Yes, the box-office headlines are all about "Captain America: The First Avenger" beating "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" over the weekend.
But the best story on the box-office list is that Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," in its 10th week out, landed at number 10, and actually increased its take by a percentage point over last week -- even though it lost 85 theaters.
All the news stories and blog posts repeating that "Midnight in Paris" is Allen's biggest-grossing hit, passing "Hannah and Her Sisters," may have had something to do with this mini-surge. But the biggest influence over ticket-buyers throughout the movie's run has been tremendous word of mouth.
So far grossing $44,878,000 in the U.S. alone (on a $30 million budget), "Midnight in Paris" shows that you can still make millions the old-fashioned way: by creating a good movie and keeping it in theaters long enough for all sorts of moviegoers to discover it.
Sure, "Captain America" pulled in around $65.8 million, giving it the most successful weekend launch of any superhero film this summer. But Brandon Gray at boxofficemojo.com reports that even compared to "past July Marvel Comics kick-offs, it trailed 'Fantastic Four' and 'X-Men' by sizable margins." (Clarification 7/27: Gray meant "Captain America" trailed those films in attendance, not gross numbers.) And yes, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" declined by 72 percent. But to quote Gray again, "that spoke more to the fan frenzy of 'Deathly Hallows Part 2's' opening day than to the fans' reaction to the movie: sift out its record midnight launch, and its drop would be 62 percent, or the same as the last July Potter, 'Half-Blood Prince,' in its second weekend."
Those movies, love them or not (and I do love "Deathly Hallows"), are following the blockbuster release pattern that's turned each big new studio title into a make-or-break production -- and every opening weekend into a do-or-die affair.
"Midnight in Paris" follows a patten that more closely resembles not just Allen's early- and middle-period hits, but all the counterculture smashes that out-performed the big franchise movies of their day -- not effects-heavy superhero films, but bloated musicals like "Paint Your Wagon."
Let's hope "Midnight in Paris" marks a new dawn for mid-size movies that please audiences as films, whether or not they are "events."
Photo of Marion Cotillard and Owen Wilson in 'Midnight in Paris,' courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics