(Correction: The Weinstein Company is not the U.S. distributor of Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom, as was originally indicated in this article. TWC is currently the foreign sales representative.)
Spirits were high Thursday night at the New Beverly in West Hollywood. A packed house filled with die-hard exploitation fans, who had lined up earlier in the day to watch Grindhouse in a charmingly rundown theater reminiscent of the bygone sleaze palaces of the 70s and 80s, was cheering as Planet Terror roared to life. Less than ten minutes into Robert Rodriguez’s invigorating homage to Umberto Lenzi’s best/worst work (it’s synonymous anyway), a grinning Quentin Tarantino slipped into the house, and no one in attendance seemed to register his presence: that’s how sensationally well the movie was working. A few moments later, Harvey Weinstein lumbered down to where Tarantino had ensconced himself, reached over several patrons to muss up his staff ace’s hair, and then stood triumphantly to the side of the aisle for about ten minutes, watching and listening to Planet Terror as sent the audience into complete delirium. For the first time since last April, when Scary Movie 4 opened to $40 million, it looked like The Weinstein Company had a box office smash on their hands.
But if Weinstein was attempting to gauge the public’s eagerness for this kind of delightfully diseased material, he was definitely poking his head in the wrong theater. An informal survey of the house probably would’ve almost certainly revealed that less than 10% had paid to see Norbit, Wild Hogs or Ghost Rider (though the freak screaming "Ghost Rider!!!" at the top of his lungs during the opening credits of Planet Terror might very well have accounted for 10% of that film’s business). I mean, who waits for six hours to see a less than optimal presentation of Grindhouse when it’s playing at one of the nation’s best theaters, the Grauman’s Chinese, just a mile away?
This low-rent aesthetic was key in the selling of Grindhouse (reported production budget: $53 million), and, judging from Friday’s $5 million take, it’s now clear that most Americans weren’t buying it. This came as a surprise to most box office observers (including CHUD‘s Andre Dellamorte, who will have a more thorough take on these numbers tomorrow), but, once again, the studio tracking got it wrong; what was supposed to open safely in the $25 million range for the three-day will now struggle to make half of that by Monday. Long-term, the movie’s domestic total will almost surely fall short of Scary Movie 4‘s opening.
This is bad, bad news for The Weinstein Company, which might’ve launched a Viking funeral pyre instead of a franchise. Since officially opening for business in late 2005, the burly brothers Weinstein have struggled to gain any kind of footing in the marketplace. Thus far, they’ve had two unqualified hits (Scary Movie 4 and Hoodwinked), a couple of breakeven genre releases (Pulse and Wolf Creek) and no shortage of busts (The Protector, The Matador, Bobby, Hannibal Rising, Breaking and Entering, Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker, etc.). Worse, one of their big hopes for this spring – the Scarlett Johansson starring, bestseller-based The Nanny Diaries – recently got booted to a no-confidence September 7th opening. Meanshile, looking forward to the rest of their 2007 slate, there are only two movies with realistic breakout potential (Frank Darabont’s The Mist and Michael Moore’s Sicko).
This would all be even more dire if the Weinstein’s didn’t own the domestic distribution rights to Rodriguez’s Sin City 2, which appears to be the company’s sole 2008 box office juggernaut. As for Tarantino, well, this is where it gets interesting. Though he’s been out-of-step with the public before, this is the first time he’s attempted to deliver an unabashed crowd-pleaser and missed at the box office. I’ve heard rumblings that his next project won’t be the WWII men-on-a-mission homage Inglorious Bastards, which would be fine by me. What worries me, however, is that, as has been his wont since Pulp Fiction, he might take his time to get this script right rather than plow through it like he did with Death Proof. This would be bad for film lovers and particularly bad for the Weinsteins, who desperately need their Babe Ruth to step back in the batter’s box right now; if Tarantino takes a year to refine this particular screenplay, there might not be a Weinstein Company to make it once he’s finished.
But the Weinstein’s have always surprised us. At Miramax, they would spend top market dollar for all kinds of independent and foreign acquisitions, shelve them for years and then barely release them. Somehow, they made money doing this; then again, they also had many years of prior successes to offset these financial blunders. This is a luxury The Weinstein Company does not have.