The challenge now is making "The King's Speech" into the lingua franca.
With a dozen Oscar nominations under its belt, the movie's executive producer and distributor Harvey Weinstein is ready to unleash a new marketing strategy that aims to rope in more movie-going commoners who normally wouldn't go near a historical drama about a British king.
The plans involve a potentially risky decision: re-editing the movie to excise course language and secure a lower rating that will open "The King's Speech" to a broader audience. Weinstein, whose New York-based studio the Weinstein Co. released the film, said he is talking with director Tom Hooper about trimming the profanity that earned the film an R rating in order to attain a PG-13 or even PG.
Weinstein is eyeing the success of the movie in Britain, where a 12-and-over rating has helped it to top the box office chart for the last three weekends, beating such bigger budget pictures as "Gulliver's Travels" and "The Green Hornet."
"The British numbers are huge because the rating lets families see the movie together," said Weinstein. "Tom and I are trying to find a unique way to do this that keeps his vision of the movie."
Hooper did not respond to calls for comment, and whether he would consent to the editing is not known.
Cutting swear words from "The King's Speech" would be tricky, since they're used extensively in a key scene in the movie. It would also represent a shift for Weinstein, who unsuccessfully appealed the Motion Picture Assn. of America in November to lower the R rating without any changes in the picture.
A recut version wouldn't hit theaters until after the Oscars ceremony on Feb. 27. But the Weinstein Co. has aggressive plans for the $12.3-million-budget production leading up to that date. Beginning this weekend, the distributor will expand the film to about 2,500 theaters in the U.S. and Canada from 1,680, making it accessible to nearly every moviegoer.
At the same time, Weinstein acknowledged, the audiences drawn by positive reviews and a prestigious cast of past and present Oscar nominees like Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter has been mostly tapped out. With nearly $60 million in domestic ticket sales, "The King's Speech" is already the second-highest grossing specialty release of 2010 behind the breakout "Black Swan," and will soon outgross "The Queen" and "Little Miss Sunshine."
But to go to the next level and match such crossover blockbusters as "Brokeback Mountain" or "Slumdog Millionaire," Weinstein Co. will have to attract those who usually turn out for mainstream movies.
The good news, said people who follow box office returns and polling, is that word-of-mouth is already helping the picture to reach a wider public.
"The most important thing is that the movie has morphed into an event that everyone is talking about," said Kevin Goetz, president of movie research company Screen Engine. "The ads need to remind people of that."
Weinstein Co. is aiming to keep the movie's 12-member ensemble cast, including its leads and supporting performers like Derek Jacobi and Claire Bloom, on the publicity circuit so that it remains on the minds of the public.
However, the studio is repositioning "The King's Speech" with ads focused on the mainstream theme of friendship between Firth's King George VI and his speech therapist, played by Rush. Previously, the distributor relied more on blurbs from positive reviews.
"The message more was about the critics, but now we're trying to get across that this classic movie is just as cool as the other movies people are seeing," said Weinstein.
In addition to touting its Oscar nominations, new ads for "The King's Speech" carry the tag line, "Some things never go out of style: Friendship; Courage; Loyalty." The previous tag line was "It takes leadership to confront a nation's fear. It takes friendship to conquer your own."
The independent film veteran, who has been known for savvy marketing ploys to boost his pictures since 1991's "The Crying Game," when he ran Miramax Films, has another trick up his sleeve for "King's Speech."
In three weeks, Weinstein Co. is planning to expand the movie to more than 3,000 theaters — unusually wide for a small, low-budget picture — and launch an ad campaign around Valentine's Day.
It's far from obvious given that there's no romantic tension in the movie. But Weinstein said a campaign timed for the Feb. 14 day honoring love will encourage people to "see it with the person who inspired you and changed your life."