Once an underdog, `Slumdog' is now a heavyweight
By JAKE COYLE,AP
Entertainment Writer AP - Wednesday, January 14
NEW YORK - In May, "Slumdog Millionaire" appeared headed for that shameful scrap heap of movies: a direct-to-video release.
But with the film's four-award sweep at the Golden Globes on Sunday, Danny Boyle's romance has completed the same rags-to-riches trajectory of its main character. Like the underdog success of Jamal Malik _ a poor kid from the slums of Mumbai who becomes a flawless contestant on India's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire _ "Slumdog" is an unlikely triumph.
"This could turn into a $100 million movie now," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media by Numbers. "It's like the snowball effect."
Its win at the Golden Globes will help secure its future, both as a box office success and as a major player at the Oscars, which will announce its nominees next Thursday.
"It really gives the film credibility to people who maybe didn't know that much about it or didn't understand it," Dergarabedian said. "Suddenly, this is like the stamp of approval. It creates a situation where people are going to have to see this film."
It also assures that Fox Searchlight will reinvest in marketing and expand the film's release to capitalize on its success. Spokespeople at Fox Searchlight declined to comment on the studio's plans Monday.
Slumdog was filmed in India with a budget of only $14 million and has no big-name actors, and about a fifth of it is in Hindi.
"We really weren't expecting to be here in America at all at one point so it's just amazing to be standing here," said screenwriter Simon Beaufoy while accepting his Golden Globe Sunday.
But since the film's November limited release in 10 theaters, it has made $34 million, garnered excellent reviews, strong word-of-mouth and numerous awards. The honors include the audience award at the Toronto Film Festive and best picture from the National Board of Review, an early harbinger of the Academy Awards.
"Slumdog" was originally to be released by Warner Independent Pictures, but Warner Bros. closed that branch last year _ leading to dim prospects for "Slumdog," including a potential DVD-only release. But Fox Searchlight picked it up and is sharing costs and revenue with Warner Bros.
The studio, a boutique division of 20th Century Fox owned by News Corp., has been here before. It has engineered the unlikely awards campaigns for small independent films like "Sideways," "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Juno," all of which were nominated for Best Picture by the Academy. None of them won the top film award.
All took on a similar David-verse-Goliath image at the Oscars and went on to make a lot of money. "Sideways" eventually made $72 million, "Little Miss Sunshine" took in $60 million and "Juno" made $143 million.
"Slumdog" is currently in 601 theaters and has never been in more than 614 theaters in its nine weeks of release. (By contrast, "Bride Wars" opened in 3,226 theaters last weekend.)
Still, it has continued, for the most part, to stay among the top 10 box office moneymakers. Last weekend, it earned a $6,206 average per screen, a very good number for a movie that's been out for two months.
The slow, gradual release strategy has been paying dividends for many of this year's awards contenders. Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino" led the box office this past weekend with a gross of $29 million after several weeks of limited release.
With low-budget awards-contenders like these enjoying box office success, suddenly the prospects of independent film don't look quite so apocalyptic as they did when divisions like Warner Independent and Picturehouse were shuttering.
"It's fantastic for us to have had this kind of platform," said Boyle, whose previous films include "Trainspotting" and "28 Days Later." "It gets journalists all perked up. It works in so many different ways. It's an amazing vehicle for this kind of film _ and this kind of film is under pressure, as we know. The indie distribution is in real crisis."
The Globes are far from a perfect predictor of the Oscars, though. And "Slumdog" almost certainly benefited from the more international outlook of the Hollywood Foreign Press voters.
But "Slumdog" no longer seems like much of an underdog.
"`Slumdog' has all the momentum right now. It's the film to beat," said Tom O'Neil, a columnist for the awards Web site TheEnvelope.com. "It's captured Oscar voters' hearts. Many of the voters I've spoken to have watched their DVD screeners six or seven times."
Weeks ago _ when such plaudits seemed pure fantasy _ Boyle joked of the film's awards chances: "Obviously, we've got to win every single category. Obviously. And put `Titanic' to sleep for once and for all."
After winning in all four categories it was nominated for at the Globes, that no longer seems quite so farfetched.
"Young men make wars and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men: courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution." -- Alec Guinness (Lawrence of Arabia)