Thanks to Bob Yari‘s crafty marketing, the self-released indie pic has transformed from a middling Sundance selection to a profit-turning surprise success.

The industry analysts over at The Hollywood Reporter examine the "Illusionist" miracle – or, how after distribution deals fell through after Sundance, the Edward NortonPaul Giamatti period piece managed to turn a 51-theater opening weekend into a platform expansion that has earned over $23 million to date.


Ed Norton and Jessica Biel make $23 million worth of magic in "The Illusionist"

THR gives a detailed account of Yari’s various strategies to distribute the Neil Burger through his own Yari Film Group once an offer from Universal Pictures fell apart, including trailer-swapping with Focus Features’ "Scoop," launching a large-scale promotional campaign with marketing materials, and, significantly, making sure to release the pic (albeit on a very limited scale) months before Buena Vista’s rival 20th century magician flick, "The Prestige," hit theaters (the Christian BaleHugh Jackman flick is slated for October 20).

Click here for the full article from The Hollywood Reporter.

Richard Roeper will have a few guest hosts to work with while good ol’ Roger Ebert recovers from recent surgery, and it looks like he’ll have a fun time with episode #1. Writer/director/movie-geek Kevin Smith will be stopping by to share his thoughts on some new releases. (No, not "Clerks 2.")

From Smith’s blog: "Looks like I’ll be sitting in for Roger Ebert next week, as a guest critic on "Ebert and Roeper." Kind of a cool honor, I feel. We’ll be checking out "Miami Vice," "Ant Bully," "Talladega Nights," "Barnyard" and maybe (fingers crossed) "World Trade Center." We’ll be taping next week, just prior to the Chicago WizardCon. I’ll let you know how it goes."

But there seems to have been a schedule switch, as mentioned by the man himself, at Hollywood Elsewhere:

"Yes, I was originally slated to review the flicks I’d listed, but due to a scheduling change, I’ll be reviewing "World Trade Center," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Scoop," "Accepted," and "Step Up" instead."

With cops, drug dealers, and lots of bullets flying, the action film Miami Vice hits theaters across North America this weekend with its aim squarely on the number one spot. Young kids, meanwhile, will be offered another animated film in the form of The Ant Bully while teens get a new high school comedy in John Tucker Must Die. The overall box office should continue to be much healthier than last year as the Jack Sparrow-dominated month of July comes to a close.

Universal can smell a number-one opening in the air tonight. The studio hopes to claim bragging rights to the film that finally knocks Pirates out of the top spot with its action thriller Miami Vice. Directed by Michael Mann, the R-rated pic stars Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell in a loose update of the hit NBC cop show from the 1980s. Gong Li co-stars in this story of an undercover operation into the workings of a South American drug lord. In a summer full of Kryptonian heroes, pirates, and mutant villains, moviegoers are ready for a standard action film, set in modern times, with big stars playing the bad-ass good guys. With the tame PG-13 actioners behind us, Miami Vice ups the volume on violence and doesn’t hold back when it comes to gun battles and the offing of bad guys.

Vice has racked up some of the best reviews of any summer action film this year which should help in selling the pic to older adults. Though Mann stumbled with 2001’s Ali, the director has been pretty solid with the films he’s delivered over the past decade with Collateral, The Insider, and Heat. This new film’s leads will be the driving force at the box office. Both are hip and cool enough to appeal to teens as well as adults. The men exude plenty of sex appeal which will aid in drawing in women, plus Foxx has tremendous pull with African-American moviegoers who should be out in large numbers. Universal’s marketing has been as slick and cool as can be and makes the film seem like a necessary investment for action movie fans.

Miami Vice looks to appeal to the same audiences as a pair of action titles from the summer of 2003. Bad Boys II was another R-rated, star-driven, cop buddy picture set in Miami and bowed to $46.5M with a $14,602 average that July. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence made for a more potent commercial combo at the cash registers plus the sequel boasted plenty of comedy and already had a large built-in fan following. The next month, Farrell scored his fourth number-one opening of that year starring in another remake of an old cop show by teaming up with Samuel L. Jackson for S.W.A.T. The PG-13 film debuted on top with $37.1M and a $11,575 average.

Detectives Crockett and Tubbs will bring a breath of fresh air to a marketplace that is ready to move on from the record-breaking pirate shenanigans. Older teens and adult moviegoers are ready to see something else, and for now, this is it. Busting into 3,020 theaters, Miami Vice could debut with about $38M this weekend.

A ten-year-old boy gets miniaturized and becomes one with an insect colony in The Ant Bully, a new toon from Warner Bros. Young kids and their parents are the target audience here as the studio is aiming for the summer vacation crowd with this PG-rated adventure. An impressive voice cast that includes Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage, and Meryl Streep might attract some biz and throwing in the name of producer Tom Hanks won’t hurt either. But Bully is going after the exact same audience as last week’s rival toon Monster House so the pie will get split. Neither is being treated as a must-see from a well-known franchise. Like Sony’s kidpic, Bully also will be playing in select 3D theaters as Imax is on board with a special run in their locations. The added value will certainly intrigue some families. Reviews are weak, but these films really rely on the ratio of nagging from kids to the willingness to give in by parents. Invading 3,050 sites, The Ant Bully might debut to around $15M.

