The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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Is 'This is It' Michael Jackson's last big hit?

October 28, 2009 | 12:53 pm

How's this for a shocker? The critics have finally gotten a look at Michael Jackson's "This Is It" and -- shazam! -- they're loving it. My colleague Ann Powers calls the film "a tribute to the power of Jackson's body and voice," while Variety's Andrew Barker says the film does a great job of capturing his rarely seen creative process, exclaiming that "his intense perfectionism is breathtaking to see." 

This_is_it_movie_poster_michael_jackson If audience reaction is as positive as the good reviews, the movie -- which Sony is opening today in roughly 3,500 theaters -- could end up outstripping all of the early $35 million to $50 million five-day weekend box office predictions.

So how did Sony do it? I turned to Time magazine for answers, since it offered a story with a headline that was too good to resist: "Marketing 'This Is It': How Sony Created a Global Event." Alas, none of the top execs from Sony's crack marketing team is actually quoted in the story, so when it comes to analyzing Sony's marketing prowess, we have to take the word of various outsiders, including Variety's Stephen Gaydos, Fandango spokesman Harry Medved and box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian, who is, on average, quoted about 1,000 times a week in the show-biz press. (Time did talk to "This Is It" director Kenny Ortega, who is clearly a talented filmmaker but hardly a marketing expert.)

Time says Sony cleverly kept the movie away from critics until the last minute, pushed the film as a global phenomenon by orchestrating 33 different premieres, 16 of them synced to begin at the same time, and pumped up early ticket buying by saying the film would have a two-week-only run. It all sounds very innovative, except for the fact that it's all been done before, most of it by Sony in its launch of its "Da Vinci Code" series, which had much the same global opening strategy and was also held back from critics until the last moment.

With all the early chatter about Jackson's frail condition and erratic behavior before his death, I admit to having been a doubter when it came to anyone pulling together a coherent film that captured some of his on-stage glory. But judging from the "This Is It" reviews, it sounds as if the wonderfully strange King of Pop will enjoy one last turn in the spotlight. So my hat's off to Sony's marketing team, which took what could have been a lemon and served us a delightful, cool glass of lemonade.

And their efforts are paying off with fans. My colleague Ben Fritz is reporting that "This Is It" earned a robust $2.2 million from its Tuesday night screenings in the U.S. and Canada and could easily gross more than $15 million by the end of today. With that in mind, here's a little over/under poll that we've put together. Let me know how you think the movie will perform at the box office.