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.

  • KISSman

    Sadly this film has been clogging up one precious screen in each of my local indy theaters which only have 2 or 3 theaters to show movies overall.

    Every once and a while, these theaters actually admit in their email blasts (because of the complaints they receive) that they sometimes have to keep showing a movie because of this very kind of situation.  While Regal and AMC have the leverage to push back, a small independent theater pretty much has to do what SPC says or they'll get cut off.

  • Joseph

    Box Office Figures
    to being
    Woody Allen's
    most successful film.

    • Domenico Vincenzo Siclari

      dude…  you're right…  this will end up being his second most successful film adjusted dollar-wise since 1980…  only behind hannah and her sisters… (still pretty good)

      BUT you are ignoring worldwide appeal…  and even though there's no hard data for his older flicks…  this will probably be his most seen movie worldwide in theaters… 

      the simple dollar conversion doesn't totally work…  it represents ticket sales but not culture…  on one hand there's more theaters today and screens…  but way more options for entertainment and options to watch movies via download, cable, dvd, now netflix streaming…  it's crazy…  back in the 70's when woody had his most success because he was part of that generation…  there were few options to seeing a film

      if woody released sleeper for example today…  as is (just pretend)…  and was just as good…  there's no way in hell it would make the dollar equivalent of 81 million in the US…  (that's the adjusted figure)…  everything you wanted to know about sex is NOT making 83 million…  there are too many factors involved

      so while you are definitely correct…  it's not all black and white like that

      and the point about sony is they are gonna be happy having that little note in there…  in the united states the all time number one movie is avatar…  the studio doesn't care that adjusted for inflation it's actually gone with the wind. back then a movie was a penny and life expectancy was 29…  life very was different… 

      midnight in paris will gross well over 100 million worldwide, make tens of millions in dvd sales, rentals, streaming, tv, etc…  worldwide…  if you added up all that…  all the numbers each company took in that had territorial rights…  this prob is or will be his most successful movie

      but in the u.s., based on connecting to a generation and audiences and culture and money…  while midnight in paris is very fun…  annie hall takes the prize hands down

      • Joseph

        Most of what you write is correct – up to a point. Comparing eras is always difficult. But, when you assume that just because there are more “options for entertainment” you can't compare how Woody Allen's movies did back then Vs. today (which is, of course, true). BUT – you all you really have to do is compare how Allen's movies of the 70s did Vs. the movies of that era. A film like ANNIE HALL was the 7th biggest box office hit of the year! MANHATTEN the 6th of its year! MIDNIGHT IN PARIS probably won't land in the top 25 this year (maybe not even in the top 50). Comedy tastes change over time, so you shouldn't be just comparing current Woody grosses Vs. other art house films, but against comedies like HANGOVER II or BRIDESMAIDS. Woody's 70s films were the box office comedy hits of the era, more equivalent to those kinds of titles than the specialty circuit which most of Woody's current films play out in.

        • Domenico Vincenzo Siclari

          i don't disagree…  woody was of that generation…  i don't expect him to appeal broadly to this generation… but it is impressive he's managed to stay somewhat relevant

          but i'm thinking worldwide… in other countries there is a different attitude…  young people go and see him…  plus worldwide this film is quite successful…

          the best way like you point out is ranking vs the amount of money

  • Steven Kaye

    Get your facts right – Sony Pictures Classics did not come up with the $30 million production budget – they simply paid for the US distribution rights (worth about $6 or $7 million). The Spain-based Mediapro financed the film, and seeing as it's already made $65 million worldwide from just 8 countries and is guaranteed to surpass the $100 million mark, then, yes, it will make a very tidy profit.

    As for the tired old inflation argument, when all is said and done Midnight in Paris will still be Woody Allen's most financially successful film outside of the 70s, with the sole exception of Hannah and Her Sisters.

    • Joseph

      Steven Kaye – I guess the only thing more “tired” than the inflation argument are the Hollywood flacks (and apologists) who will tout any old new film as some kind of box office milestone WITHOUT taking into account history. This way, some young publicist can claim that some run-of-the mill current horror film like INSIDIOUS outgrossed 1978's HALLOWEEN!
      Yeah, it's technically true, but, inflation adjusted, HALLOWEEN almost TRIPLED INSIDIOUS’ gross.
      So, what is the more “successful” horror film?
      Put, it this way: If it were YOUR money – which of the two would YOU rather have invested in???

    • Jon Stevens

      This is terrific information and what makes the comments on articles sometimes exceedingly valuable. Thanks. 

  • Domenico Vincenzo Siclari

    how can someone who follows the industry not understand that sony didn't make the movie or pay 30 million? they just bought the rights for the u.s. marjet, prob in the 6-8 million range, so 40+ million, plus dvd and tv sales…  they are making a hefty profit

    mediapro… a spanish company… financed the movie and prob have already profited from presales

  • Coxdancox

    If most of you are living under rocks, you perhaps don't realize that Sony Classics buy rights to distribute films, a process Sony Classics has done for more than 20 years. Each year, they rake throught litterbox at Cannes at the end of the festival and pull out five or 10 different titles for minimal money. This is why Michael Barker and Tom Bernard are brilliant about earning Sony $$$ on the distribution end. And I wouldnt’ be so sure about $6 million to $7 million for distrib rights.Actually, to Sony Classics credit, that sounds bit high.