MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

Barking Up the Same Tree

The opening salvo of 2009 looked a lot like the last gasp of 2008 with cuddly Marley and Meleading ticket sales with an estimated $24.2 million. Despite the absence of new national releases box office rose 9% from last year’s first weekend.

Initial data pegs domestic revenues for 2008 at $9.79 billion and a slight 1% increase from the prior year. However admissions once again declined. The drop in ticket sales is approximately 6%.

Holdover titles generally experienced declines between 20% and 35% and overall that translated into weekend sales of close to $155 million. That equated to a 25% drop from last weekend. A year agoNational Treasure: Book of Secrets topped the charts with box office of $20.1 million while Junoedged out I Am Legend by $150,000 with a $15.9 million tally.

The final days of the year provided two more Oscar qualifiers — both with Holocaust themes.Defiance, the fact-based tale of Jewish resistance fighters in Poland, grossed a hefty $121,000 from two screens while Good, the tale of a German intellectual coerced into the Nazi party, grossed $9,200 in two theaters.

The glut of late-year award contenders largely held their ground with the exception of The Reader, which added 282 engagements and maintained a good screen average. Revolutionary Road went from three to 38 playdates and posted a $25,530 average. But the sturdiest challenger remainedGran Torino with a $33,450 average as it continued in 84 locations.

Still there’s no clear sense from box office which films will be the biggest beneficiaries of Oscar, Globe, et al largesse. Slumdog Millionaire, minimally expected to be a major presence in high-profile categories, currently has grossed $28.6 million and won’t widen for several weeks, while limited exposure for Frost/Nixon has amassed $6.3 million and Doubt is at $18.6 million.

Regardless, what appeared to be a wide field of prospects for critical kudos has shaken down quite rapidly to a narrow few. That’s emboldened Warners to re-issue The Dark Knight nationally this month, but prospects of a similar strategy for Wall-E will largely turn on whether it receives a best picture nomination from the Academy on January 20.

Waltz with Bashir will undoubtedly receive a commercial boost should it receive the unprecedented hat trick of nomination in foreign-language, animated and documentary categories.

– Leonard Klady

Weekend Estimates – January 2-4, 2009

Title Distributor Gross (averag % chan Theate Cume
Marley and Me Fox 24.2 (6,910) -33% 3505 106.7
Bedtime Stories BV 20.6 (5.580) -25% 3684 85.7
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Par 18.2 (6,110) -32% 2988 78.8
Valkyrie MGM 13.8 (4,980) -34% 2778 60.6
Yes Man WB 13.7 (3,990) -18% 3434 79.3
Seven Pounds Sony 10.0 (3,610) -24% 2758 60.1
The Tale of Despereaux Uni 7.0 (2,260) -21% 3091 43.7
Doubt Miramax 4.9 (3,820) -8% 1287 18.6
The Day the Earth Stood Still Fox 4.9 (2,080) -37% 2337 74.4
Slumdog Millionaire Fox Searchlight 4.6 (7,580) 8% 612 28.6
Twilight Summit 4.5 (2,360) -6% 1888 176.7
Bolt BV 3.3 (1,900) -3% 1729 109.9
The Spirit Lionsgate 3.2 (1,280) -50% 2509 17.7
Four Christmases WB 2.9 (1,240) -41% 2307 118.2
Gran Torino WB 2.8 (33,450) 21% 84 9.7
Milk Focus 1.8 (5,880) 3% 309 17.1
The Reader Weinstein Co. 1.5 (3,840) 130%- 398 3.5
Frost/Nixon Uni 1.4 (6,990) 5% 205 6.3
Quantum of Solace Sony 1.2 (1,300) -17% 891 166.9
Australia Fox 1.1 (1,470) 4% 765 46.7
Revolutionary Road Par Vantage .97 (25,530) 410% 38 1.4
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa Par .93 (1,310) 1% 707 176.9
The Wrestler Fox Searchlight .43 (24,110) 12% 18 1.8
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $147.50
% Change (Last Year) 9%
% Change (Last Week) -25%
Also debuting/expanding
Ghajini Adlabs .24 (9,280) -69% 83 2.1
Defiance Par Vantage .12 (60,500) 2 0
Last Chance Harvey Overture .11 (17,670) 9% 6 0.35
Waltz with Bashir Sony Classics 75,300 (6,840) 51% 11 0.18
Good Thinkfilm 9,200 (4,600) 2 0.01

Domestic Market Share – To December 28, 2008

Distributor (releases) Gross Mrkt Share
Warner Bros. (29) 1753.6 18.30%
Paramount (17) 1563.7 16.40%
Sony (26) 1268.8 13.30%
Universal (22) 1107.9 11.60%
Buena Vista (18) 990.3 10.40%
Fox (24) 987.9 10.30%
Lions Gate (21) 436.8 4.60%
Summit (5) 222.9 2.30%
Fox Searchlight (9) 211.7 2.20%
MGM (17) 148.9 1.60%
Focus (7) 138.8 1.40%
Overture (8) 102.9 1.10%
Paramount Vantage (12) 87.9 0.90%
Miramax (10) 78.3 0.80%
Picturehouse (7) 63.3 0.70%
New Line (4) 61.8 0.60%
Other * (326) 335.8 3.50%
* none greater than 0.5% 9561.3 100.00%

Top Domestic Grossers – To December 28, 2008

Title Distributor Gross
The Dark Knight WB 530,896,852
Iron Man Par 318,338,993
Indiana Jones & Kingdom of th Par 317,023,851
Hancock Sony 229,431,675
Wall-E BV 223,790,234
Kung Fu Panda Par 215,915,512
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa Par 174,862,381
Twilight Summit 167,325,198
Quantum of Solace Sony 164,302,659
Horton Hears a Who Fox 154,529,439
Sex and the City WB 152,647,258
Mamma Mia! Uni 144,195,815
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian BV 141,682,713
The Incredible Hulk Uni 134,617,678
Wanted Uni 134,512,024
Get Smart WB 130,335,095
Juno * Fox Searchlight 115,568,583
Four Chrismases WB 111,588,896
Tropic Thunder Par 110,562,193
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dra Uni 103,183,080
Bolt BV 102,423,519
Journey to the Center of the Earth WB 101,704,370
Step Brothers Sony 101,294,165
Eagle Eye Par 101,111,837
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan Sony 100,112,110
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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon