Fox Searchlight counterprograms 'Avengers,' with older-skewing film

Given “The Avengers” record-shattering $207 million opening, it’s no wonder most distribs chose to avoid the May 4-6 weekend. But Fox Searchlight successfully braved the Disney blockbuster by bowing baby-boomer pic “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in limited release.

“Hotel,” which toplines older A-list Brit thesps Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy, and already has amassed $72.8 million overseas, managed an end run around “Avengers” in North America, playing to sold out matinees and primetime shows by appealing to a largely over-50 crowd. The film bowed in 12 markets (27 domestic locations) for a per-screen average of $27,298, and a total of $737,051 through May 6.

Such a summer counterprogramming move isn’t unusual, but going up against a juggernaut like “Avengers” is always risky.

Still, targeting over-50 auds is a shrewd tactic for distribs, as that segment marks the most consistent group of frequent moviegoers in the U.S. and Canada. Attendance among auds 50-59 has increased steadily over the past three years, according to the Motion Picture Assn. of America’s 2011 theatrical market statistics report.

Fox Searchlight expanded “Hotel” on May 11 to an additional 24 markets, totaling upward of 150 engagements. The pic will be in approximately 800 theaters by Memorial Day weekend.

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