High school hijinks are at the core of the new comedy John Tucker Must Die which finds Jesse Metcalfe playing the title character, a teen romeo that juggles three girlfriends who learn of the infidelity and plot their revenge. The PG-13 pic comes from director Betty Thomas (Dr. Dolittle, Private Parts) and co-stars Ashanti, Brittany Snow, and Jenny McCarthy. Teenage girls will make up the target audience but with limited starpower, Tucker’s potential should be limited as well. The Fox film will be going up against a handful of comedies currently clogging up screens in multiplexes. Young females not of age to buy a Vice ticket, or just uninterested in that shoot-em-up cop pic, will take interest in the female revenge story of Tucker. Some interest from teen guys could be there too, but the post-college crowd is not likely to donate many bills. The marketing push has been decent and a bold title will get some attention. Opening in 2,561 locations, John Tucker Must Die might take in about $9M this weekend.

Woody Allen seems to have loved working with Scarlett Johansson in London so much with the Oscar-nominated Match Point that he went for round two in his latest film Scoop which opens in moderate national release on Friday. The Focus title features the young starlet playing an American journalism student who gets the inside track on uncovering the identity of a serial killer from the spirit of a deceased reporter. Hugh Jackman, Ian McShane, and Allen himself co-star in the PG-13 flick. Critics have not been kind as reviews so far have been weak which will impact the box office significantly. Die-hard Woody fans won’t be swayed, but other upscale moviegoers will be affected. Scoop enters 537 theaters this weekend and might collect about $2M.

Fox Searchlight platformed its Sundance darling Little Miss Sunshine on Wednesday ahead of a gradual national roll-out that will continue into late August. The R-rated film about a dysfunctional family that takes a road trip to enter their young daughter in a beauty contest stars Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, and Alan Arkin. Sunshine wowed audiences in Park City and won a reported $10M distribution deal from the Fox subsidiary. Armed with glowing reviews across the board, the comedy from the husband-wife directing team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris should score a sizzling average from its seven theaters in New York and Los Angeles. Long-term prospects also seem bright as Sunshine should play out as the indie alternative to a summer of mindless popcorn flick.

Kings lose crowns and this weekend Johnny Depp looks to give up his title as three-time ruler of the box office. Still, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest has been holding up well during the week and Miami Vice is the only new film to make a serious dent in its treasure chest. Another drop of 45% would give Disney about $19M for the session boosting the overall domestic haul to a mammoth $357M.

Sony’s animated adventure Monster House got off to a strong start last weekend with a $22.2M bow, but will face head-to-head competition from Ant Bully this weekend which will be looking to kick some sand in its face. A 40% fall would leave House with around $13M and a ten-day total of $45M.

M. Night Shyamalan‘s latest thriller Lady in the Water debuted below expectations last week and will be entering its all-important sophomore frame. If history is any indicator, the grosses should see a steep drop. Second weekend declines for the director’s last three films have been 68% for 2004’s The Village, 51% for 2002’s Signs, and 52% for 2000’s Unbreakable. Lady may not sink the way Village did as it seems to be generating both love-it and hate-it camps. Still, with such a low starting point, and Crockett and Tubbs stealing away adults, a fall of at least 50% could be in order. That would give the bedtime story roughly $9M and a cume of $34M in ten days.

LAST YEAR: After two weeks at number one and two respectively, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Wedding Crashers swapped places with the Owen WilsonVince Vaughn comedy taking over at the top with $20M, slipping a mere 22%. The Johnny Depp kidpic followed with $16.4M in its third frame. Newcomers filled up the rest of the top five. Leading the way was Disney’s super hero family film Sky High with $14.6M on its way to a solid $63.9M. Close behind were Sony’s action flop Stealth with $13.3M and the Warner Bros. romantic comedy Must Love Dogs wth $12.9M. Final grosses reached $31.7M and $43.9M, respectively.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

This week at the movies, Crockett and Tubbs are back on the beat ("Miami Vice," starring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx); an ant bully gets cut down to size ("The Ant Bully"); John Tucker must die ("John Tucker Must Die"); Woody Allen’s got a hot new scoop ("Scoop"); and a Sundance crowd-pleaser ("Little Miss Sunshine") hits theaters. What do the critics have to say?

"High concept" was a buzzword for Hollywood in the 1980s, and virtually nothing embodied that idea more than "Miami Vice," which creator Michael Mann has described as "MTV Cops." Crockett and Tubbs became synonymous for a certain type of glamorous, slightly campy crime fighting that was nonetheless thoroughly engaging. Twenty years later, the film version takes a much darker approach; Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx are deep undercover in a gritty film that’s more like Mann’s "Heat" than "Starsky and Hutch." Maybe that’s the problem; while critics say "Miami Vice" looks terrific and features some outstanding action scenes, they also note that the film is a bit too self-serious and much too long. It currently stands at 55 percent on the Tomatometer, and it’s Mann’s worst-reviewed film since 1983’s "The Keep" (Heard of it? Yeah, me neither).

