If you’ll remember back to a long time ago, Warner Independent picked up the film for $5 million. But they soon folded, and Warner Bros found themselves with the picture on their slate. They bumped it to a 2009 release, even though it had already been accepted at Telluride and Toronto.
Then an LA Times article hit. The focus was on Rock’n’Rolla, the Guy Ritchie movie that Warner Bros was looking to dump (and which they did dump unceremoniously in theaters), but it included some looks at other ‘orphaned’ movies. One of them was Slumdog. Warners head Alan Horn went on the record with the Times saying “I like the movie. I just don’t know how big the audience is for it.” This was, as they say on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, his final answer. Six days later, Warners sold a 50% stake to Fox Searchlight. While the Warners shield is on the poster, Searchlight has done the theatrical distribution and all the legwork since.
Warner Bros is making money on the film, but they’d rather be making all the money – and taking home all the awards – instead. Of course there’s the question of whether the movie would have done as well at awards time without the Searchlight team and the Dependent’s belief in the picture; had Warner Bros kept the movie and dumped it in the spring would it have become just another film that we championed here and was deemed the recipient of the mythical ‘CHUD curse?’* Who can say. After all, nobody knows anything.
But the important lesson to take away from this isn’t that Horn didn’t know what he was talking about or that Searchlight is THE Oscar machine in Hollywood these days but rather that there’s no reason a really good, different movie can’t triumph. Too many times we’ve seen great films flounder at the box office and the awards – just to keep it in the Warners family there was The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford just last year – and that sometimes leads to cynical thinking like that which Horn exhibited. Maybe Slumdog can remind Hollywood honchos to trust their gut every now and again – if a film moves you it will quite probably move everybody else.
But then again, nobody knows anything.
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* This curse doesn’t exist, although it’s been joked about around here. The truth is that we’re a site that likes to get behind movies that need help, which means we get behind a lot of movies that don’t do as well. Let the other sites spend all their time talking about the big moneymakers, we’re happy to stand alongside the little guy. They’re usually the better films.