The quirky comedy more than quadrupled its theater count last weekend, picking up $2.5 million in the process and pushing its total to $5 million. Now the show business satire about a fading comicbook movie star (Keaton, in art-imitates-life form) mounting a play on Broadway is set to widen its footprint and push to the outer limits of the art house world.
Emboldened by the reception, distributor Fox Searchlight plans to expand from 56 markets to 100 next week and bolster its theater count from 231 to roughly 450.
“We believe we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as far as commercial theaters are concerned,” said Frank Rodriguez, senior vice president of distribution at Fox Searchlight. “The whole time we started out on this journey, we knew we’d grab the art house and specialty markets, but now there are indications that we can cross over to a lot of theaters.”
Rodriguez said the studio is eyeing college towns and mid-size cities such as Des Moines, Syracuse, Dayton and Corpus Christi that have healthy cinephile crowds. If “Birdman” plays well next week — a big if given that “Interstellar” and “Big Hero 6” debut — the studio could eventually have it in 600 theaters or more by the middle of November.
If the film stalls out, Fox Searchlight will likely bring it back to theaters when awards nominations are announced. Keaton is a leading best actor contender and the film, co-stars Edward Norton and Emma Stone and director Alejandro González Iñárritu could also factor into the race.
“Birdman” defies easy analysis, but instead of being off-putting, its esoteric elements are central to its commercial appeal. The film’s long, continuous shots, excoriation of comicbook culture and ambiguous ending leave plenty for audiences to digest and debate after the final credits roll, leading to a spirited back and forth on Twitter and Facebook. The social media conversation is driving interest in the film, Rodriguez said.
“It’s one of those challenging films that creates a lot of activity and noise on Twitter,” he said. “That’s giving us a younger audience that we didn’t know we’d get.”