War is still hell — at least for Hollywood.
Fresh off its marketing triumph on teen vampire pic “Twilight,” Summit Entertainment has got its work cut out persuading moviegoers to see “The Hurt Locker,” a well-reviewed thriller from Kathryn Bigelow that nonetheless is likely to face resistance from auds because of its subject matter.
Pic centers on the U.S. military squads who disarm bombs in Iraq, and given the depressing returns on other Middle East movies, Summit has its hands full.
“In the Valley of Elah” took in just $6.8 million two years ago (though Tommy Lee Jones did land an Oscar nom), “Rendition” bagged $10 million in 2007 and “Stop-Loss” grossed $11 million last year.
Since then, the November presidential election saw Americans voting for change, including the U.S. role in Iraq, and the Obama administration shift its focus from Iraq to Afghanistan. In short, the country’s tired of Iraq.
So Summit is going the counterprogrammming route, with trailers and ads that suggest more of an urban cop thriller than Baghdad bomb squads. Universal tried a similar tack with its Saudi Arabia-set “The Kingdom,” emphasizing the sleuthing behind a terrorist explosion and the personal relationships between law enforcement officers over regional politics, but the pic bagged just $47 million domestically after opening September 2007.
Summit is also staying out of the fall scramble for kudos, despite having received laudatory reviews and a Venice film fest grand prize. The banner has opted for a platform release at four theaters starting on June 26 — the same date that Paramount goes wide with “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and Warner’s launches “My Sister’s Keeper.”
“We’re well aware of the history of Iraq War movies,” says Summit co-chief Rob Friedman. “We have absolutely great reviews and word of mouth and by this time of the summer we think that adults are going to be eager for this brand of entertainment. Don’t drink any coffee before you see it — it starts fast and goes faster.”
Mark Boal, who had story credit on “Elah,” wrote the screenplay after spending several weeks embedded with an Army bomb squad. Bigelow shot the film in Vancouver and Jordan and set it in 2004 in Baghdad.
Summit bought the film nearly a year ago at the Toronto film festival.
“We fell in love with it,” Friedman recalls. “We see this as being about heroes like Steve McQueen and John Wayne, and it just happens to be set in Iraq.”
Summit, which screened the pic at ShoWest, will expand “Locker” cautiously over the summer rather than wait for awards season.
“It’s way too crowded in the fall for a movie like this to work as well as we’d like it to,” Friedman notes. “During the fall, it becomes a hundred-yard dash.”