I don’t know how it works in the United States, but here in Canada, boutique labels like Paramount Vantage and Fox Searchlight are generally handled by different publicity firms from the ones that handle parent companies like Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox. Occasionally there is some overlap, but most of the time, films put out by the boutique labels tend to be treated like arthouse or independent films, rather than mainstream wide releases, and they generally do less business at the box office.
So I probably shouldn’t have been too surprised to learn this week that Fox Walden — the label that was set up recently when Walden Media, which specializes in adaptations of children’s books, came into the Fox fold on a permanent basis — is being handled by the same people who handle the other boutique labels. Apparently children’s-lit movies are more of a niche genre than anything else. But it does make me wonder how seriously we can take the claim, reported in this Variety story today, that Fox Walden is poised to challenge Disney’s dominance within the family-movie field.
The ironic thing? Walden Media’s biggest hit to date, by far, is The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), which was distributed by … Disney. In fact, Disney released four of Walden’s six top-earning films to date — including one film, Around the World in 80 Days (2004), that was one of the biggest flops by any studio in recent memory, earning only $24 million in North America on a budget of over $100 million. (In fairness, the film earned another $48 million overseas.)
The two basically successful films that were not distributed by Disney are Because of Winn-Dixie (2005), which was distributed by Fox and grossed $33 million worldwide on a budget of nearly half that, and Charlotte’s Web (2006), which was distributed by Paramount and grossed $82.6 million in North America and another $61.8 million overseas on a budget of $85 million.
Interestingly, the Variety story suggests that Walden Media was interested in hooking up with Disney on a long-term basis, but turned to Fox when Disney said it was cutting back on its film slate. However, another Variety story that went up today notes that Disney has been re-focusing all its efforts on family films — and recently scored a success, box-office-wise, with The Game Plan, the first film to be greenlit by the new Disney regime.
The first big test of the Fox Walden approach comes this weekend with the release of The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising. But given that the film is receiving the boutique-label treatment — wide release or not — I am not sure how much I would bet on its box-office prospects. (The fact that it hasn’t gotten very good reviews is also problematic, but its 18% rating at Rotten Tomatoes is not that far behind the 29% rating that The Game Plan currently has.)