MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

The Weekend of Tears

The Gridiron Gang ascended, comparatively speaking, to weekend prominence with an estimated opening gross of $14.7 million. Three other films made their national debuts and followed in the rankings with the period whodunit The Black Dahlia bowing to $10.5 million; the animated baseball pic Everybody’s Hero was next with $6 million and the thirtysomething comedy-drama The Last Kiss rounded out the quartet at $4.7 million.

None of the films played quite to expectations. Overall weekend revenues were roughly $75 million for a slight 9% boost from seven days earlier. However, they lagged behind the 2005 frame by 11% when Just Like Heaven took top spot with a $16.4 million launch.

It appears that all sport-themed movies must now be based upon a true story and The Gridiron Gang is no exception. The new entry centers on a teacher’s efforts to mold the character of a group of juvenile detainees by teaching them to play as a team and learn cooperation and self dignity. Tracking anticipated an $18 million bow but the recent release of another true football saga – Invincible – likely dampened its appeal.

Similarly some pundits were predicting as much as a $20 million debut for the adaptation of James Ellroy’s novel The Black Dahlia. It was more reasonable to translate data to project $15 million on the high end. Exit polls confirmed the fictionalized version of the infamous 1940s murder case drew a crowd that skewed 30 years and older and just last weekend one could see tepid results for Hollywoodland that has a significant number of comparably appealing elements.

While hardly the film that caused the dam to bust on animated fare for kids and parents, Everybody’s Heroes was further confirmation that there’s a ceiling to this audience. And of greater significance is the fact that there’s no guarantee the pictures will open to $10 million; will have better stamina than live-action fare or will exceed its box office by 100% in DVD sales.

The Last Kiss, loosely based on an Italian success, appeared to be caught between a specialized or mainstream release and the tween approach was not the solution. Again, audience response was lukewarm.

A scan of current films in wide release that are still grossing in excess of $500,000 reveals but a single title (the Pirates sequel) aimed at broad appeal that emerged as a summer success. The other unqualified hits that include Talladega Nights, Step Up, Little Miss Sunshine and The Illusionist were all initially narrowly targeted and that’s not particularly edifying news for major distributors. The aforementioned quartet while profitable cannot generate the hefty returns that bankroll a studio or makeup for high profile movies that strike out in the marketplace.

Industry anxiety essentially breaks down to the grim prospect that if there really is a cultural shift in where and how the audience elects to see movies, its construct for ensuring profitability has to be radically altered. Historically Hollywood has been averse to change; adapting most often when the situation was catastrophic.

The frame was also very active with niche openers with a better than expected $332,000 launch at 164 locations for Artie Lange’s Beer League. It bowed in general release in New York, Cleveland and Philadelphia and its performance should earn it additional regional exposure.

The most impressive new entry was the critically embraced documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon with slightly more than $72,000 from six theaters. There was also an unexpectedly potent near $30,000 tally for the Rowan Atkinson comedy Keeping Mum, albeit on just two screens.

The rest of the freshmen slate proved lackluster including non-fiction fare such as Jesus Camp and The Ground Truth, the Brit import Confetti and the Orlando Bloom drama Haven. Initial launches ranged from eight to 24 playdates and none were able to generate as high as a $2,000 location average.

– by Leonard Klady

Weekend Estimates – September 15-17, 2006

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change Theaters Cume
The Gridiron Gang  Sony 14.7 (4,210) x 3501 14.7
The Black Dahlia Uni 10.5 (4,700) x 2226 10.5
Everyone’s Hero Fox 6.0 (2,090) x 2896 6
The Last Kiss Par 4.7 (3,470) x 1357 4.7
The Covenant Sony 4.7 (1,740) -47% 2681 15.7
Invincible BV 3.9 (1,390) -30% 2830 50.9
The Illusionist YF/FS/Odeon 3.5 (2,450) -22% 1438 23
Little Miss Sunshine Fox Searchlight 3.3 (2,320) -22% 1436 46.4
Crank Lions Gate 2.8 (1,290) -42% 2177 24.5
Hollywoodland Focus 2.7 (1,760) -54% 1548 10.5
The Protector Weinstein Co. 2.3 (1,520) -54% 1541 8.9
The Wicker Man WB 2.0 (850) -50% 2407 20.7
Talladega Nights Sony 1.9 (1,010) -36% 1912 145
Barnyard Par 1.6 (870) -41% 1818 69.1
Accepted Uni 1.4 (950) -45% 1458 34.1
Step Up BV 1.3 (920) -49% 1408 63.5
Pirates of Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest BV 1.2 (1,160) -39% 1039 418.3
World Trade Center Par 1.1 (720) -59% 1474 69.1
How to Eat Worms New Line .68 (610) -54% 1121 12.3
Beerfest WB .52 (730) -63% 714 18.4
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $70.80 x x x
% Change (Last Year) x -11% x x x
% Change (Last Week) x 9% x x x
Also debuting/expanding
Artie Lange’s Beer League Echo Bridge .33 (2,020) x 164 0.33
The U.S. vs. John Lennon Lions Gate 72,400 (12,070) x 6 0.07
Haven FreeStyle/YFG 38,300 (1,600) x 24 0.04
Keeping Mum Thinkfilm 29,800 (14,900) x 2 0.03
Confetti Fox Searchlight 21,200 (1,770) x 12 0.02
Jesus Camp Magnolia 17,600 (1,170) x 15 0.02
The Ground Truth Focus 14,700 (1,840) x 8 0.01
Al Franken: God Spoke Balcony 9,900 (4,950) x 2 0.01


The Summer Chart: May 4 – September 4, 2006

Distributor Gross Percentage % change 2005 Rank 2005
Buena Vista 786 20.90% 275% 7
Sony 704.1 18.70% 351% 8
Fox 543.5 14.40% -34% 1
Paramount * 499.3 13.30% -36% 3 & 6
Warner Bros. 417 11.10% -37% 2
Universal 379.1 10.10% 29% 4
Lions Gate 67.8 1.80% -18% 10
New Line 51.7 1.40% -82% 5
Fox Searchlight 47.4 1.30% N/A N/A
MGM 35.8 0.90% N/A N/A
Focus  32.5 0.90% -34% 11
Weinstein Co. 30.2 0.80% N/A N/A
FreeStyle 25.3 0.70% N/A N/A
Paramount Classics 25 0.70% -19% 12
Other ** 114.1 3.00% 17% N/A
* includes DreamWorks 3758.8 100.00% 5.80% x

Domestic Market Share: January 1 – August 24, 2006

Sony (21) 1108.6 17.80%
Buena Vista (18) 1084.5 17.40%
Fox (18) 988.9 15.90%
Universal (15) 675.6 10.80%
Paramount (11) 633.3 10.20%
Warner Bros. (15) 623.3 10.00%
Weinstein Co. (10) 208.6 3.30%
Lions Gate (13) 192.3 3.10%
New Line (8) 139.5 2.20%
Focus (9) 132.5 2.10%
Fox Searchlight (8) 112.9 1.80%
MGM (3) 52.6 0.80%
Sony Classics (16) 49.9 0.80%
Other * (196) 233.6 3.80%
* none greater than 0.45% 6236.1 100.00%
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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

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~ David Simon