No love for indie movies from US moviegoers


In all the coverage of the writers' strike in Hollywood, and the beginning of the annual soothsaying frenzy about which films are likely to win Oscars, one potentially very alarming trend in US cinema-going has been largely overlooked: the indie market has been in freefall. The most challenging and often the best-reviewed films of the autumn have all – almost without exception – done lousy business.

It is an instructive, if dispiriting, experience to compare the reviewers' glowing quotes with the grim box-office grosses. Start with Andrew Dominik's $30m The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. According to many pundits, this is the greatest Western since Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, way back in 1992. "A ravishing, magisterial, poetic epic... a magnificent throwback," enthused Variety of Dominik's slow-burning drama about the killing of the legendary cowboy. The film had Brad Pitt (in theory, one of Hollywood's cynosures) in the title role, and the might of Warner Bros behind it. None the less, it has barely made $4m (paltry takings for a film of this stature) at the US box-office.

In the case of The Assassination..., there may be some mitigating circumstances. Rumours abound of spats between the director, star and studio. The film was shot two years ago and has had an immensely uncomfortable gestation. Clearly, not everybody wanted it to succeed. Dominik can at least console himself that his film is likely to acquire classic status, even if its commercial performance has been catastrophic.

What is worrying is that The Assassination... is not an isolated case. There have been several other equally highly praised movies that have been shunned in the same way by American cinemagoers. Take Sean Penn's Into the Wild. Again, the film has sent certain reviewers into raptures ("spellbinding" proclaimed the influential Roger Ebert) without luring audiences into multiplexes in meaningful numbers. The film, released by Paramount Vantage, has now stuttered to around $15m at the US box office.

(Source: The Independent)

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