Midnight in Paris Is Woody Allen's Biggest Hit, Passes 1986's Hannah and Her Sisters $40 Million

by Anne Thompson
July 19, 2011 1:11 AM
16 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood
Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris continues its torrid box office pace. When I talked to Allen right before he opened this year's Cannes Film Festival, he knew that he had a hit ("it's a hit, a big-titted hit!" as Robert Duvall says in Network). Sure enough, the movie has broken weekly house records all over the country and passed Match Point and Vicky Christina Barcelona's benchmark of $23 million after the 4th of July weekend. And now it has even exceeded vintage Oscar-contender mainstream breakouts Annie Hall (1977, $38 million), Manhattan (1979, $39 million) and his top-grosser, Hannah and her Sisters (1986, $40 million). This past weekend Midnight in Paris wound up a few digits shy of $42 million.

UPDATE: Does this mean that Paris is the most profitable Woody Allen film of all time? No. As some commenters have pointed out, Hannah and Her Sisters cost far less against its ultimate revenues, and out-performed this one, too, if you factor in inflation. Theatrically-oriented Sony Pictures Classics thanked exhibitors that played the film in Variety, below.

Thompson on Hollywood
SPC broadened the movie more briskly than they had intended since platforming it in NY and LA on May 20, due to its strong numbers in every market, exploiting the many supporting roles in the movie and releasing a new clip a week, getting deeper into the film. Allen works in some markets like Manhattan "no matter what," says SPC co-president Tom Bernard, but often "in the hinterlands he doesn't translate." SPC broadened the movie wider than any Allen movie, to over 1038 screens. "It's worked everywhere, in places where Woody's movies don't usually respond," says Bernard.

Why did this one strike a nerve with a wider audience? Well, it's escapist, magical summer fun, with a happy romantic ending. Owen Wilson, a robust comedy star, makes the best Woody surrogate the filmmaker has had since John Cusack (Bullets Over Broadway) and delivers the richest, most nuanced performance of his career. "He was a tremendous sell," says Bernard.

Is Wilson's role Oscar-worthy? I won't go that far, but SPC plans to hang in theaters as long as possible and then chase Oscar voters later; they'll release the DVD when they see fit. With the Academy's new best picture nomination process (designed to be inclusive of audience favorites), it's looking good for a best picture nod. Allen should certainly land original screenplay and directing nominations.

The well-reviewed movie (David Thomson aside) is different not only from other Allen films, but anything else in the marketplace. While it wittily mines cliches about Americans in Paris, it makes literate moviegoers feel smart. It boasts a universal nostalgia theme, as well as falling inside a reliable genre: time travel. And of course, reminds Bernard: "everyone likes Paris."

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16 Comments

  • hopeless pedant | July 20, 2011 3:20 AMReply

    Indeed one clear point we can agree upon is that it is hard to compare different films from different eras - which is why it is ridiculous that so many smart people are stenographers for SPC's nonsense that this is his biggest hit ever. There are means of comparison, though, when it comes to comparing box office receipts, which is specifically the basis on which SPC made the claim.

    To make another pedantic point though, Woody Allen's films have always or nearly always been independent. Neither United Artists nor Orion were studios. His UA films were financed independently (UA generally didn't finance themselves, not being a studio but rather just a distributor). Its principles then went to Orion (which was a renamed AIP) and mainly did the same thing (they might have had some level of investment in Hannah; I'm not 100% sure). And since Allen from early on had a major international following, I suspect the foreign rights were often used to help finance most of his films after the very early ones.

  • mary | July 20, 2011 2:47 AMReply

    hopeless pedant-

    SPC had already spent more than $10 million to market "Midnight in Paris".
    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/the_big_picture/2011/07/midnight-in-paris-woody-allen-secret-formula-hit-adult-moviegoers.html

    You are right to suspect that "Midnight in Paris" may not be Woody Allen's most profitable film.
    However, it would not be fair to make financial comparison between "Midnight in Paris" and "Hannah and Her Sisters" because indie films (like "Midnight in Paris") have very different financial structure than studio films (like "Hannah and Her Sisters"). For example, some indie films had made most of their budget back (if not all) even before their commercial releases, thanks to foreign presales, government subsidies, private funds and other.... (I bet "Midnight in Paris" has already made most of its budget back from foreign presales, if not all.)