"Perhaps you’d understand it better/ Standin’ in my shoes/ It’s the ultimate enticement/ It’s the smuggler’s blues."

How’s this for a dream cast? Nicolas Cage, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Paul Giamatti, and Bruce Campbell star in "The Ant Bully," the latest CGI spectacle for the kids. "The Ant Bully" tells the story of a 10-year-old boy who takes out his frustrations on anthills, but subsequently finds himself shrunk down to ant-size, where adventures ensue and he learns a thing about life. The critics say the film is visually remarkable, but lacks originality and a strong narrative. It currently stands at 48 percent on the Tomatometer.


"Run for your lives!"

Missing the mark by a long shot is the romantic vengeance comedy, "John Tucker Must Die," a teen sex laffer about a three-timing lothario ("Desperate Housewives" junk Jesse Metcalfe) and the trio of girlfriends (a cheerleader, a hippie, and a brainiac) out to get him. Critics say that a few too many sight gags and clunky jabs at pop culture savvy make "Tucker" unwatchable for anyone over the age of thirteen; even then, they say it’s one of the better teen flicks to come around of late. Take from that what you will. At 25 percent on the Tomatometer, "Tucker" is far too aptly titled.


"John Tucker Must Die": A movie in dire need of conflict resolution.

News flash! Rumors of Woody Allen‘s career resurgence may have been greatly exaggerated. The scribes say his latest, "Scoop," is more than a little disappointing in the wake of last year’s Certified Fresh "Match Point." Like that one, "Scoop" is set in London, stars Scarlett Johansson, and there’s a murder at the center of the plot. But "Scoop" is a comedy, and an unsuccessful one at that; critics say it relies way too much on hackneyed schtick. At 39 percent on the Tomatometer, "Scoop" is looking like yesterday’s news. And it’s one of the worst-reviewed films of Allen’s great career.


"Little Miss Sunshine": The weakest street gang ever.

"Little Miss Sunshine" was a big hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and now that it’s hitting the theaters, the scribes are just as enthusiastic as the folks in Park City. This tale of a dysfunctional family hitting the road for a child pageant is Certified Fresh, and features sharp performances from its ensemble cast, particularly Greg Kinnear and Steve Carell. At 94 percent, this one’s a ray of "Sunshine." And it’s the third-best reviewed film of the year with 40 reviews or more. (Check out RT’s interview with co-directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton here.)

Also out this week in limited release: The idiosyncratic doc "I Like Killing Flies" is at 100 percent on the Tomatometer; "Brothers of the Head," to our knowledge the only mockumentary about a pair of Siamese twins who are lead singers of a fictitious 1970s punk band, is at 87 percent; the French thriller "13 (Tzameti)," about a Georgian immigrant in France, is at 87 percent; "The Photographer, His Wife, Her Lover," a documentary about the last days of celebrated photographer O. Winston Link, is at 80 percent; "Darshan – The Embrace," a doc about one of India’s most famous spiritual guides, is at 44 percent; "Another Gay Movie," an "American Pie"-style comedy, is at 33 percent; and the muckraking Libertarian documentary "America: Freedom to Fascism" is at zero percent.

The Best Reviewed Films Of 2006 With 40 Or More Reviews:
—————————————————————————–
1. Kekexili (98%)
2. Wordplay (95%)
3. Little Miss Sunshine (94%)
4. Fateless (94%)
5. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (93%)

Recent TV- To- Film Adaptations:
—————————————–
49% — Strangers with Candy (2006)
10% — Aeon Flux (2005)
80% — Serenity (2005)
15% — The Dukes of Hazzard (2005)
25% — Bewitched (2005)

Recent CG Animated Films
———————————-
70% — Monster House (2006)
76% — Cars (2006)
75% — Over the Hedge (2006)
58% — Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006)
19% — The Wild (2006)

Worst Reviewed Woody Allen Films (As Star Or Director)
————————————————————————-
29% — Scenes from a Mall (1991)
32% — Casino Royale (1967)
38% — Don’t Drink the Water (1994)
38% — Celebrity (1998)
40% — King Lear (1987)

Those who prefer Woody Allen‘s lighter, frothier stuff over his more stone-faced and austere creations should find a lot to like in the upcoming "Scoop," in which the veteran filmmaker co-stars with Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, and Ian McShane. Either way, here’s the trailer, which looks kinda kooky.

"In Woody Allen’s new contemporary comedy, a student journalist (Scarlett Johansson) for a college paper visiting friends in London happens upon the scoop of a lifetime. Along the investigative trail, she finds magic, murder, mystery – and perhaps love, with a British aristocrat."

Focus Features will release "Scoop" on July 28th.

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