Cult hit coming back to screens with director's cut

“Donnie Darko,” which made a paltry $517,375 when it was released in October 2001, will get a second chance.

Newmarket Films, which holds domestic distrib rights, is looking to cash in on the pic’s growing cult status by re-releasing Richard Kelly’s director’s cut this summer.

New version, which includes 21 minutes of footage not in the original release, will premiere May 29 at the Seattle Film Festival.

Newmarket topper Bob Berney said the company plans to then release the pic on about 10 screens in the city as a test run for a wider national release.

Newmarket will mold its national rollout of “Darko” this summer, tentatively set for July, based on how the pic fares in Seattle.

Worst case, Berney said, “It turns out it gets an extended release life as a midnight show.” But best case, he said, is, “If it really works in the suburbs, we decide we can release it wider in the suburbs nationally.”

Kelly, who recently completed the new cut of the pic, said it includes some deleted scenes found on the DVD, “and some of the extra material I intentionally left off the DVD.”

“Darko,” which stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a disturbed teen who may have supernatural powers, tormented by visions of a 6-foot-tall rabbit, is an ambiguous story open to multiple interpretations.

“Ultimately, every director’s cut is self-indulgent,” Kelly said, “but I feel as though it’s a more thorough and complete version of the film.” In addition to new footage, some sound and visual f/x have been re-done.

Strong DVD sales

The pic has become a staple for theaters running midnight shows. Aud interest also has been demonstrated by the DVD, handled by 20th Century Fox, which, according to Berney, has grossed $10 million on about 1 million units.

Adam Fields, a producer on the pic, said the re-release “is a testament to the power of the homevideo and DVD market.”

“In a strange way,” Kelly said, “it seems like this film was destined to fail before it could succeed.”

Pandora Films financed the pic’s original $2 million budget. When talent including Gyllenhaal, his sister Maggie, Drew Barrymore and Patrick Swayze came aboard, the figure grew to $3.4 million.

“Darko” was the hottest pic going into Sundance in 2001. But after being screened, buyers from all the major indies passed.Four months later, Newmarket acquired the pic and planned a platform release. But the pic earned only $110,494 on 58 screens in its opening weekend.”People in New York were not in the mood for such a dark film,” Berney said. “And with platform releases, you’re launching films based on how they do in New York.”

Kelly considered the pic a failure until a year later, when he went to promote the pic’s U.K. release in London. “Darko” has had its strongest run in the U.K., where it was distribbed by Metrodome and grossed $2.4 million from roughly 50 screens after unspooling Halloween weekend in 2002.

Response was so strong it created a cult star out of singer Gary Jules.

The Southern California-based singer-songwriter and his collaborator Michael Andrews recorded a cover of Tears for Fears’ 1982 hit “Mad World” for the film’s soundtrack. It became a No. 1 hit on the U.K. singles last Christmas, selling more than 650,000 units in the U.K. and holding the top spot for five weeks.

Almost three years after its first release, it remains to be seen whether fans of “Darko” are plentiful enough to turn the pic into a bona fide B.O. hit.

“I don’t know if it’ll cross over,” Kelly admitted. “I joke with my friends that this film won’t die. It just won’t go away. Hopefully it won’t bomb the second time around.”

(Phil Gallo contributed to this report.)

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