Epic film facing marketing difficulties overseas

Benicio del Toro got a big shoutout at the SAG Awards from Sean Penn. But otherwise it’s been a rough road for “Che,” Steven Soderbergh‘s two-part Che Guevara opus.

The $60 million pic was always viewed as a tough sell given its four-hour running time and oddball dramatic structure.

It got a chilly reception last May at Cannes, received mixed reviews at best and while initially forwarded as potential kudos bait, the film landed no Oscar noms on Jan. 22. IFC, which picked up U.S. rights at Toronto, reported a moderate domestic gross of $164,142 at 35 locations over the Jan. 23-25 weekend after the noms were announced.

Overseas grosses are somewhat better, with about $20 million from a half-dozen major markets, led by Spain at $9.7 million.

But the pic’s rollout faced a significant hurdle overseas: Wild Bunch, the French company that put up the majority of coin, sold off most markets long ago, so there’s no coordination of marketing efforts abroad — and, now, no Oscar buzz.

Distrib vets say the situation highlights a major problem with pre-sales: “Local distributors have no incentive to do anything but get their investment back, so you have no way of building any momentum when you have a film like this one that’s going to need special handling,” says one distrib vet.

And while Che himself has iconic status around much of the globe, the film itself was not a property with a lot of recognition along the lines of “The Golden Compass” and “Sex and the City,” two pics that pre-sold foreign but scored bigtime.

“Che” still has rollouts set for Australia on Feb. 19, Italy on Feb. 20, Germany on Feb. 26, Sweden on March 20 and Holland on April 2.

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