Thursday, 31 May 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #910: The Bext Exotic Moneymaking Movie

If Botox allowed the people in Hollywood to form expressions they'd all be reshaping their faces into a vague approximation of surprise because the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, has passed the $100 million mark in theaters worldwide.

By Hollywood's logic the film should not have made this much money for these reasons:

1. It starred a bunch of British people who are over 60.

2. It was set in India, a country that the Hollywood experts will assure you is a place that Americans have no interest in.

3. They only released it into a handful of theaters in North America, and only expanded into less than 1/4 of the theaters used by normal big studio blockbusters.

4. That release was up against the unstoppable Avengers.

5. The marketing of the movie was minimal compared to most of the other late spring/early summer releases, with most of the TV exposure being ads at the beginning of Masterpiece Theater, while mostly letting critical reviews and word of mouth carry most of the weight for them.

Yet despite this conventional wisdom, the film, which was made for the cost of the perks on Will Smith's contract, has passed the $100 million mark and shows no signs of slowing down.

Meanwhile, all around this little film movies that the conventional wisdom declared were sure-fire blockbusters, like The Dictator, Dark Shadows, and other films have either flopped outright, or at best disappointed their studios with their tepid box office performances in the face of the unstoppable Avengers.

The so-called experts in Hollywood shouldn't be surprised at all, because Hollywood's conventional wisdom really has no wisdom to it all. It's pretty much all convention.

The film's success lies directly with Fox Searchlight who released the film, and, to be more specific the mission behind the company.

Fox Searchlight was founded in 1994 as part of the "faux indie" explosion. You see, the 1990s was experiencing a boom in independent movies winning awards and making money, and the 6 major studios screamed "ME TOO!"

They all started "independent" film divisions with the mandate to buy up and release the next big Sundance Festival darling. 

Now if you were to go around looking for these divisions, like Warner Independent, Fine Line / Picturehouse, Paramount Vantage, Miramax and others you'd be hard pressed to find them, since most were folded or sold off by their parent companies. I think the only real survivors of the big "faux indie" implosion of the 2000s were Focus Features* (at Universal) and Fox Searchlight.

What saved those two companies was that they had a different mission than their rivals. Whereas their rivals were assigned the mission of mission of winning awards and helping their executives get into the ski-suits of young starlets at the Sundance Festival they took on the task of making independent film a viable business.

Since Fox Searchlight is part of News Corp, I'm assuming Rupert Murdoch's instructions to be a viable business were liberally peppered with the words "crikey" and "arse."

Over time both companies learned the fine art of releasing and marketing non-blockbusters. By keeping costs under control, and using years of experience to manage their releases they're still around, making and releasing movies like Marigold Hotel, and bucking conventional wisdom, while all their competitors are long gone.


*Focus is actually more of a creation of the implosion, having been created by the reorganization of USA Pictures, (formerly Gramercy Pictures, a partnership with Polygram Filmed Entertainment), Universal Focus, Good Machine, and October Films.


  1. I sincerely hope the success of this film leads to a remake of cocoon.

    judo chop!!

  2. I think what makes this most impressive for Fox Searchlight is that they actually released the movie outside the US though Fox International, rather than just selling the rights to local distributors. After all, the movie's only made $20 million in North America.

  3. The so-called experts in Hollywood shouldn't be surprised at all, because Hollywood's conventional wisdom really has no wisdom to it all. It's pretty much all convention.

    Furious D, how then do the experts get to continue being called "experts" when their track record is worse than weather men and politicians?

  4. Nate -

    Because they're on the inside. Once you're "in" you are anointed and results don't seem to matter until someone at the top sees that they're losing money, fire you.

    Then you get to go off and be an "expert" somewhere else.

    It's the circle of Hollywood life.