MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

Granier Old Man

The national launch of Gran Torino shot down the competition with an estimated $29 million weekend box office. Still, the first trio of 2009 debuts fared well in the marketplace. The distaff comedy Bride Wars ranked second with $21.4 million; followed closer by low-budget chiller The Unborn, which bowed at $21 million. Debuting ninth with a comparably sturdy theater average was the uplifting Not Easily Broken with a $5.5 million tally.

Overall business was up significantly from 2008 with the strength of freshman and torrid expansion of award contenders easily off setting 50% to 60% declines among high profile holdover movies.

In general the performance of the top titles and new entries was substantially greater than expectations and tracking reports. Gran Torino had high-end hopes of $25 million and even that figure was viewed as perilously high, as no film by actor-director Clint Eastwood had ever cracked a $20 million bow. The strategic expansion should provide traction for the film’s prospects in the acting category and in several other Oscar ballot slots.

Bride Wars, headed by Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway, was viewed as being more competitive with Gran Torino but the weekend found it barely fending off The Unborn. The latter film is adding fuel to the Rogue label’s currency as a Screen Gem’s rival and the picture’s PG rating benefited appeal to the growing young female audience for genre entries.

There was also ample response for the Afro-centric Not Easily Broken, based upon the book byT.D. Jakes, whose previously adapted Woman Thou Art Loosed was a niche success. Whether the film has spill over benefits for actress Taraji Henson’s Oscar prospects for Benjamin Button is debatable … but it can’t hurt.

Weekend box office rang up grosses close to $150 million for a sturdy hold just 3% off of last weekend’s level. It was 14% improved from 2008 when the expansion of The Bucket List led with $19.4 million and the debut of First Sunday followed with $17.7 million.

To what degree perceived box office success affects Academy voting is difficult to assess empirically. But it does have an impact, as does the wave of kudos from critic’s groups and the tally from individual top 10 lists. MCN’s current top five cumulative scoreboard lists the following pictures (in order): Wall-E, The Dark Knight, Slumdog Millionaire, Milk and The Wrestler.

The hurdle confronting Wall-E is simply that it’s animated and a separate category exists for that type of figure; while The Wrestler looks assured to garner Mickey Rourke a nomination, it may be tough for that film to find a sufficient number of voters who feel it’s their favorite of 2008. The latter, if true, would give a leg up for sixth-place finisher The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and leave the likes of Doubt, Frost/Nixon and longer shots The Reader and Revolutionary Road battling to fill out the ballot.

And in a final note on 2008, while box office remained consistent from the prior year, actual ticket sales fell to the lowest level of the decade. That fact certainly appears to have swung the consensus among media pundits toward the view that movie-going is not recession proof.

But let’s not be too quick. Admissions have been steadily declining (with the odd anomaly) several points for two decades and the best one can say of 2008 is that the erosion might be a bit more accelerated. There’s no question that the movie audience is shrinking but whether that’s the result of the economy, studio inattention or competition from both allied and other entertainment forms requires further examination and discussion.

– Leonard Klady

Weekend Estimates – January 9-11, 2009

Title Distributor Gross (averag % chan Theate Cume
Gran Torino WB 29.0 (10,340) 889% 2808 40.1
Bride Wars Fox 21.4 (6.640) 3226 21.4
The Unborn Uni 21.0 (8,900) 2357 21.0
Marley and Me Fox 11.4 (3,280) -53% 3478 123.8
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Par 8.9 (3,030) -52% 2947 93.8
Bedtime Stories BV 8.6 (2.460) -58% 3511 97.3
Valkyrie MGM 6.6 (2.320) -53% 2838 71.4
Yes Man WB 6.2 (2,090) -56% 2955 89.4
Not Easily Broken Sony 5.5 (7,570) 724 5.5
Seven Pounds Sony 3.9 (1,430) -61% 2758 66.9
Slumdog Millionaire Fox Searchlight 3.8 (6,260) -20% 601 34.1
Twilight Summit 2.9 (1,990) -37% 1466 181.5
The Tale of Despereaux Uni 2.7 (1,170) -61% 2297 46.4
Doubt Miramax 2.6 (2,000) -49% 1287 23.0
The Day the Earth Stood Still Fox 1.5 (1,000) -70% 1512 77.3
Revolutionary Road Par Vantage 1.4 (10,520) 44% 135 3.1
Milk Focus 1.3 (4,370) -32% 295 19.2
Bolt BV 1.3 (1,140) -60% 1161 111.8
The Reader Weinstein Co. 1.3 (2,600) -17%- 507 5.5
Frost/Nixon Uni .89 (4,340) 5% 205 7.6
The Wrestler Fox Searchlight .88 (14,670) 101% 60 2.8
Australia Fox .58 (1,070) -50% 543 47.7
The Spirit Lionsgate .55 (510) -83% 1068 19.4
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $144.20
% Change (Last Year) 14%
% Change (Last Week) -3%
Also debuting/expanding
Last Chance Harvey Overture .15 (9,310) 46% 16 0.54
Waltz with Bashir Sony Classics 81,700 (7,430) 47% 11 0.37
Defiance Par Vantage 68,200 (34,100) -45% 2 0.31
Yonkers Joe Magnolia 2,250 (1,120) 2 0.01

Domestic Market Share – January 1 – December 31, 2008


Distributor (releases) Gross Mrkt Share % Change Rank
1 Warner Bros. (29) 1768.2 18.30% 25% 2
2 Paramount (17) 1578.9 16.30% 5% 1
3 Sony (26) 1277.2 13.20% 1% 4
4 Universal (22) 1115.4 11.50% 2% 5
5 Fox (24) 1014.4 10.50% 1% 6
6 Buena Vista (18) 1012.3 10.50% -25% 3
7 Lions Gate (21) 439.7 4.50% 19% 8
8 Summit (5)** 226.4 2.30% N/A
9 Fox Searchlight (9) 214.7 2.20% 62% 10
10 MGM (17) 160.5 1.70% -56% 9
11 Focus (7) 139.8 1.40% 16% 12
12 Overture (8)* 103.1 1.10% N/A
13 Paramount Vantage (13) 87.2 0.90% 44% 13
14 Miramax (10) 81.7 0.80% -35% 11
15 Picturehouse (7)* 63.3 0.70% 11% 14
16 New Line (4) 61.8 0.60% -87% 7
Other * (326) 339.9 3.50% N/A
* none greater than 0.5% 9654.5 100.00% N/A
Other Distributors

17 Weinstein Co (12) 50.7 0.50% 37% 16
18 Sony Classics (20) 40.7 0.40% 4% 15
20 Freestyle (8) 23.8 0.25% -27% 17
*New distributor
**Close distributor during 2008
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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