'HALLOWEEN' SCARES UP $31 MILLION
Dimension's "Halloween" proved the perfect ending to the record-busting summer of blockbuster sequels, grossing a winning $31 million over the Labor Day weekend and joining the parade of franchise properties that fueled the unexpected box office boom.
Generally, the Labor Day frame is ho-hum for movie-going. Not so this year, in keeping with the summer-long trend that defied the odds to become the best on the books for the film biz, the four-day Labor Day weekend included.
Domestic box office is up 8% over summer 2004, the previous record frame, and up 11% over last year, according to Nielsen EDI and Rentrak. Overseas, Hollywood fare positively glowed, with the international box office up 20% over last year's summer haul.
For the first time, the domestic summer box office crossed the $4 billion mark. Through Monday, box office receipts totaled an estimated $4.152 billion, compared with $3.860 billion in 2004 and $3.739 billion last year.
The big question now: Will Hollywood be able to replicate the summer of 2007, when business never let up, even in the dog days of August?This year's busy sesh marked the first time that the four mega-franchises -- Sony's "Spider-Man," Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" and Warner Bros.' "Harry Potter" -- all made a stand at the B.O. during the same summer, along with franchise installments "The Bourne Ultimatum," "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" and "Ocean's Thirteen."
Moreover, the summer bounty was enhanced by successful revival of long-dormant properties "Die Hard" and "Rush Hour," as well as the bigscreen adaptation of celebrated television series "The Simpsons." Summer 2007 also saw the birth of a new franchise with the boffo perf of robot actioner "Transformers."
The one franchise title unable to make a strong play was laffer "Evan Almighty." Otherwise, though, comedy was a top draw this summer, especially R-rated fare a la Judd Apatow's "Knocked Up" and the Apatow-produced "Superbad."
"Evan" was billed less as a sequel than as a reimagining. Unlike "Evan," Rob Zombie's reimagining of the durable horror franchise "Halloween" hit the sweet spot this weekend.
SPIKE LEE LENDS HAND TO ONLINE FEST
Director Spike Lee was on hand at the Venice Film Festival Saturday to support the launch of an online short film festival set up by web portal Babalgum.
Lee will make the final decision on who wins what from the festival categories, which come complete with cash prizes.
Organizers said the Babelgum Online Film Festival will award 20,000 euros ($27,500) to the short films in each of six separate categories.
The shorts will be voted on by the public from the Web site and then the ten top-rated movies in each category will be judged by a ten-member jury. That jury will select three finalists in each category, with the winners selected by Lee.
"I used to be a struggling independent filmmaker myself and so I understand how important a forum like this one is," said Lee, who spoke at a presentation ceremony on the sidelines of the 64th Venice Film Festival. "With opportunities like this one available these days, a good filmmaker who doesn't get his films seen has only himself to blame."
The creation of the festival throws up several ethical issues facing the judges, including the stipulation that "offensive" material is ruled out in the contracts drawn up for submissions from the movie's producers.
ARTHOUSE FARE LOST IN SUMMER SHUFFLE
With a combo of horror and Michael Moore's "Sicko" dominating the summer indie scene, the fall and winter just became more crucial for arthouse fare looking to build awards momentum as no clear frontrunner has emerged.
Among independent companies and studio specialty arms, the big box office earner of the summer was the Weinstein Co., which turned out sleeper horror hit "1408," docu "Sicko" and, during the Labor Day weekend, Rob Zombie's record-breaking "Halloween."
In recent years, indie distribs have staked out the summer months as a place to provide sophisticated counterprogramming and get a jump on awards season. Last year, "Little Miss Sunshine" bowed in late July; in 2005, Lionsgate opened "Crash" in early May.
But with the debut of one successful studio pic after the next this summer, indie distribs and studio specialty arms had trouble drawing attention to their pics and keeping even the most successful ones in theaters. How much this pattern will affect future release strategies remains to be seen.
Even "Sicko," with its star filmmaker, began losing screens despite its respectable grosses. To date, the film's cume is $24 million, putting it on the verge of becoming the third highest grossing docu of all time after "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "The March of the Penguins."
If TWC was the big grosser, Fox Searchlight enjoyed enviable success on the arthouse feature side. Searchlight's "Waitress" is one of the top specialty earners of the summer, grossing nearly $19 million, while "Once" grossed $7.7 million and sci-fi thriller "Sunshine" collected $3.5 million.
Bob Berney's Picturehouse likewise fared well with Edith Piaf biopic "La Vie en rose," which has grossed $9.5 million to date and earned star Marion Cotillard some awards buzz.
Focus Features' summer lineup included Jane Austen biopic "Becoming Jane," starring Anne Hathaway, which has grossed more than $14 million to date, and "Evening," which has brought in $12.5 million.
Samuel Goldwyn Films' female-skewing "2 Days in Paris," written and directed by Julie Delpy, also is faring solidly early in its run, with a cume of $1.9 million.
Still, the box office success of horror titles this summer reinforces the notion that studio specialty arms and indie production companies need to balance out their slates with more commercial genre titles.
"Halloween" grossed a whopping $31 million from 3,472 runs over the four-day Labor Day weekend, by far the best ever opening for the holiday.
"We're thrilled. I think 'Halloween' is an iconic movie, and I think adding Rob Zombie to the mix was just the right move. I think the fact that he didn't just remake it but gave it his own twist -- that's what really appealed," TWC co-chair Bob Weinstein said.