Good news at the Box Office

The numbers

are in for the weekend, and the news is good! At the top of the list

is Barbershop, a $12

million-budgeted film which took in $20.6 million over the three days.

Next is the unstoppable My

Big Fat Greek Wedding, crusing over the $110 million mark in total

gross despite a budget of only $5 million. Then there’s One

Hour Photo, which cost $12 million to make and grossed $8 million

in one weekend despite difficult subject matter and the fact that the

intelligentsia in New York and LA have already had three weeks of limited

release in which to see it.

What’s more, each of the top three films was shown in fewer theatres

than any of the films in the rest of the top ten. One Hour Photo, for

instance, in 1,212 theatres, grossed more than Swimfan,

in 2,860; Barbershop, in 1,605 theatres, almost quadrupled the gross

of Signs, in 3,061.

Clearly, there’s an appetite for quirkier fare, for films which don’t

slavishly follow the Hollywood rule-book. There’s an appetite for blockbusters,

too, of course, but look at MGM’s films over the past year and a half:

Barbershop was the studio’s biggest opening weekend since Hannibal

in February 2001. It beat out at least three of the studio’s would-be

blockbusters which turned out to be flops: Windtalkers,

Rollerball and Hart’s

War, which cost over $250 million between them.That’s enough to

make 20 One Hour Photos, or 50 Greek weddings.

Studios need blockbusters, of course. They’re the foundation upon which

Hollywood is built, and a lot of the mystique of the movies would disappear

if all we were offered was intelligent, quirky films. But this week’s

box-office chart, even if it is a bit anomalous, points to the fact

that there is an audience of moviegoers out there who aren’t the lowest-common-denominator

adolescent boys at which most of the rest of the list is targeted. Swimfan,

Stealing Harvard, xXx, Austin Powers, Spider-Man, Men in Black II –

in their attempt to reach a broad consumer base, they ironically end

up alienating most of the population. Meanwhile, Igby

Goes Down, an $8 million film also from MGM, managed to gross more

than $300,000 in just ten theatres last weekend. When it finally goes

into wide release, it, too, should have a better weekend than Rollerball

ever did.

But the best news of all this weekend was the success of Barbershop

outside its "urban" (read: black) niche. The idea of a neighbourhood

store where local characters can drop in and pass the time of day is

pretty universal, and the film obviously appealed to Middle America

as well as the inner cities. I’m looking forward to seeing it myself,

after which I’ll post a review; for the time being I’m assuming that

it’s basically Smoke

moved to the South Side of Chicago. One thing I am sure of: America

is waking up to the fact that rappers can make great actors. Ice Cube

takes the lead in Barbershop, alongside Eve; elsewhere, we’ve seen fantastic

performances from Ice-T, in New

Jack City, say, or Mos Def, in Top Dog/Underdog on Broadway.

Later this autumn, Eminem is appearing in 8

Mile, and already he’s received a lot more critical acclaim than

Britney Spears or Mariah Carey ever got as actresses.

Cross over, say I! Let the rappers act, let the actors sing. (Think

of Michelle Pfeiffer, Jane Horrocks, Nicole Kidman.) Let the whites

go to black films, let the teenagers go to indy flicks, let the movie

business get shaken up a bit. We don’t need to rely on DV to change

cinema, all we need to do is break out of our niches.

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