As some countries reopen theaters, Woody Allen’s “A Rainy Day in New York” is leading the box office in Norway and South Korea. However, what does #1 really mean during a global pandemic? In this case, it means that the film has no studio competition; that it can triumph even with an anemic per-theater average ($603 in South Korea); and, that no one should underestimate the pull of its star, Timothée Chalamet.
Allen’s films do well in foreign markets; stateside, not so much. His most recent domestic distributor, Amazon Studios, dropped “Rainy Day” in 2018 in the face of Dylan Farrow’s accusations that he molested her as a child. While no theatrical distributor would want that association, the cynical view is that the temptation to pick it up might not have been great: For years, his overseas grosses have beaten domestic by more than 3:1.
So far, “Rainy Day” has grossed more overseas than “Wonder Wheel” in 2017 ($14.6 million) and a little less than “Irrational Man” in 2015 ($23 million); “Cafe Society” in 2016 grossed $33 million. If “Rainy Day” does suggest something of an improvement, it could be because of its leading man; Chalamet portrays college journalist Gatsby Welles, who visits New York with his girlfriend (Elle Fanning) to interview director Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber).
With both Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” and “Dune” planned for this year, Chalamet has rising foreign interest along with zooming domestic appeal. “Little Women,” which is far better known as an American literary property, grossed nearly as much overseas as domestic. It’s currently set as one of the titles that will reopen Chinese theaters, adding to its nearly $100 million overseas so far.
Arguably, Chalamet’s presence could serve as enough of a hook to get the film released in the U.S. Rights to the film reverted to Allen last year, and theaters will face limited product when they initially reopen. Still, that might prove a bit too much of a risk for exhibitors, particularly with New York and Los Angeles likely to be among the last theaters to return.
But what about the VOD market? So far, the film’s exposure to American audiences has been limited to those who might have watched it on airline entertainment, and VOD thrives on films built around major names. Just last week, Liam Hemsworth propelled “Arkansas” to strong interest; a new Timothée Chalamet movie would likely score with home viewers. It wouldn’t even require a distributor, since Allen’s company could do it direct with minimal marketing costs and huge, albeit controversial, media coverage.
Of course, the attendant controversy might scare off a VOD-centered company like Vertical or Millennium, or even platforms like iTunes and cable companies. Still, they would likely face less blowback than a theatrical release from a mainstream distributor. It’s already happening in the UK, where theaters are closed until at least July: Signature Entertainment, primarily a home platform distributor, has scheduled it for June 5.
Another option: Top art houses are developing their own virtual programming, usually with a distributor as partner. There are few titles that would have the immediate awareness of this one.
Of course, there’s another element to consider here and that’s Chalamet himself. Presumably, he’d prefer that the film didn’t receive additional stateside exposure: In January 2018, in the midst of the Dylan Farrow controversy, he announced on Instagram that he did not want to profit from the film.