News

Utah Theater Snub Can't Bridle 'Brokeback Mountain'

by Brandon Gray
Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain
January 9, 2006

Last week, distributor Focus Features set up 484 theaters for Brokeback Mountain's expansion, but on Friday that figure was revised to 483. The difference was one theater in Utah.

The Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy decided to pull director Ang Lee's cowboy love story at the last minute on Thursday night, despite having agreed to play the picture. The theater is owned by Larry H. Miller, who also owns the Utah Jazz, a National Basketball Association team.

"It's the most despicable practice that any exhibitor can do," Focus' head of distribution, Jack Foley, told Box Office Mojo. "It was a flagrant dismissal of a commitment, and without even a phone call. So I'm not in business with him anymore. It's a breach of contract. It's unethical. We can sue him."

Calls to the Megaplex 17 resulted in "no comments" in regards to why Brokeback Mountain was yanked. "You're not going to get any comment from us on that," said Dale Harvey, General Manager for Megaplex Theatres.

As of Sunday, Megaplex Theatres' Web site had Transamerica, a comedy-drama about a transsexual parent, listed for Jan. 20 in their "Coming Soon" section, but the movie has since vanished from their schedule.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has been the Megaplex 17's top draw in recent weeks, grossing over $27,000 this past weekend. "It's a family show, and we generally do well with those," Harvey noted.

The Megaplex 17 is showing Hostel as well. Though No. 1 nationwide, the sex-and-gore saturated horror picture ranked fourth at the theater with $10,700.

Moviegoers in the Salt Lake City area still have a chance to see Brokeback Mountain as the picture is playing at three other theaters: the Broadway Center Cinemas in Salt Lake City, the Century 16 in South Salt Lake and the Cinemark 24 at Jordan Landing.

On the four-day New Year's frame, Brokeback Mountain earned $46,300 at the Broadway, landing among the top nationwide per-screen averages that weekend. For the weekend ending Jan. 8, the movie took in $18,823 there, still No. 1 in the complex, after Focus added the Century 16 and Cinemark 24 on Friday.

At the Century 16, Brokeback Mountain was also No. 1 with $12,741. Harvey pointed out, though, that the picture was No. 6 at the Cinemark 24, where it made $7,056.

Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain
Brokeback Mountain is one of the most talked about movies in theaters now, and the Megaplex 17's dismissal of the picture garnered them publicity, including a headline on the Drudge Report.

Despite the Utah slight, Brokeback Mountain rode into about 80 more markets over the weekend and roped $5.7 million. At 483 theaters, the movie averaged a bustling $11,856 per site, and the total sits at $22.4 million after 31 days of limited release. Its production budget was $14 million.

"We no longer have to worry about breaking down the homophobic barriers, and [Brokeback Mountain's] now breaking into the more mainstream boomer market," said Foley. Foley will accelerate the movie's expansion again, reaching over 700 theaters on Friday.

With a raft of rave reviews, awards and media hype, including frequent jokes on late night talk shows, Brokeback Mountain has spun its negative perception of being "that gay cowboy movie" into a positive—the label put the picture on the map and then marketing savvy and word-of-mouth took over.

"To me, on a personal basis, that [gay cowboy label] annoyed me, but it was a liability and an asset," Foley said. "It certainly identified it. The good news is that the gay community and the art house audience saw it, and, now, the suburbs are just as solid. In most of the new theaters, the film ranks No. 1, and these are commercial houses."

Elsewhere, Brokeback Mountain's lead actor, Heath Ledger, went from repressed homosexual to legendary womanizer with his other movie in release, Casanova. The Lasse Hallstrom-directed period comedy wooed $4 million from its nationwide expansion to 1,004 theaters. The picture has captured a soft $5 million in 15 days.

Among Brokeback Mountain's presumed Oscar competitors, Universal's Munich went wide as well, grossing $7.6 million at 1,485 locations—up 953 from last week. With $25.4 million in 17 days, Steven Spielberg's $70 million action drama about Israel's response to the Palestinian terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Olympics is on track to be the director's lowest grossing picture since Amistad in 1997.

On the other hand, Match Point is on course to be Woody Allen's highest-grossing movie in years, although the bar is a tiny fraction of Mr. Spielberg's. The DreamWorks-distributed thriller scored $2.7 million in its expansion to 304 venues for $3.6 million in 12 days, and a near nationwide release is scheduled for Jan. 20.

RELATED ARTICLES
• 1/9/06 - 'Hostel' Lodged Into Top Spot
• 12/19/05 - 'Brokeback' Wrangles Strong Numbers in Expansion
• 12/12/05 - 'Brokeback' Rides High in Limited Release
• Review - Brokeback Mountain
• Review - Casanova
• Review - Munich

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