So far the biggest post summer hit has been the very summer movie like Eagle Eye starring Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan for Dreamworks/Paramount. At 54.6 million after ten days in release, that's a certified back to school hit. Compared to typical summer takes, that would be a respectable opening weekend. But still, Eagle Eye is the exception, Spike Lee's Miracle at St. Anna tallying only 6.3 million in ten days would be the rule. The hit/miss factor has been just about even so far this fall, with about seven films living up to expectations and seven falling short. The fall is also the peak release season for limited releases, which get their chance at breaking out through awards appeal rather than box-office returns. This fall's limited releases haven't set any fires though the awards buzz is already hot and heavy on films like Ed Harris' acting and directing western Appaloosa and Keira Knightly's The Duchess.
What's this all set the stage for? A movie about a female chihuahua from Beverly Hills trying to get back to the high life from the meager streets of Mexico. I won't even get into what that says about our values system or what we push on our kids as funny. Let's leave the high mindedness behind, much as the Disney Studios did, and just talk about the movie business. Beverly Hills Chihuahua opened last weekend in the number one spot and brought in the second highest box-office of the fall season so far. With an even 29 million, the numbers so far indicate it missed Eagle Eye's opening by just 150 grand while opening in nearly 300 fewer theaters. All indications are that Disney's BHC will also have longer "legs", giving the film a larger total box-office by the end of it's first theatrical run.
So who cares? Well, likely no one except the current crop of players in the industry who count on their "artistic vision" to nail down their yearly bonus checks. But in an economy that shows signs of tanking all over the world, the true contest is about to become a guessing game of not what films are best, most artful or even most interesting, but what kind of movie will be most efficient at wedging currency from the wallets of a globally declining marketplace. Is there anyone surprised that the all American Dalmatian has been ditched for the accents and heavily ethnic humor of Mexican Chihuahuas now?
Studios have clearly seen the need to pull from a bigger pool of cash and that means realizing that, as in most everything else these days, America can't buoy the movie industry alone.
In fact, it's international markets that have truly defined all but a few of this year's hits. Everyone who went to the movies this summer knows that The Dark Knight was the mega hit, raking in more than 500 million in Washingtons, Lincolns and Hamiltons. But did you know that Mamma Mia, which has grabbed up a cool 143 million stateside, has more than doubled that figure overseas and is now well over 500 million worldwide. That would put it sixth, just behind Iron Man in world wide box-office this year. (Now you have a better idea why no one is complaining about Pierce Brosnan's singing voice anymore.)
So get used to talking Chihuahuas, you may not have a choice. And get used to films like Blindness, starring Julianne Moore, Danny Glover and Mark Ruffalo (less than 2 million in it's opening last weekend), getting retooled for foreign markets before they even see a US release date. The times like the economy, are a-changing and what that means to your choices at the local cineplex is anybody's guess.