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How deep is Woody Allen's fan base?

September 27, 2010 |  7:00 am

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By the simple standard of limited releases, Woody Allen's "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" performed well this weekend.

But by the standard of Woody Allen releases, the matter is ... less clear.

After grossing about $50,000 on Wednesday and Thursday, the Sony Pictures Classics film, a marital comedy packed with stars such as Josh Brolin, Naomi Watts and Freida Pinto, tallied $164,000 over the weekend. That’s an average of about $27,300 per screen — a number most small films would be ecstatic about, and rightly so. (By comparison, Lionsgate's "Buried," which also opened in limited release, averaged only about one-third of that total.)

But Allen has always had a hard-core coastal fan base that comes out to see his films on opening weekend. So high per-screen averages are not exactly surprising. And when you look at it a little closer, "Stranger" shows a less favorable result. Many Allen films in the past decade have generated as much as $40,000 or $50,000 per screen on opening weekend (in lay terms, that's a few hundred people at each showing).

This one, on the other hand, had a lower average --- in fact, the lowest per-screen average of Allen’s last seven movies that have opened in limited release. (You have to go back to 1995’s "Mighty Aphrodite" to find a lower one.)

It's too soon to say what this weekend's numbers will mean for the final commercial verdict on the director's 41st feature. Allen's films tend to hang in there, holding theaters months into their release. And the 74-year-old filmmaker has of course had a commercial resurgence with some of his recent efforts. Two of them -- "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and "Match Point" -- have even topped $20 million, the first time in more than two decades he's hit that milestone.

But there have been signs that he's reverting to a fallow period that preceded "Match Point." In early 2008, just seven months before "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," the heist picture "Cassandra's Dream" bombed, failing to even take in $1 million. And despite the presence of star Larry David, last year's "Whatever Works" topped out at only about $5 million domestically.

The reviewers haven't loved "Stranger" and its black comedy take on modern relationships -- the film failed to hit the 50% fresh mark on Rotten Tomatoes, while The Times' Betsy Sharkey was not alone in noting the feeling of an "empty-calorie letdown." It's hard to deny that that Allen is breaking little new ground with some of his recent work. Mostly he's offering something reliable, comedic comfort food for the misanthropy set. The question is how many people keep scarfing it down, and for how long.

-- Steven Zeitchik
twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: A scene from "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

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