By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
IF WESTWOOD LOOKED LIKE a ghost town this month, it’s because all the movie hoopla moved overseas. Sony Pictures skipped the usual mind-numbing local premiere for its big, craptastic summer picture The Da Vinci Code and instead ponied up for an obscenely lavish junket aboard a specially outfitted Eurostar train destined for the film’s world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Paramount had its most preening presence in recent memory at the May 17–28 festival, and not just to promote Al Gore’s ecodoc An Inconvenient Truth. (As the newly self-deprecating Gore told the Salle Bunuel crowd that gave him a standing ovation before and after the screening, “I never thought in a million years that my little slide show would bring me to the red carpet in Cannes.”) I couldn’t figure out why these studios and others like 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. were wasting their money on a quaint relic of a rich cinematic past where a handful of stars jet in to prostitute themselves for one night before those hordes of photographers along the Boulevard de la Croisette, and then jet out again on what is basically a tax-deductible excuse for moguls to rack up exorbitant expenses at the Hotel du Cap or The Carlton. All this for what is a self-absorbed competition run by a bunch of Europeans no one’s ever heard of. In other words, who gives a rat’s ass about the Cannes Film Festival?
But then Sony’s The Da Vinci Code opened No. 1 in every country. The final May 19–21 numbers were mind-blowing for such an awful film. Jay Leno was quick to wisecrack that the Christ-centric movie’s new nickname was “The Passion of the Cash.” Altogether, it scored $231.8 million worldwide during its debut weekend: $154.7 mil of it international and $77.1 mil domestic. Film phenomenons don’t happen often in the movie biz, yet on Monday there wasn’t much talk about it in Hollywood. That’s symptomatic of how this town really hates it when good things happen to other studios.
Instead, all anyone in Hollywood could talk about was Da Vinci’s franchise value. Sony owns the rights to the main character, and, not only is Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon also the protagonist in Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, he is featured in a new book Brown is penning that takes up where Da Vinci leaves off. That means Sony has the immediate prospect of not only one but two sequels. (Just remember how Sony had that shit bomb Bewitched last summer. They were due.) How fortuitous for the studio that the Vatican made attack after attack on DVC, generating even more publicity for the already well-hyped film before it opened. Now Sony simply needs to keep the Pope on PR retainer.
So what does it all mean? I’ve seen Hollywood’s future, and it is foreign.
FROM NOW ON, BECAUSE TECHNOLOGY increasingly allows for simultaneous releases here and overseas, opening-weekend box office should be reported globally, not just domestically. Usually, foreign gross accounts for about 50 percent to 60 percent of box-office totals, but DVC’s percentage was insane. Get this: DVC ranked only No. 13 on the all-time U.S. opening weekend list, behind Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. But, internationally, it swamped Passion. It had Japan’s fifth biggest opening day ever on Saturday behind only the three Harry Potter movies and Howl’s Moving Castle (the anime film directed by Hayao Miyazaki). It earned double the take on its opening night in Italy of that nation’s previous top film, Oscar-winner Roberto Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful. The widest Hollywood release ever in China, DVC had one of the biggest opening-day box-office returns for a non-Chinese film. In Taiwan, a typhoon was expected to hit, but changed course at the last minute in time for a very strong Friday opening. The movie did huge business in Australia and New Zealand on opening day, and recorded smash openings around Europe — except in France, where there was a major soccer match on Day No. 1. But the box office bounced back on Day No. 2. As for the rotten reviews back home, the Sony suits took the attitude that U.S. critics were out of touch with the public and counted on DVC to be reviewer-proof overseas. It was.
Everything had changed back in summer 2002, when Sony Pictures had four event films: Spider-Man, the Adam Sandler comedy Mr. Deeds, and two sequels, Men in Black II and Stuart Little II. To pack the biggest profit punch, Sony sped up the dubbing and subtitling process so it could simultaneously release all four pictures globally that May, June and July — thus eliminating the usual lag of four months in Europe and a year in Japan. It marked the first time any studio tried this. From then on, the worldwide numbers were like crack for box-office addicts. Paramount’s Mission: Impossible 3 may have done mediocre biz in this country (despite that unusual pattern of heavy bulk-ticket-buying at Hollywood’s ArcLight Theater, which just happens to be located right near the Church of Scientology Celebrity Center), but it did way better overseas.