By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood October 19, 2009 at 6:05AM
Weekend Box Office Winners
Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are led the weekend box office. While an estimated $32.4 million was a studio record for October (the movie was on some 3700 screens), the number wasn't as big as some expected after its stellar Friday. The studio aimed the PG-rated film at a general, not family audience. But will the $90-million movie make its money back? Finally, Warners backed filmmakers working outside of the box, and that's a good thing.
While I may have underestimated WTWTA a tad, I was right to be optimistic about F. Gary Gray's Law Abiding Citizen, starring Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler. Its robust action trailer pulled in males to the tune of about $21.3 million. That was good news for The Film Department which financed the film, and for Overture which badly needed a hit. As Overture sits on the edge of its future, key backer John Malone will be glad to see the mini-major score its biggest opening to date.
The Film Department co-founders Neil Sacker and Mark Gill's next challenge: they're going to start a distribution company. While they sold worldwide territories on Bart Freundlich's The Rebound, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones as a single mom in love with younger man Justin Bartha, they lost The Weinstein Co. as a distrib when a single P & A financier fell out. So The Rebound will be their first 2010 release. The romantic comedy screened at the Berlin Fest and Tokyo Film Fest special screenings: here's Variety's tepid review. Two other films, the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald biopic The Beautiful and Damned, with Keira Knightley attached, and Nicole Kassell's Earthbound, set to star Kate Hudson, are ramped up for production starts in 2010.
Paranormal Activity's $20.2 million gross ($26,530 per screen) on 760 screens marks a sea-change, a new way of looking at the $35 million that studios tend to spend on a wide opening. With the coming reduction of pictures in the marketplace--The Film Department's Gill predicts that less than 400 will be released in 2010--perhaps it's time to reexamine the marketing and distribution rules and regs that have developed over the years. Are they all necessary? Wide openings are not the only way to go. Paranormal is at $33.7 million after a month, with less than $10 million in advertising.
Those who say Paranormal Activity could have had a number one opening are missing the point. This is not the old paradigm: take the number one slot at any cost by blasting ads at a mass audience. It's a new approach: build buzz and anticipation slowly, and foment a sense of low supply and high demand so that audiences are clamoring for the picture. Oren Peli's cheap vid-thriller goes from 760 screens this weekend to 1800 next. And yes, Paramount couldn't just snap their fingers and score 1000 screens. Next weekend, they will double the screen count.
Now Paramount's marketing people are offering parties at the first ten local cinemas that sell out on the midnight show on Thursday night/Friday morning October 23. (AICN's Harry Knowles announced this, so naturally his local theater, The Alamo Drafthouse, was the first to sell out.)
The point is, you don't have to pay for a wide release--as long as you have a good movie. And it doesn't have to be a cheap genre film. It just has to be something that audiences can get enthusiastic about. They could have done Whip It (which Searchlight previewed) or Zombieland or District 9 this way. Yes the studios spent plenty on advertising those movies. But what if the studio didn't have to spend as much as they thought?
With fewer movies in theaters and less clutter, maybe there's more room for playing around in the margins. The reason the studios have built up these huge spends is fear, basically---make a lot of noise and take no chances. The actual number of theaters that are necessary for proper returns on movie is really more like 800. Seriously.
The best-reviewed movie of the weekend, The Maid, opened with the weekend's best per-screen average in one theater in New York. Los Angeles follows October 23.