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‘French Dispatch’ Will Be ‘True Test’ of the Specialized Market, Searchlight Marketing Chief Says

During a NYFF panel, distribution executives said the next 4-6 weeks will be a key time to watch for the health of the specialized box office.

Wes Anderson's 'French Dispatch' to Open in Theaters This October, Plus Cannes and NYFF

“French Dispatch”

Searchlight Pictures/screencap

The light at the end of the pandemic box office tunnel may be in sight. Speaking during a New York Film Festival panel this week, executives from leading specialty distributors said they are going to be carefully watching the performance of upcoming movies like the wild French-language Cannes winner “Titane” and Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” to help gauge the path forward.

“We’re looking very carefully at what’s happening with ‘French Dispatch’ coming in the next couple of weeks,” Michelle Hooper, Searchlight’s marketing chief, said. “On [October 22] it opens in 12 cities and then we’re going to be 50 cities the following week. I think we’re going to go faster than we originally anticipated. I think it will be a real, true test of the specialized market.”

NYFF, which wraps Sunday, offered Hooper a sense of optimism about the film. The premiere was packed, it played well, and there was a line around the block for the noon showing the next day, she said.

Buoyed by the opening of “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” this weekend’s box-office total was the best since mid-February 2020, just before the pandemic shut down theaters across the county. The $130 million weekend represented about 86 percent of the total grosses from the same weekend in 2019, when “Joker” opened, IndieWire’s Tom Brueggemann reported. Searchlight is hoping that the closest thing it has to a franchise, Wes Anderson’s latest film, will do for the specialized box office what “Venom” did for the mainstream.

Indeed, Neon CEO Tom Quinn said the type of movies matter when getting people to return to theaters.

“Some of what’s not being discussed in the industry is there hasn’t been a lot of really fantastic movies for people to take the risk of feeling comfortable in a theater. Some of the larger movies certainly have generated significant mainstream box office, but the platform film, the specialized film — I think this is the first weekend. Over the next four to six weeks, we’ll see what the appetite is,” Quinn said.

Neon’s “Titane” opened over the weekend in 562 theaters, bringing in $515,000. It would be even larger, Quinn said, if the ArcLight Hollywood was open. The Sunset Boulevard theater’s owner closed it permanently in April amid pandemic business troubles. Despite its importance in launching arthouse and indie films and its historic Cinerama Dome, no plans have been announced for its reopening.

“$500,000-plus for any foreign language film, that film specifically, is a great number. But what’s missing in there is $90,000 to $100,000 from the ArcLight. That hurts in the second-biggest market,” Quinn said

Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker agrees that the right kinds of movies are key for getting people back to theaters.

“There have to be catalyst films to cause them to come back. We have seen in the history of the movie business, lulls until ‘Star Wars’ or whatever comes out and wakens everybody to go back into their filmgoing habit. There’s a feeling in a mainstream sort of way that Bond, James bond, is going to do this. And if you look at what happened in England, it did do that. People of all ages came,” Barker said.

The 25th Bond installment, “No Time to Die,” opened in the UK on September 30 to $28.45 million its first weekend. That’s part of a $121.27 million worldwide cumulative gross that rivals that of the franchise’s 2015 entry, “Spectre.”

“No Time to Die” opens in the U.S. on Friday.

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