With a combo of horror and Michael Moore’s “Sicko” dominating the summer indie scene, the fall and winter just became more crucial for arthouse fare looking to build awards momentum as no clear frontrunner has emerged.
Among independent companies and studio specialty arms, the big box office earner of the summer was the Weinstein Co., which turned out sleeper horror hit “1408,” docu “Sicko” and, during the Labor Day weekend, Rob Zombie’s record-breaking “Halloween.”
In recent years, indie distribs have staked out the summer months as a place to provide sophisticated counterprogramming and get a jump on awards season. Last year, “Little Miss Sunshine” bowed in late July; in 2005, Lionsgate opened “Crash” in early May.
But with the debut of one successful studio pic after the next this summer, indie distribs and studio specialty arms had trouble drawing attention to their pics and keeping even the most successful ones in theaters. How much this pattern will affect future release strategies remains to be seen.
Even “Sicko,” with its star filmmaker, began losing screens despite its respectable grosses. To date, the film’s cume is $24 million, putting it on the verge of becoming the third highest grossing docu of all time after “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “The March of the Penguins.”
If TWC was the big grosser, Fox Searchlight enjoyed enviable success on the arthouse feature side. Searchlight’s “Waitress” is one of the top specialty earners of the summer, grossing nearly $19 million, while “Once” grossed $7.7 million and sci-fi thriller “Sunshine” collected $3.5 million.
Bob Berney’s Picturehouse likewise fared well with Edith Piaf biopic “La Vie en rose,” which has grossed $9.5 million to date and earned star Marion Cotillard some awards buzz.
Miramax offered the Jane Austen biopic “Becoming Jane,” starring Anne Hathaway, which grossed more than $14 million to date.
Focus Features’ summer lineup included “Talk to Me” starring Don Cheadle, which grossed over $4 million, and “Evening,” which has brought in $12.5 million.
Samuel Goldwyn Films’ female-skewing “2 Days in Paris,” written and directed by Julie Delpy, also is faring solidly early in its run, with a cume of $1.9 million.
Still, the box office success of horror titles this summer reinforces the notion that studio specialty arms and indie production companies need to balance out their slates with more commercial genre titles.
“Halloween” grossed a whopping $31 million from 3,472 runs over the four-day Labor Day weekend, by far the best ever opening for the holiday.
“We’re thrilled. I think ‘Halloween’ is an iconic movie, and I think adding Rob Zombie to the mix was just the right move. I think the fact that he didn’t just remake it but gave it his own twist — that’s what really appealed,” TWC co-chair Bob Weinstein said.
Earlier in the summer, “1408,” starring John Cusack and based on a Stephen King story, went on to gross $71 million domestically. MGM distributed both “Halloween” and “1408” under its output deal with TWC.
Weinstein said the success of “Halloween” and “1408” is made all the sweeter since many had declared the horror genre dead when auds began rejecting more gory horror fare.
He also noted that the return on investment should be strong considering that “Halloween” cost only $15 million to produce and “Sicko” $9 million; “1408” cost under $25 million.
Still, TWC has come under scrutiny for several misses, including the bigscreen adaptation of “The Nanny Diaries” starring Scarlett Johansson. TWC says the criticism is unwarranted and that it is a market leader in only its second year.
There were misses elsewhere as well, notably Paramount Vantage’s Angelina Jolie starrer “A Mighty Heart.”
Among specialty titles making a play over the Labor Day weekend, Warner Independent Pictures’ environmental docu “The 11th Hour,” narrated and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, grossed $200,000 as it expanded to 111 locations for a cume of $378,000 and a per-screen average of $1,802.
Getting a jump on its official release next weekend, Lionsgate’s “3:10 to Yuma” did a sneak peak in roughly 360 locations. The oater, starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, played to an average 80% capacity.