Sony Classics to Theaters: Help Woody’s ‘Midnight’ Break the Record, or Else!

The studio has been unusually aggressive, threatening to take exhibitors off service if they don't help "Midnight" become Allen's most profitable film ever

Sony Pictures Classics is nearing a real milestone with Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," and the company is pulling out all the stops to get there.

Michael Barker, Woody Allen and Tom BernardAccording to exhibitors, SPC co-presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard (left, with Allen in 2009) have been unusually assertive and aggressive in calling theaters — threatening to take exhibitors off service if they don't keep "Midnight" on as many screens as possible.

"I never  hear from them," one exhibitor told TheWrap on condition of anonymity. "But I got a call from Michael, and his whole pitch was that this could become Woody's biggest movie ever."

"Midnight in Paris" passed the $35 million mark on Wednesday, and heads into the weekend less than $5 million behind the $40.1 million gross that made 1986's "Hannah and Her Sisters" the biggest grosser in Allen's career of more than 40 years.

"Absolutely," said Barker when TheWrap asked if SPC has been unusually aggressive with exhibitors on the film. "We're always aggressive, but especially with this one, because the word-of-mouth is so good that it's very easy to make a compelling argument to exhibitors that the movie has staying power."

The argument is compelling indeed — even a certain boy wizard by the name of "Harry Potter" may not be able to forestall what is looking more and more inevitable.

Midnight in Paris

Another decent weekend will more than cut the gap between "Midnight" and "Hannah" in half, quite possibly pushing it past Allen's third-highest-grossing film, "Annie Hall" ($38.3 million), and putting it within striking distance of his number two, "Manhattan" ($39.9 million). 

If it continues playing for a few more weeks, even if it drops substantially every week, it's hard to imagine that it won't soon become Allen's top earner, giving Sony Classics significant bragging rights.

"It feels very likely," Barker told TheWrap this week. "The picture has obvious staying power, and is playing equally well in arthouses and in multiplexes that have never played Woody Allen before."

The key to turning the trick is to hang on to as many "Midnight" screens as possible — and with "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" already selling out thousands of showings, that film is primed to gobble up enormous amounts of multiplex real estate when it opens on July 15.

The fact that "Midnight" is playing in those multiplexes in addition to Allen's usual arthouses means that it will be fighting for screens with the likes of "Potter," "Transformers" (currently occupying more than 4,000 theaters) and "Zookeeper" and "Horrible Bosses" (which together are debuting in more than 6,000 houses on Friday).

"We seem to have survived 'Transformers' and 'Cars 2,' so we feel confident that we can survive 'Harry Potter' too," said Barker.

"Midnight" hit a high of 1,038 theaters on the weekend of June 17, then lost 87 of those theaters the following weekend and another 93 the week after that.

But this weekend, according to Barker, the film will only lose about 40 screens, keeping it above 800 as it enters a crucial stretch that could eliminate the gap between "Midnight" and "Hannah." 

This doesn't mean the film will be his biggest moneymaker, of course. The reported production budget for "Midnight in Paris" is $30 million – which, given the film's substantial marketing campaign, means it's still a long way from turning a profit.

Rachel McAdams and Owen WilsonBarker said the $30 million figure seems high but he doesn't know the actual budget ("Woody and his producer are very proprietary with that information"), but that all involved are delighted with the grosses, which have been boosted by an additional $30 million-and-counting in foreign territories.

"To me, it seems like everybody is very happy, and it's going to be profitable," he said.

Assuming Barker and Bernard can persuade exhibitors not to desert the film en masse  next week, the numbers are clearly moving in their favor.

After two consecutive weeks in which the grosses dropped less than 20 percent, the film must make about 13.6 percent of its total after the seventh week. Allen's two top-grossing movies of the last decade, "Vicky Christina Barcelona" and "Match Point," both had comparable figures in their post-week-seven runs: "VCB" did 11 percent of its business during that period on its way to a $23.2 million gross, while "Match Point" made 18.7 percent of its total gross of $23.1 million.

So if the screen count for "Midnight" isn’t totally wiped out by the "Harry Potter" avalanche, and the film's box-office figures decline at an increasing but not precipitous rate, Allen will get his personal best — certainly by the end of the month, quite possibly by the 20th, and perhaps even as early as the end of next week.

"We're going to get there," Barker predicted.