‘It Follows’ Plays David to ‘Furious 7’s’ Goliath at Box Office

Some small films taking on blockbusters have done quite well … while others have become cannon fodder

It takes courage, confidence or just chutzpah to go head-to-head with a certain blockbuster like “Furious 7,” Universal’s powerhouse sequel which is expected to dominate this weekend’s box office race.

Radius and Dimension must have a bit of all of those qualities, because they’re expanding “It Follows,” their well-reviewed teen horror film, into 1,605 theaters for this weekend, its fourth in release.

“We knew like every other studio that “Furious 7” had circled this date, and we know it will be enormous,” Jason Janego, who is the Radius co-president along with Tom Quinn, told TheWrap Thursday. “But we wanted to maintain momentum and it’s an opportunity to get the film in front of ticket buyers.”

The R-rated “It Follows” is no box-office slouch, having finished fifth nationally with $3.8 million from 1,218 theaters in its wide opening last weekend. The R-rated creeper written and directed by David Robert Mitchell has grossed $5.6 million so far domestically, and is at 95 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes.

It won’t be a fair fight, of course. “Furious 7” cost $190 million to make, compared to less than $2 million for “It Follows,” and it will be in 4,003 theaters. And significantly, movies usually don’t compete against each other — they compete against their cost. In other words, no company minds if its movie comes in second, or 12th for that matter, as long as it makes money.

Movies that take on can’t-miss hits at the box office generally fall into two groups. The first is comprised of those that successfully counter-program the blockbusters.

Fox did that in February, taking on the sexy romance “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which skewed very female. It rolled out the Colin Firth spy spoof “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” which was R-rated like “Fifty Shades,” and males drove its debut to $41 million over the four days. To be fair, “Kingsman” had an $85 million production budget and was hardly an indie. It has since gone on to gross more than $320 million.

“Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” was another film that found success despite being overshadowed. This one was never going to be close, since Disney and Marvel’s “The Avengers” was in 4,349 theaters and “Best Exotic” was in 27.

The gentle tale of British seniors finding lodging and happiness in India took in $737,051 and “The Avengers” debut was the biggest in history at $207 million.

Still, “Best Exotic” came out of the superheroes’ shadow and went on to take in $136 million globally; not bad for a movie that cost $10 million to make.

“There were really no other films trying to compete with ‘The Avengers,’ and neither were we,” recalled Fox Searchlight distribution chief Frank Rodriguez. “ We just felt that the older art audience would be starved for something and were certainly underserved at that point. Besides, we had already opened to great numbers and reviews in Great Britain so we knew we had something special.”

The second group of film Davids is made up of those that became cannon fodder.

Only Sony had the nerve to take on Jim Cameron’s “Avatar,” which snuck up on no one thanks to the success of “Titanic,” slotting the Hugh GrantSarah Jessica Parker comedy “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” in December of 2009. The Navi dominated with $77 million in its first three days, and made mincemeat of “Morgans,” which debuted with $6 million.

Prior to the opening of Cameron’s “Titanic” in December of 1997, the buzz was dominated by news of production delays and budget overruns. It was an expensive epic so expectations were high, but few realized it would go on to become the highest-grossing movie ever at the time.

MGM rolled out its James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies” with Pierce Brosnan as 007 and DreamWorks went wide with the Christopher Walken comedy “Mouse Hunt.” It worked out for Bond, which debuted in second place with $25 million for the weekend, behind “Titanic” with $28 million. But it didn’t for “Mouse Hunt,” which tanked with $6 million.