2030 – committing to developing and investing in skills, talent, technology and studio infrastructure, including through our UK Global Screen Fund and generous tax reliefs.

“This will help keep Hertfordshire and the whole of the UK at the forefront of movie making.”

Herts film heritage ‘runs deep’

Howard Berry, lead researcher at The Elstree Project and principal lecturer for film and TV degrees at the University of Hertfordshire, said: “The success of Barbie is brilliant for the country’s studios, but the fact that it was made here shows confidence in the county.

“Hertfordshire has been producing films since around 1914, before the likes of Pinewood.

“The heritage runs deep but we are keeping up with the digital innovation, too.

“We have always been home to iconic productions – 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Where Eagles Dare (1968), The Shining (1980), and of course the Star Warses and the James Bonds.

Barbie and Wonka are similar in that these are films that are not going to disappear and be forgotten about.

Barbie in particular is going to be one of those films we are going to be analysing and talking about for years to come – and Hertfordshire made it.”

Statistics released by the BFI show the total British Isles box office revenue stood at £985m. This is four per cent up on 2022, when Top Gun: Maverick topped the tables (£83.7m).

But box office revenues were 24 per cent lower than similar figures for 2019, when Avengers: Endgame grossed at £88.7m to claim the top spot. A total 207 feature films started shooting in the UK during 2023, which is 13 fewer than reported in 2022.

The total UK production spend for film starts in 2023 is a reported £1.36bn, down 31 per cent year-on-year. Earlier in 2023, Warner Bros Studios Leavesden confirmed it would press ahead with plans for a 400,000 square foot (37,200 sq m) expansion.

Production for the 2024 adaptation of Wicked starring Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo became the first feature film production to shoot at Sky Studios Elstree in Borehamwood.

Los Angeles’ Sunset Studios is building new stages near the M25 at Waltham Cross.

Emily Stillman, senior vice president at Warner Bros Studios Leavesden, said: “We are delighted that Warner Bros Studios Leavesden was home to some of the most successful films of 2023 including Barbie and Wonka.

“Major productions are attracted to our world-class facilities, the high level of service we offer and access to outstanding UK crews.

“With plans to expand the Studio by adding another 10 sound stages, we’re looking forward to further growing our economic and community contributions to the UK creative sector.”

Conservative councillor Stephen Boulton, executive member for sustainable economic growth at Hertfordshire County Council, said: “Hertfordshire is the new Hollywood.

“That’s the line which is put around a lot but it’s becoming true.

“We have a lot of stage production space in Hertfordshire, with more and more made in the county.

“It shows Hertfordshire is a county for growth, supporting existing and new businesses.

“We are an important part of the British economy and as the film industry grows, we will need to make sure they have the space and infrastructure to support that growth.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Sarah Nelmes is the leader of Three Rivers District Council, which covers Leavesden, and a member of the Hertfordshire Growth Board – a panel comprising the county’s local authority leaders.

“Film and screen industries are very important sectors in Hertfordshire’s economy, providing secure, quality jobs,” Cllr Nelmes said.

“Isn’t it exciting that Herts productions are so strongly represented?

“The industry creates thousands of good roles and excellent films.

“Hertfordshire’s film and TV industry badly needs well-trained local people, and that is something we are working on at the Growth Board.”

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