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Cut of 'Sweeney Todd' too rich for exhibitor

The Johnny Depp film opening Friday won't be screened at Marcus Theatres because of revenue-split haggling with Paramount Pictures.

December 19, 2007|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

Johnny Depp's new movie, "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," is coming Friday to a theater near you -- unless that theater happens to be owned by Marcus Theatres Corp.

The macabre musical is too bloody expensive, the nation's seventh-largest theater chain said in a rare public spat over the financial terms that Hollywood studios negotiate with exhibitors for each title.

Milwaukee-based Marcus -- which operates 594 screens at 49 locations in Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio, North Dakota and Iowa -- said it wouldn't carry the Tim Burton-directed Broadway adaptation because the chain was unable to reach a deal with domestic distributor Paramount Pictures on the film's revenue split.

"As a result of the negotiations with Paramount reaching an impasse, Marcus Theatres will not be showing 'Sweeney Todd' at any of its locations," company President Bruce J. Olson said in a statement. "This decision was reluctantly reached because the price requested by Paramount to show the film in Marcus Theatres was too expensive in the opinion of our film buyers."

Olson declined to comment further. But Carlo Petrick, a spokesman for the company, said, "I can't think of any other instances where we have chosen not to show a film in our entire circuit."

Paramount's DreamWorks SKG co-financed the critically acclaimed movie, considered one of the main contenders for the upcoming Academy Awards, with Warner Bros. Pictures, the movie's international distributor.

Rob Moore, Paramount's president of worldwide marketing and distribution, declined to discuss specifics of the dispute but said the film would still open wide and be unaffected by the boycott.

The movie is opening at about 1,200 theaters in the U.S. and Canada, setting the stage for a wider expansion as the award season heats up in January.

The film faces stiff competition at the box office this weekend, when four other major titles including the sequel "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" will open and the hits "I Am Legend" and "Alvin and the Chipmunks" will continue.

Based on Stephen Sondheim's 1979 play, the R-rated film stars Depp as a revenge-minded barber in Victorian England who becomes a serial killer with the aid of a pie shop owner played by Helena Bonham Carter.

Haggling over how box-office receipts will be split is common, industry executives say, although disagreements are usually kept private.

In May 1998, Sony Pictures met resistance from exhibitors when it sought aggressive terms for its big-budget production "Godzilla" on its opening weekend.

Some theaters balked at paying 80% of receipts to Sony, but the studio nonetheless was able to book the picture into 3,310 theaters. It grossed a respectable $44 million in its first weekend but didn't become the monster hit some had expected.

Typically, studios get about 60% of gross ticket sales and exhibitors hang on to 40%, said Los Angeles marketing consultant Brad Brown, who has worked with theater chains as well as distributors. But with big movies they may seek as much as 90% during the first weekend, he said.

Studios also may insist that a new title be shown in the biggest auditorium of the multiplex for several weeks.

"Everything is negotiable," Brown said. "It's an unholy alliance because the studios and the exhibitors need each other."


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