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Woody Goes Wide: Behind the Success of "Midnight In Paris"

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire June 10, 2011 at 1:18AM

From the moment it hit theaters, it was clear "Midnight in Paris" would not be your average Woody Allen box office performer. When numbers for its first night of release came in, box office analysts were taken aback: From four theaters in New York and Los Angeles, "Paris" grossed $170,953, averaging a massive $28,492. That was more than his 2010 film "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" averaged in its entire first weekend.
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From the moment it hit theaters, it was clear "Midnight in Paris" would not be your average Woody Allen box office performer. When numbers for its first night of release came in, box office analysts were taken aback: From four theaters in New York and Los Angeles, "Paris" grossed $170,953, averaging a massive $28,492. That was more than his 2010 film "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" averaged in its entire first weekend.

The following night, "Paris" increased its grosses by 25%, topping $212,876. And in an extremely rare turn of events, it increased again on Sunday, bringing its weekend total to a downright stunning $599,003. That amounted to a $99,834 per-theater-average, the 13th best ever recorded, and the 5th best for a non-Disney title (Disney often released its 1990s-era animated films in massive venues with high ticket prices, which is why they make up the top 8 per-theater-averages of all-time).

Beyond those records, it was always the best debut ever for distributor Sony Pictures Classics (surpassing Pedro Almodovar's "Broken Embraces") and the best ever for Woody himself (besting 2005's "Melinda and Melinda").

Now, lots of films do very well in their first weekends within the safe haven for specialty film that is New York and Los Angeles, and then begin to disappoint the moment they start expanding (see: "Melinda and Melinda"). But in the three weeks since "Midnight in Paris" debuted, it's clear it's not one of those films.

After two weekends of steady expansion, the film has grossed $7,755,165 (as of June 8), so far reaching a maximum of 147 theaters. As a result, Sony Pictures Classics will take "Paris" where few Woody Allen films have gone before: Everywhere.

Today, "Midnight in Paris" will reach 944 screens across North America. That's the second widest release ever for an Allen film ("Anything Else" hit 1,033 in its debut weekend, though "Paris" has already doubled that film's final gross).

All of this begs the question: What is it about "Paris" that has made it a success story? How come it seems to be heading for a gross north of $30 million, the highest grossing Allen film since 1986's "Hannah and Her Sisters?"

Essentially, there seems like there's been a perfect storm of reasons.

For one, opening within a week of its Cannes debut was a very smart move by Sony Pictures Classics. The many among us not so privileged to be on the Croisette usually have to wait until the fall to see what Cannes had to offer, but "Paris" opened before the festival was even over.

It also benefited from the slew of international press covering the film in Cannes, which was essentially a mass amount of free publicity (a similar strategy seems to have also helped "The Tree of Life").

"We set this date the minute we thought it might open Cannes," Sony Classics' Michael Barker told indieWIRE Thursday. "We thought it would be overwhelmingly good for the film."

One thing that Sony Classics didn't plan was go wide June 10. The initial plan was to go nationwide June 24, but by the second weekend, Barker and company knew they had to change their tune.

"On that second weekend, we took many, many mainstream theaters that don't normally play specialized films," he said. "And the numbers were as high there than they were anywhere else. That told us we could move the date up. Because we felt it was a perfect moment."

It's difficult to overemphasize just how strong some of the "Paris" numbers have been. As Anne Thompson notes over at Thompson on Hollywood, the film has broken weekly house records at an eclectic mix of theaters ranging from The Landmark in Los Angeles to the Bethesda Row in Bethesda, Maryland.

Thompson also notes another big reason why the film is hitting such a high note with audiences: "It’s escapist, magical summer fun, with a happy romantic ending."

Counterprogramming against summer tentpoles with an indie that has considerable mainstream appeal (in both its narrative, its stars Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams and its Paris setting) has clearly been a huge factor in "Paris"'s success. Michael Barker noted Sony Classics purposely opened it opposite the fourth "Pirates of the Caribbean" film.

"So many movies were staying away," he said. "We were the perfect alternative to that. It really is a magical film, and it's the kind of entertainment that never really goes out of vogue. It helps that it has elements that are mainstream."

It also helps that reviews have been some of the strongest Allen has seen in the past two decades, with "Paris" joining the likes of "Match Point" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (both among Allen's top 5 grossing films) as a rare late-in-his-career critical hit. The Playlist even mused as to whether it could end up being an Oscar contender.

Whatever happens from here on in, Woody Allen, Sony Pictures Classics, and everyone else involved with "Midnight in Paris" have reason to be optimistic. While Barker was not about to predict a final gross for "Paris,' he did say that he expects it to have a lengthy date with theatrical audiences.

"The thing important to know," Barker said, "is that part of our strategy to keep it on the screen as long as possible. We feel it's going to play throughout the summer. We think this is a film that has a very long life in theaters."

Check out some of Woody Allen's box office history below, including a prediction as to where "Midnight in Paris" might finally land within it:

Top 10 Grossing Woody Allen Films

1. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986): $40,084,041
2. Manhattan (1979): $39,946,780
3. Annie Hall (1977): $38,251,425
4. Midnight In Paris (2011): $35,000,000???
5. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008): $23,216,709
6. Match Point (2005): $23,151,529
7. Love and Death (1975): $20,123,742
8. Sleeper (1973): $18,344,729
9. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989): $18,254,702
10. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask (1972): $18,016,290


Top 10 Per-Theater-Averages For Woody Allen Films

1. Midnight In Paris (2011): $99,834 (6 theaters)
2. Melinda and Melinda (2005): $74,238 (1 theater)
3. Match Point (2005): $49,824 (8 theaters)
4. Everyone Says I Love You (1996): $43,892 (3 theaters)
5. Bullets Over Broadway (1994): $43,036 (2 theaters)
6. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985): $38,031 (3 theaters)
7. Deconstructing Harry (1997): $35,647 (10 theaters)
8. Sweet and Lowdown (1999): $31,562 (3 theaters)
9. Whatever Works (2009): $29,574 (9 theaters)
10. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010): $26,684 (6 theaters)

This article is related to: Midnight in Paris







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