The Indie Week That Was

Mid-May Analysis

By Michael Lynderey

June 11, 2009

Is this a bad time to mention I'm afraid of heights?

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This week: Pattinson trades in the fangs, IMAX's long lifespan, and the kind of factory you don't see every day.

No fangs, no gain
Little Ashes, which opened on May 8th, is the kind of box office litmus test I always look forward to. It's what happens when an actor is placed outside of the safe zone of fanboyism / fangirlism that brought them to fame; and because the 2000s were unquestionably the Decade of the Fanboy at the movies, this happens a lot. The subject of this week's experiment: Robert Pattinson.
Pattinson is that 23-year-old English actor who received a fair if unexceptional dose of fangirl adoration after his role in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), and then almost literally rocketed into the Teen Beat stratosphere, playing a lovestruck vampire (aren't they all?) in the highest grossing movie of last fall, Twilight. Indeed, one could certainly make a case that the hordes of screaming teenage girls that Pattinson attracts outnumber those of fellow traveler Zac Efron. At the very least, Pattinson's IMDb message board seems more crowded, and his Google News hits number at 5,602 to Efron's 3,708.

Looking at the bigger picture, April offered us a mixed consensus on the box office clout of current teen idols. Kristen Stewart, the vampire enthusiast from Twilight, couldn't much boost the box office of the R-rated comedy Adventureland; Zac Efron's 17 Again, on the other hand, certainly performed above my expectations, finishing up

with a solid, McConaughey-level gross of a little over $60m. But of course, Efron's film was a high school-set comedy, albeit a PG-13 one, so he wasn't making much of a radical change from his High School Musical adventures. Stewart, meanwhile, was on a whole other playing field (and one without vampire baseball, it seems). So you could call the results of this test inconclusive.
Which brings us to Pattinson's new film, Little Ashes, released now but shot before Twilight. If Adventureland was in a different playing field, then this film is about seven galaxies away. What could have less to do with interspecies human-vampire teen romance than a movie about the shenanigans of the young Salvador Dali in 1920s Spain?

Yes, this is one of those tortured historical dramas from the U.K., with invariably British actors playing accented Europeans and a plot that can't help but revolve around romance forbidden or dampened by social status, cultural differences, or war (this kind of a thing happened a lot in Europe, you see). In other words, it's exactly the kind of movie Pattinson would have made before hitting it big with the vampire romance, and in fact, it's exactly the kind of movie he would have probably been making again right now if fate had not intervened. So how would the film do in the post-Twilight world?


Well, the boys and girls at Rotten Tomatoes went to town on this one, stamping it with a 25% rating - the Tomato equivalent of a "Thanks, but no thanks". Still, the movie's opening gave me reason to expect to be surprised. After all, pulling in a $6,116 average in 12 screens isn't bad, even if it won't get you anywhere near a wide release. The studio, Regent Releasing, did what came naturally and expanded the movie to 15 locations - and that's where the per-screen deflated, down to $3,094. By week three, they dropped a few screens and the average gross slid down to the upper $2,000s.

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