    On the other hand, worldwide ancillary markets had been developing so much since 1980's, and English-language films can easily make a lot of money in worldwide ancillary markets (even a Steven Seagal's straight-to-video film could generate $50 million worldwide revenue). On the other hand, "Midnight in Paris" has the stars which have strong draw in worldwide ancillary markets (Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Adrien Brody, Marion Cotillard, etc...), so "Midnight in Paris" may still eventually become Woody Allen's most profitable film ever.

  • mary | July 20, 2011 2:31 AMReply

    hopeless pedant-

    “Hannah and Her Sisters” was made under Woody Allen’s long term deal with Orion. Based on what Woody Allen said to The Sun Herald, I think Orion did finance his films, including “Hannah and Her Sisters”:
    [A: Yes, I have a big contract with my film company, Orion. I stay below my budget and if you consider the money that some of the films bring in, then they are not expensive to produce. They do not cost millions and millions of dollars, and if the films lose money, like one of them did, well, a million dollars is not too much in this business. Moreover, I get good reviews and the company believes that I give them good publicity without costing too much. If, on the other hand, I cost them money and lost money on the films, they'd let me go. That's for sure.]

    BTW, Newsweek reported that "Hannah and Her Sisters" was cost $9 million to make. (not $6 million)

    And for what you said about SPC, this quote from SPC's Michael Barker (via thewrap) maybe a good reply to you
    http://www.thewrap.com/movies/column-post/sony-classics-plays-numbers-game-midnight-paris-28883?page=0,1
    [Barker said the $30 million figure seems high but he doesn't know the actual budget ("Woody and his producer are very proprietary with that information"), but that all involved are delighted with the grosses, which have been boosted by an additional $30 million-and-counting in foreign territories.
    "To me, it seems like everybody is very happy, and it's going to be profitable," he said.]

  • hopeless pedant | July 19, 2011 12:57 PMReply

    Fielding

    Thanks for confirming that my facts are, in fact, right. You and I agree that the budget was $30 million. I am at a loss as to what your point is, other than backing mine up.

    And since SPC has only US/C, they will definitely make a profit.

    Here's a rough outline:

    The film will gross about $50 million. A film like this will end up settled somewhere around 45% film rental (lots of reasons that it's lower than norm) so they retail about $22.5 million of that.

    They however add to their costs prints, advertising and marketing, which will come into (without a big TV buy) something likely below $10 million (SPC is pretty economical). So that cuts their profit to around $5 million.

    However, a standard deal would mean Mediapro will get probably half of whatever profit there is.

    Still to come are DVDs and the cable sale, both of which will put millions in SPC's hands, but again, because it's an acquisition, they have to share with Mediapro.

    This clearly will be a profitable film for them, but not remotely to the same level Manhattan and Annie Hall were to United Artists and the producers - just under $40 million box office + longterm revenues (although both came just before videos, though each film has since had a long, long life on them, laser discs and DVDs, plus of course TV/cable). Both those films cost under $4 million.

    I don't have the specifics on the SPC deal, but the general outline above is likely to be pretty close to the balance sheet for the film.

  • Fielding | July 19, 2011 12:40 PMReply

    To "Hopeless pedant":

    Get your facts right. The $30 million budget was provided by Spain's Mediapro, who are in the middle of a 3 picture deal with Woody Allen. SPC merely paid for the distribution rights in North America, which amounted to about $7 million. Meanwhile, it's already made $75 million worldwide from just a handful of territories and will easily pass $100 million. So everyone's happy.

  • Mcgilla | July 19, 2011 9:38 AMReply

    Ok its a hit but I think it should be mentioned that it seems comparing 40 million in 2011 to 1986 is a little nuts. Seems kinda desperate- a ticket cost 5 bucks in 1986.... Woop-d-do for woody and whatever studio execs are taking credit for this "surprise" hit.

  • Hopeless pedant | July 19, 2011 8:38 AMReply

    The dumbing-down of our culture by publicists needing to push false stories is sad.

