Buzz Boosts Zombieland, Moore, Paranormal Activity; Whip It Limps

by Anne Thompson
October 4, 2009 9:49 AM
6 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood
Lessons learned from the weekend box office:

The Internet is steering audiences away from bad buzz and toward movies they want to see.
Sony smartly debuted its $23.5 million horror comedy Zombieland at Fantastic Fest and the positive WOM virally worked its way through the Internet. The movie scored $25 million as Sony continues on a b.o. roll. Marketers posted five clips which got their message across in a way the critics couldn't. But it didn't hurt that the movie scored even better reviews than the Coens' A Serious Man (which opened well in limited release.)

Michael Moore is a force unto himself, showing yet again that the smart play in today's world is to establish an online brand and an avid following. Moore showed up on just about every talk show, sent out countless emails to his gargantuan mailing list, and posted frequent updates on his website. (Scott Bowles profiles him in USA Today.) This weekend Capitalism: A Love Story (which Moore calls C:ALS!) broadened to almost 1,000 theaters and earned $5.3 million. "My 2nd best national opening ever," tweeted Moore, "will end up in top five grossing docs of all time (along with F911 & Sicko)!!"

The Internet also spread the word from Telluride and Fantastic Fest on Oren Peli's scary $15,000 home video Paranormal Activity, which Paramount tentatively booked on 12 screens in college towns. Now thanks to positive audience response via eventful.com/demand (despite lively debate on the new ending, suggested by Steven Spielberg), it's getting a wider theatrical release (33 screens and counting).

Movies aimed at women are having a tough time gaining market traction.
Cinetic Media's Matt Dentler asks on Twitter: "After the very poor starts for "Whip It," "Jennifer's Body," and "Bright Star," what does that mean for the future of young women's movies?" I argue that each movie faced its own set of issues.

Thompson on Hollywood
Drew Barrymore didn't sell the $15-million coming-of-age movie Whip It, which grossed an estimated $4.9 million. But truth is, audiences knew that she directed it and barely stars in it. The lead, Ellen Page, is not a boxoffice draw, and the movie needs time to build word-of-mouth. (It earned a strong Cinemascore of A-, so there's room to grow.) Fox Searchlight, which is usually well-attuned to the female demo, seems to have missed the mark on this one, which played well in Toronto and earned strong reviews. "Women aren't showing up," said one studio marketing exec. "Girls don't get into roller derby." Searchlight downplayed that aspect in favor of the movie's girl power theme.

Fox recently stumbled with another female empowerment movie, Jennifer's Body, which unfortunately starred Megan Fox, a hot young star with male appeal. Inexplicably, they sold the R-rated feminist horror movie with two girls kissing. Nobody showed up.

Truth is, a big studio like Sony can spend a fortune hawking Zombieland with plenty of outdoor postings, billboards, and internet ads. But new indie distributor Apparition can't. It's first film, Jane Campion's tragic romance Bright Star, earned fest plaudits and rave reviews. But the elegantly mounted love story is struggling to pull viewers. It's playing best to young women in key art houses in New York and Los Angeles but flailing everywhere else. The problem for Apparition is that even if this movie plays well for the Academy, it needs to appear modestly successful at year's end to avoid a taint of failure when the Academy voters fill out their ballots. Its best hope is for a comeback at year's end with critics' ten best lists and awards.


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6 Comments

  • lizriz | October 5, 2009 9:45 AMReply

    To look at “Whip It,” “Jennifer’s Body,” and “Bright Star,” and believe you can then say anything about "women's movies" (whatever the heck that BS even means) is total and complete ignorance.

    I'm totally interested in roller derby, but the trailer for "Whip It" was less than inspiring. Still, it's high on my list to go see, specifically because of the roller derby aspect, as is "Bright Star", so hopefully they'll be out for a while.

    Incidentally, if I could have paid to download "Whip It" and watch it at home this weekend, I totally would have. I simply didn't have time to get out to the theater.

  • Scott Mendelson | October 5, 2009 5:18 AMReply

    As I wrote on Saturday morning (perhaps unfairly, as I was severely pissed that this terrific movie flopped), if feminist filmgoers at large cannot bother to support a purely mainstream and commercial entertainment that is also a good, genuinely feminist movie, then maybe they deserve to have nothing aimed at women except more variations of Jennifer Aniston or Katherine Heigl starring in “I’m Nothing Without A Man”. This is the same as parents complaining about quality family movies and then ignoring The Iron Giant. It’s the same as horror nerds complaining about remakes and reboots, yet ignoring Drag Me To Hell and Jennifer’s Body. You want to enjoy the trash, fine. Goodness knows I’ll be there for the A Nightmare On Elm Street remake on opening weekend despite my better judgment. And I’m more than willing to sit through G-Force or Alvin and the Chipmunks 2 if my daughter will enjoy them. But when you ignore the commercial, mainstream entertainment that is actually good or original, then you signal to execs that their laziness is actually a preferred strategy.

  • Dana Kaminski | October 5, 2009 4:36 AMReply

    I don't think it has much to do with "women's movies" as much as quality. None of the three films mentioned got rave reviews. Not on Twitter, either; and I am on Twitter quite a bit! (as: __dana__)
    I wanted to root for D Barrymore's first movie, and I adore Ellen Page, and I love "women's films". It's hard to romanticize roller derby, and it wasn't marketed well. I saw it today, and it was, unfortunately, predictable.

    I love films that are called "women's movies", even though I want to throw molotov cocktails at that term. I love movies, altogether, unless they are about Transformers.

    I am going to see "Bright Star" this week, but I haven't read raving reviews about that either. Maybe those films that are called "women's movies" have audiences that read, first. Then decide to go.

    Not sure if those who go to "Male Movies" read.
    About the movie...is what I meant.
    (Kind of.)

    I agree about the Megan Fox film. Megan Fox may be an actor, but she is more, outstandingly, a male fantasy. We only call her an actor because we pretend that we are more evolved than that. We also pretend that we are people of equality, and yet the only sex-symbols-that-we-pretend-are-actors are women.

    Only Hollywood Men, and an Ex-stripper, would cast a male's wet dream in a movie that caters to women. Someday, someone will get real with them, and flat out tell them that it just doesn't appeal to us. Just because it does to them.

  • Chris Dorr | October 4, 2009 12:37 PMReply

    Interesting to note that the films that skewed to a female audience did not appear to have gotten a lift from the internet. The distributors of these films seem completely unaware that social networks of all types heavily skew female in the composition of their communities. This includes MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and every other social network you can name. See attached graph for details: http://tumblr.com/xtl3dtj6p

    They are not trying to build awareness within these social networks. Why are they failing to do so? Do they not know how? Do they have to be taught that traditional marketing approaches no longer suffice? Isn't it time to wake up?

  • Crow T Robot | October 4, 2009 10:47 AMReply

    Although it was pretty uneven, the "Eddie Van Halen" exchange in Zombieland is hardest I've laughed in a theater all year... right behind the Milli Vanilli ghost molesting scene in Bruno.

  • mary | October 4, 2009 10:31 AMReply

    Ellen Page maybe not be a big star, bust she is a likeable star; afterall, she was the lead actress of a huge hit "Juno". Likeable stars and a marketable story can make a film to become a box office hit. (ie.. Zombieland)
    I think that Ellen Page's star power and Drew Barrymore's screen time aren't the main factors that cause "Whip It" to bomb at box office. (By the way, "Lucky You" bombed badly at box office, and that was the latest film that has Drew Barrymore as a female lead)

    "Jennifer’s Body" just looks like an erotic film without any nudity scene. It was not surprise that the film bombed.

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