Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Road moved to Thanksgiving? How the expanded Best Picture category is proving a headache for cash-strapped studios.

Because nothing says Thanksgiving like an insanely depressing fable about starvation and survival in a post-apocalyptic dead zone...

Word has it
that Dimension is moving the somewhat well-reviewed The Road from October 16th to November 25th. Aside from the oddity that the film is moving from one overcrowded weekend (Law-Abiding Citizen, Step Father, Where the Wild Things Are) to another even more cutthroat weekend (Ninja Assassin, Old Dogs, the NY/LA debut of The Princess and the Frog), the fact remains that Weinstein Company's big Oscar contender Nine also opens on that very day. And yes, The Road is also a Weinstein co-production. Could Nine move to Christmas, perhaps attempting to duplicate the end-of-the-year success of Dreamgirls and Chicago?

Regardless, the big problem with this move (if it comes to pass), is that long, adult-skewing dramas never, ever do well over Thanksgiving weekend. It's why Australia tanked in that weekend last year (after it was forced to flee when Quantum Of Solace moved to its original November 14th release day). It's why Alexander got snuffed out against National Treasure and The Incredibles back in 2004. More so than other weekends, Thanksgiving weekend is when the family goes to the movies together. The list of Thanksgiving weekends is filled with family pictures, holiday heart warmers, and Disney properties. The only PG-13 or R-rated movies that opened well are genre films (End of Days, Spy Game, Unbreakable). And even for families who don't live in New York City or Los Angeles (and thus can't get into The Princess and the Frog), and get sold out by Old Dogs, do you really think that their second choice is going to be a heart wrenching end-of-the-world adventure about a man and his son fending off cold, starvation, and cannibalistic marauders? And unlike pre-Christmas weekend, it won't have the luxury of two weeks of weekend-like days to slowly build its domestic take.

On the other hand, the film only cost $20 million. So it can still open poorly and eventually make its money back. I have to wonder whether Dimension is sick of dealing with the film, which was supposed to come out last year but was pushed back (allegedly because it wasn't finished). After all, if the film accidentally becomes a hit (regardless of its release date), then the apparently cash-strapped Weinstein Company will then have pressure to mount an Oscar campaign, one in direct opposition to the awards-bait of choice (Nine). Come what may, the expanded Best Picture category is proving to be a major headache for studios that now find themselves having to seriously spend money on token Oscar campaigns. Sure, Star Trek sure as hell isn't going to win Best Picture. But if it gets nominated by some fluke, Paramount more or less has to spend money to promote it accordingly. This has already caused one high-profile date change (Paramount moved Shutter Island to February 10th partially to avoid a pricey Oscar campaign), and I imagine that it will have many repercussions. Let's face it, between the relatively lacking pre-fall slate to the cash-strapped studios now forced to mount Oscar campaigns for purely commercial pictures, this was a terrible year for the Academy to expand their Best Picture roster.

Obviously much of this is pure speculation, but it'll be interesting to see how this plays out.

Scott Mendelson

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