The major acquisition deal -- one of the largest in the history of the Sundance Film Festival -- that was signed just hours after "Little Miss Sunshine" premiered in Park City has many watching to see how the film does at the box office this weekend. Not since last year's mega-deal for "Hustle and Flow" has a film taken Indiewood by storm so swiftly. But how do such major Park City pacts affect a film's eventual performance in theaters? On its first day, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com where anyone can track daily grosses, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' "Little Miss Sunshine" made $65,926 on 7 screens. By comparison, Fox Searchlight's big Toronto acquisition "Thank You For Smoking" earned more than $61,000 on 5 screens on its first day (a Friday), en route to a more than $52,584 per screen average over its first weekend (and it earned nearly $25 million in its total run earlier this year).
Watching the numbers for "Little Miss Sunshine," which Fox Searchlight has aggressively pre-screened to create buzz, will be a weekend parlor game because the movie is among a rare list of movies acquired in a double-digit million dollar deal at Sundance and each of those films has faced rather tough times in theaters. In a Reuters piece earlier this week, Bob Tourtellotte wondered about a "Sundance curse" that hurts high-profile movies acquired for big money in Park City. The other $10 million buys at Sundance were "The Spitfire Grill" (Castle Rock) which made nearly $12.7 milllion in 1996 and "Happy Texas" (Miramax) which made just under $2 million in 1999. The aforementioned "Hustle & Flow" (Paramount Classics) made $22 million last year (it was acquired as part of a 3-picture, $16 million deal).
"Little Miss Sunshine's" chart-topping 93% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes.com, a website that tracks critical reaction to films, would seem to bode well for the quirky comedy that was financed by Mark Turtletaub's Big Beach at an $8 million pricetag. After a few years in development at Focus Features, producer Turtletaub's company took the project back and would end up seeing Focus aggressively bidding to acquire the movie on the night of its Sundance debut in January. They went with Searchlight instead, in part, because of the company's recent success with darker comedies like the aforementioned "Thank You For Smoking."
Written by Michael Arndt, a former assistant to actor Matthew Broderick, "Shunshine" stars Alan Arkin, Abigail Breslin, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, and Greg Kinnear, "Little Miss Sunshine" in the story of a six-member family traveling from Albuquerque to the "Little Miss Sunshine" pageant in California.
Chatting with indieWIRE back at Sundance, hours after closing the big deal for the movie, Searchlight president Peter Rice said that he had high hopes for the picture, calling it the sort of "independent, character-driven, emotional comedy" that the company excels at releasing.
"It was a tricky script because it was clear from reading (it) what the tone of the movie should be," co-director Valerie Faris explained during an LA Film Fest Q & A session last month ahead of its closing night screening at the event. "Aspects of it were almost slapstick and madcap, but also serious and heart wrenching." Faris admitted that she and co-director Jonathan Dayton struggled considerably while at Focus, trying to preserve the integrity of the project as the Indiewood company brought in another writer.
"We thought we would never make this film, but we loved it so much, we never gave it up," Faris said.
THE LIST FOR THIS WEEK
"Another Gay Movie" (July 28), directed by Todd Stephens. Distributor: TLA Releasing. Official website
"America: Freedom to Fascism" (July 28), directed by Aaron Russo. Distributor: Cinema Libre Studio. Official website
"13 Tzameti" (July 28), directed by Gela Babluani. Distributor: Palm Pictures. Official website
"Scoop" (July 28), directed by Woody Allen. Distributor: Focus Features. Official website
"I Like Killing Flies" (July 28), directed by Matt Mahurin. Distributor: ThinkFilm. Official website
"Brothers of the Head" (July 28), directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe. Distributor: IFC Films. Official website
"Little Miss Sunshine" (July 26), directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. Distributor: Fox Searchlight. Official website
"Darshan, The Embrace" (July 26), directed by Jan Kounen. Distributor: IFC First Take. Official website