By one box office measure, the record-breaking movie of the summer may not be "The Avengers," "The Dark Knight Rises," or any other movie involving caped heroes, evil queens or marauding aliens. Rather, it'll be a sweet, indie, puppy-love romance starring two unknown child actors.
In fact, Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" has already set a record: highest per-screen average for a live-action movie during its opening weekend. Sure, when it debuted over the Memorial Day holiday, it grossed just $522,996 in its first three days, but that was in only four theaters, for a per-screen average of $130,749. Last weekend, it expanded to 16 venues and still scored $54,805 per screen, for a total of $1.7 million after 10 days of release.
"You'd think Iron Man was in the film," said Box Office Guru pundit Gitesh Pandya to MTV News. (By comparison, "Avengers," which actually did have Iron Man in it, premiered with a record-breaking weekend gross of $207.4 million, but that amounted to just $47,698 per screen, less than "Moonrise" was earning in its second weekend.)
It looks, then, like "Moonrise Kingdom" will have legs, leading box office experts like Pandya to wonder if it can duplicate the feat of last year's indie breakout, Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris." That film also became a runaway success, earning $57 million in North America and lingering in theaters for 10 months.
"Moonrise" certainly seems to be employing a similar strategy. Like "Midnight," it made a splash at May's Cannes Film Festival (where it was the opening night feature), riding that buzz to a limited domestic opening at the end of May, then riding critical kudos and strong word-of-mouth to a gradually increasing rollout. It didn't hurt that both movies had directors with strong cult fanbases (Woody Allen, Wes Anderson) and a supporting cast of high-powered stars (Rachel McAdams, Adrien Brody, and Kathy Bates in "Midnight"; Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, and Edward Norton in "Moonrise"). By the end of June, "Moonrise" should be playing in theaters nationwide, with audiences who want an alternative to summer action spectacle (especially older viewers) now fully primed to see it.
The last few months have been good for indie movies that have marketed themselves as direct alternatives to mainstream blockbusters. "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" opened opposite "The Avengers," with several critics noting that it had an "Avengers"-like dream team of veteran British thespians (including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, and Tom Wilkinson). Like "Midnight," it offered an all-star cast, a colorful travelogue location (India, rather than France), and a light, upbeat story. By last weekend, it had risen to No. 6 on the box office chart and had earned a stellar $25.4 miliion in America. (Worldwide, it's earned more than $110 million.) Like "Moonrise," "Marigold" could also approach a "Midnight"-sized domestic take.
This spring's "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" followed a similar pattern -- a couple of big stars (Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt), a light romance, an exotic location, and a cheery plot. It earned a respectable $9.0 million here and another $20 million overseas.
Another specialty movie to keep an eye on is French buddy comedy "The Intouchables." It opened here the same weekend as "Moonrise," also on four screens, and earned a solid $25,877 per screen. After 10 days, it had earned $593,509 domestically. It's not going to rack up numbers as big as "Moonrise," "Marigold," or even "Salmon" (thanks to the language barrier and lack of star power), but it shouldn't be counted out. After all, it's earned an astonishing $345.1 million worldwide.
None of these movies are going to dethrone "Avengers" or "Dark Knight Rises" at the end of the summer. Still, by following in the footsteps of "Midnight," they're proving that there's still plenty of summer money to be made catering to audiences who've outgrown superheroes.