    Midnight in Paris is, and will end up as, Allen's 7th biggest hit in the US/Canada, based on equalizing ticket prices, somewhat more than half of his 6th biggest film.

    Annie Hall and Manhattan - both of which cost under $4 million - grossed the equivalent of around $130 million in today's prices.

    Hannah and Her Sisters - which cost $6 million - would gross $120 million.

    Brandon Gray caught this as well, and reported it in his weekend summary.

    None of this should detract from the amazing rebound Allen has had with this film.

    But it cost $30 million, and will end up grossing around $50, a ration of about 5:3 (about 166%) of its budget.

    Annie Hall and Manhattan both grossed more than 30 times (3000%) of their budgets.

    The idea that Paris is his biggest hit is absurd. It is like saying an Encino ranch house that sold for $600,000 in 2011 is a better house than a Bel-Air mansion that sold for $550,000 in 1977, despite the latter being worth $5 million today.

  • Old Fart | June 9, 2011 4:31 AMReply

    Woody's persistent nostalgia was fun early on, in PLAY IT AGAIN SAM, where there was some genuine wit and lots of laughs, but it got increasingly tired for me with PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO and RADIO DAYS, where it was just cloying. So it's gotten REALLY tired for me by now. As a Baby Boomer who's fed up with his fellow Baby Boomers' obsession with their own "hallowed" past, I just want to tell Woody, at the age of 75, to "grow the f*** up!"

  • Sammie | June 9, 2011 4:17 AMReply

    Woody hired Owen Wilson because he's a huge box office draw (for some reason) so no real surprise there. He even rewrote the part for him. But Wilson definitely doesn't break out of the "Owen Wilson" persona for this part in any way. True - he doesn't do a terrible Allen impersonation like Kenneth Branagh (ick). He just does Owen Wilson (as usual) with a touch of Woody Allen. Not awful - but Best Acting Oscar? Surely you jest ...

  • kenmandu | June 9, 2011 3:28 AMReply

    This is not surprising as there's an audience out there that is hungry for any movie that has no characters wearing tights and has not told the same story three of four times already. Hollywood is doing better overseas with its tentpoles as Americans are getting bored (except for hardcore knee-jerk fanboys) and many of the foreign audience only seem to care if light flickers on the screen accompanied by a great deal of noise, which is the current studio formula.

  • Anonymous in L.A. | June 9, 2011 3:20 AMReply

    I don't think it was the best performance of Owen Wilson's career at all.

    He was basically playing himself (a neurotic sell-out writer with a child-like side) with a few Woody Allen mannerisms thrown in.

    He was MUCH better in "The Darjeeling Limited". THAT performance had depth - this one was more like a lark. Don't oversell it.

    As far as Oscars, a best screenplay nod (not a win) very likely - not Best Picture (released too early in the year and just a too light and frothy film in general).

    Certainly NOT a best Oscar nomination for Wilson.

  • Brett Beach | June 9, 2011 2:32 AMReply

    If it's going to 940 this weekend, then Anything Else, which opened on 1,033 screens, still has it beat . . . for now.

  • Ronnie D. | June 9, 2011 1:58 AMReply

    "Paris" pales in comparison to VCB and Match Point as a film, and therefore does not deserve an Oscar, not even close. Just because it references classic American novelists, does not mean it is witty or smart; it just makes it pretentious. His shallowest effort in a while with uninteresting and undeveloped characters and relationships.

  • Lori | June 9, 2011 1:30 AMReply

    To be honest, the film just looks interesting and fun. Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams seem like unlikely Woody Allen casting choices, the trailer was great, and it seemed like there was an actual plot there. It didn't particularly seem like a Woody Allen film either, which may be why a lot more people wanted to see it. I really don't like him at all and I wanted to see the film after viewing the trailer...

  • Marya | June 8, 2011 12:19 PMReply

    oh, ha, it's just the record breaking numbers. I am slow sometimes.

    anyways, great article on a great film.

  • Marya | June 8, 2011 12:14 PMReply

    how come you don't have the numbers from the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco? I've seen it there twice now.

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