By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood July 19, 2011 at 1:11AM
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.
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."