erik lundegaard

A Universal Lack of Focus

After potential Oscar-nominee “Gran Torino” did so well at the box office, I checked out how the other Oscar contenders are faring:

Film
Studio Thtr High
Dom. B.O.
The Dark Knight
WB
4366
$531M
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Par.
2988$94M
Slumdog Millionaire
FoxS
614
$34M
Milk
Focus
356
$19M
Frost/NixonUni.
205$7M

The box office for “Dark Knight” is obviously no surprise. It’s a good film but it’s in the running because of its box office. If it had made, say, $19 million, like “Milk,” you’d be hearing crickets.

Kudos to Paramount. They put “Benjamin Button” out there and people are responding. Kudos to people.

The box office for “Slumdog Millionaire,” meanwhile, is a nice surprise but shouldn’t be. Fox Searchlight is the same studio that smartly promoted “Sideways” in 2004, “Little Miss Sunshine” in 2006, and “Juno” in 2007. Apparently they know what they’re doing. Apparently they can sell a good film with universal themes even though it’s set in a foreign country. How about that?

But WTF with Universal and its specialty division Focus Features? Two of the most talked-about films of the fall, “Milk” and “Frost/Nixon,” and moviegoers have barely had the chance to see them. Is the studio waiting for the Oscar noms before they push? What if the noms are disappointing? What if the attention goes elsewhere? What then?

Perhaps I should cut Focus Features some slack — they slipped “Brokeback Mountain” into a homophobic America in 2005 and made $83 million — and one assumes the strategy for “Milk” is similar. But then there’s this worrisome report from Patrick Goldstein.

More, Focus’ strategy with “Milk” isn’t looking at all like their strategy for “Brokeback.” Check out the theater totals for the first seven weekends of both “Brokeback” and “Milk”:

WK
BROKEBACK MILK
1.
 5 36
2.
 69 99
3.
 217 328
4.
 269 356
5.
 483 311
6.
 683 309
7.
 1,196 295

Meanwhile, I have no idea what Universal is doing with “Frost/Nixon.” Ron Howard has had a long-time relationship with the studio. He’s made 10 films for them, including five that made more than $100 million, including, from those five, two Oscar contenders (“Apollo 13”; “A Beautiful Mind”), and every one of those 10 films played on more than a thousand screens. One assumes they know what they’re doing with “F/N,” too. On the other hand, the studio’s last movie with Howard was “Cinderella Man,” which the studio opened wide and disastrously in June 2005. Maybe they’re gun shy. Or maybe, to stay with the Nixonian theme, it’s as Deep Throat says in “All the President’s Men”: “The truth is, these aren’t very smart guys, and things got out of hand."

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Posted at 08:30 AM on Mon. Jan 12, 2009 in category Movies - Box Office  

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