erik lundegaard

"The Ghost Writer": Summit Entertainment's Latest Delicate Flower

Last Friday I went to the opening-night showing of Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” at the Egyptian Theater about a mile from my home. It’s a fun movie, smart and adult, and so of course it’s only playing in 42 other theaters around the country. Not even one per state.

Will it go wider? It’s being distributed by Summit Entertainment L.L.C. (as opposed to L.P. (R.I.P.)), the minor studio responsible for both the “Twilight” movies and “The Hurt Locker.” Last November Summit opened the “Twilight” sequel in over 4,000 theaters and who knows how many screens. Last July it opened “The Hurt Locker” in four theaters and probably that many screens. During its entire, six-month run, “Locker” wound up making $12 million domestically, which the “Twilight” sequel most likely made by the first showing of the first day.

This isn’t an argument against “Twilight.” I’m not arguing against making money. I’m arguing against losing money.

Here’s the history of Summit since it became an L.L.C. in 2006. Sorted by U.S. gross:

Rank Title
RT rating*
U.S. Gross / Theaters Opening / Theaters Open
1 Twilight: New Moon 37% $296,023,000 4,124 $142,839,137 4,024 11/20/09
2 Twilight 54% $192,769,854 3,649 $69,637,740 3,419 11/21/08
3 Knowing 13% $79,957,634 3,337 $24,604,751 3,332 3/20/09
4 Push 17% $31,811,527 2,313 $10,079,109 2,313 2/6/09
5 Never Back Down 16% $24,850,922 2,729 $8,603,195 2,729 3/14/08
6 Astro Boy 46% $19,551,067 3,020 $6,702,923 3,014 10/23/09
7 Fly Me to the Moon 22% $13,816,982 713 $1,900,523 452 8/15/08
8 The Hurt Locker 97% $12,671,105 535 $145,352 4 6/26/09
9 Sorority Row 0% $11,965,282 2,665 $5,059,802 2,665 9/11/09
10 Next Day Air 22% $10,027,047 1,139 $4,111,043 1,138 5/8/09
11 Penelope 48% $10,011,996 1,207 $3,802,144 1,196 2/29/08
12 Sex Drive 54% $8,402,485 2,421 $3,607,164 2,421 10/17/08
13 Bandslam 90% $5,210,988 2,121 $2,231,273 2,121 8/14/09
14 P2 29% $3,995,018 2,131 $2,083,398 2,131 11/9/07
15 The Brothers Bloom 48% $3,531,756 209 $90,400 4 5/15/09
16 The Ghost Writer 75% $1,129,000 43 $183,009 4 2/19/10

* Rotten Tomatoes rating from top critics only

Look at those theater totals at places 9 through 14—compared with "The Hurt Locker" at no. 8 and with "The Ghost Writer," which just opened. I’ve been railing against this kind of thing for years. A.O. Scott railed better last August when he critiqued the general direction of movies:

Middle-aged actors and critically lauded directors look like extravagances rather than sound investments. Forty is the new dead. Auteur is French for unemployed. “The Hurt Locker” — the kind of fierce and fiery action movie that might have been a blockbuster once upon a time — is treated like a delicate, exotic flower, released into art houses and sold on its prestige rather than on its visceral power.

“The Hurt Locker” was Summit’s delicate flower last summer, and, because they released it delicately, they made money from it delicately. Now they’re treating “The Ghost Writer” the same way.

Again, the problem isn't that “The Ghost Writer” is released into 1/100th the number of theaters of “Twilight." It’s that it’s released into 1/50th the number of theaters of “Push” or “Never Back Down” or “Sorority Row” or “Sex Drive": Crap that nobody wants, nobody goes to, and which lose money. But at least these movies are given the chance to lose money. "The Hurt Locker" and "The Ghost Writer" aren't even given that chance.

Quality film, in other words, isn't just treated as its own genre. It's treated as a genre 50 times less important than the others.When the others lose money.

It's a greater mystery than the one the ghost writer solves.

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Posted at 01:31 PM on Sun. Feb 28, 2010 in category Movies - Studios  

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