Crying All The Way To The Oscarsby
The Secret. A startling twist in plot helped turn the Irish thriller The Crying Game into a hit movie. It may also have had something to do with the low-budget flick's getting a Best Picture nomination for the Mar. 29 Academy Awards. But the coup that The Crying Game is scoring is just one in a string of successes for the tiny outfit that brought it to the big screen: Miramax Film Corp.--a 12-year-old company known mostly for its stable of foreign language and art films.
For years, Oscar has been good to Miramax, a privately held, $70 million-a-year outfit that won Best Foreign Film awards for Mediterraneo last year, Journey of Hope in 1991, and Cinema Paradiso in 1990. But this year, the six Academy Award nominations snared by the The Crying Game have catapulted the New York company into box-office nirvana. Just since the nominations, the film has grossed a heady $10.1 million, taking it to a $28 million gross so far. "You have to admire a little company that can compete like Miramax has," says Sherry Lansing, chairman of Paramount Pictures' motion-picture group.
X-RATED NOTORIETY. Miramax, however, has long been known for having sharp elbows in the corners. Run by the Weinstein brothers, 40-year-old Harvey and 37-year-old Bob, it hired Harvard University lawyer Alan Dershowitz in 1991, when television networks wouldn't air commercials for its film The Pope Must Die. A year earlier, it signed on radical lawyer William M. Kunstler to sue the Motion Picture Association of America for the X-rating it gave Miramax' film Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! Neither challenge worked, and the rating on Tie Me Up! stayed. But the publicity made both films instant cult hits. "We looked at those legal expenses as our advertising budget," says Harvey Weinstein.
With most of its films catering to the art-house market, Miramax rarely spends more than $5 million for the rights to distribute a film. But that has led to some rousing successes: For example, the Weinsteins paid $1.1 million for the American rights to sex, lies and videotape, after seeing it at the 1989 U.S. Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The film went on to gross nearly $25 million. More recent hits have included Madonna's film Truth or Dare and the newly opened Strictly Ballroom, an Australian comedy that the company brought to the U.S. for $500,000. It has grossed $750,000 in its first three weeks on the big screen.
Miramax got the rights to The Crying Game when the film's producers ran out of money and most of the rest of Hollywood passed on it. The Weinsteins, who had distributed director Neil Jordan's previous film, The Miracle, in 1991, plunked down $4 million for the rights. Then came the surprise: After New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby and others praised the film without revealing its secret, Miramax' marketers seized upon it in advertisements that claimed the movie was "the nation's best-kept secret."
The Crying Game's nominations, along with two apiece that Miramax received for Passion Fish and Enchanted April, are certain to boost the company's fortunes. The Crying Game alone should gross at least $40 million, even if it doesn't win the Oscar. Miramax' revenues could double, to $150 million, this year, Harvey Weinstein says. The brothers decided against a public offering two years ago, but he says they may now reconsider.
UNLIKELY BET. Hollywood is a long way from Queens, N.Y., where the Weinsteins grew up. As teenagers, they haunted the local Mayfair Theater, watching films such as Fran cois Truffaut's The 400 Blows. "We were teenage boys, and we thought it meant something entirely different," recalls Harvey Weinstein. "But we got hooked on films by Truffaut, Bu nuel, and de Broca."
After college, the two bought a decrepit movie house in Buffalo and began showing films that drew a college crowd. With the profits, they began buying and distributing movies. Their first was The Secret Policeman's Other Ball, a rock-music comedy they bought in 1982 for $180,000, which earned $6 million. In 1988, their cleverly marketed film The Thin Blue Line, a stylish documentary about a wrongful murder conviction, became a news sensation and helped persuade a Texas court to throw out the murder conviction.
As for The Crying Game, even Harvey Weinstein thinks the odds on winning an Oscar are long. Like most Hollywood observers, he's putting his money on Clint Eastwood's western, Unforgiven. But Weinstein isn't counting out his film entirely. After all, it's got the secret.
A STRING OF MIRAMAX HITS Domestic box office Film Budget* receipts Release date (millions) (millions) THE CRYING GAME 1992 $4.3 $28 ** TRUTH OR DARE 1991 3 15 THE GRIFTERS 1991 6 13 CINEMA PARADISO 1990 3 12 SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE 1989 1.1 25 *Miramax pays a percentage of the budget for U.S. distribution rights**Through Mar. 1, 1993 DATA: EXHIBITOR RELATIONS CO., BUSINESS WEEK