By David Poland email@example.com
Why September 9 Sucks…
There are some weak release dates in the world. Things change. More of August has been colonized. Mid-January. This year, late April was turned upside down by Fast Five.
Gutsy people doing great work can break through almost any clutter or date. Others, not so much.
The first two weekends of September are not completely dead. But there does seem to be a glass ceiling on movies opened then… $75 million domestic. Two films have gotten then from that release perch. Barbershop and The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
Two more films have managed to hit $60m… Burn After Reading and Resident Evil: Afterlife.
And six others have done between $50m and $57m domestic. Once Upon a Time in Mexico, 3:10 to Yuma , Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself , Sneakers, Resident Evil: Apocalypse , and Stigmata .
In two weeks, there are two movies that I think are enormously commercial and perhaps even awards candidates. I believe that Warrior is a modern-day Rocky, complete with all the complex character relationships that Stallone tried to explore – to yawns – in Rocky II. As with Rocky, some critics scoff. But the movie is made for audiences, not critics. And guess what? The Academy is made up of audiences, not critics. Meanwhile, Contagion, which is still under embargo, is a very commercial piece.
There have never been two $50m domestic grossers released in the same year in the first two weekends of September.
So what’s the hope here? Burn After Reading, I guess. Of course, it wasn’t a drama. It was a comedy. And it was riding the coattails of an Oscar win for the Coens… and a quirky Brad Pitt performance… and Clooney… and Malkovich.
That’s probably what Focus was thinking about when they slotted The American here last year and were thrilled with a $35m domestic gross… though the movie joins a long list of films released in this time period that didn’t become part of the award season in spite of a great deal of passion from some quarters. The Constant Gardener, which opened August 30, breaking new ground at the time, got to $34 million and eventually got four Oscar nominations, winning with Rachel Weisz. (The other nominations were screenplay, score, and editing.) But no picture, director, or lead actor.
For me, Warrior is an underdog movie that needs to ride award consideration to bigger box office as it’s discovered by a wide audience, not unlike Slumdog Millionaire, but has little room to maneuver from this berth.
And Contagion should blow Outbreak‘s numbers away. But “should” and “will” are different issues. I like Outbreak, but this is a better movie. But more to the box office point, it’s been 16 years. To give you some perspective. in Outbreak‘s year of release, 1995, there was no $200m domestic movie at all and just ten $100m domestic grossers. This year we have five $200m+ movies and twenty over $100m domestic already.
Strong box office could lead Contagion to some awards nominations (especially score and editing). But Outbreak‘s $67.7m would be the #3 gross in history for a release during the first two weekends in September… and just $8.2m from a new record.
Every single $100m grossing September release opened on or after September 18. Moreover, the films that have hit bigger numbers later in September seem to have more in common with these two films than the biggest grossers from the first half of the month. Neither film is primarily for “urban” audiences or are extreme genre. But just a couple of weeks later and you see successes like Fatal Attraction, Double Jeopardy, Eagle Eye, and Se7en, seemingly closer to the Contagion movie genre vibe than those in the earlier slot. And Remember The Titans and The Town reflect Warrior.
I hope to be wrong. Sometimes, things break out. But I don’t consider either of these movies to be easy sells to a broad audience. They’re just exceptionally good genre films with arthouse skills on display. They deserve better berths.
There is so much crap out there. I don’t hate the studios for that. This is a business. And making good films is not easy, even with the very best intentions. So when two movies come along that I know will please a lot of audiences of a lot of ages if only they have a chance to see them… and I see them in a slot that makes it that much harder… it’s frustrating.
I have no idea what these two films’ Rotten Tomatoes scores will be… and I don’t really care. There is plenty to turn critics into skeptics and who knows these days what will set them off. Like True Grit last year… like The Help this summer… some movies are not about deconstruction (though I personally think both will hold up well to it), they are about The Movies and what people just plain like.
I am very hopeful about Toronto this year, even on the more commercial level. And this has been a week of really good movies. But the idea of any quality film not getting the best shot possible… sigh…
Please prove me wrong.