the industry

Box Office: Cyrus Looks Like a Sleeper Hit

The Weekend’s Winners: In wide release, it was Grown Ups. But in stealth mode, it was Fox Searchlight’s Cyrus.

The Weekend’s Loser: Fox’s underperforming Knight and Day.

How it Went Down: It was no surprise that Pixar’s Toy Story 3 dominated the box office again (taking in an estimated $59 million, for a total so far of $226.6 million), or that the brilliantly-marketed (and critically reviled) Adam Sandler comedy Growns Ups took second ($41 million in over 3,500 theaters). And, unfortunately for Fox and Tom Cruise, Knight and Day’s subpar $27.8 million (in five days) was also on par with its shaky expectations. But the real surprise lurks down in 20th place: The John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill comedy Cyrus is showing signs that it could be on its way to becoming a sleeper summer hit — one theater at a time.

Last week it opened on four screens in New York and L.A. and pulled in $181,716 (averaging a whopping $45,000 per screen), and this weekend it pulled in another $300,000 as it expanded 325% to play on…well, 17 screens, as compared to Toy Story 3’s 4,000-plus. But still, on its scale, Cyrus is showing great potential. “We had large crowds,” explains Fox Searchlight president Steve Gilula. “With a comedy, that sense of shared excitement is really important.”

Cyrus’s directors, brothers Jay and Mark Duplass, and even its cast are working hard to keep that shared excitement high: Last night, in the Sherman Oaks Galleria Mall, audiences attending a post-show Q&A with the Duplasses to be moderated by Judd Apatow were surprised by a surprise walk-on by Reilly. And the filmmakers have schlepped all over the country doing similar gigs in Washington DC, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and even Toronto.

Night-to-night increases in grosses is a sign that good word of mouth is spreading: On Saturday night Cyrus’s take was 41% higher than Friday night’s. That’s encouraging to Fox Searchlight, which has been having trouble monitoring the film’s online buzz because of the internet colossus Miley Cyrus. “Normally, we monitor Twitter in a number of different ways,” explains Graham Retzik, VP of digital media for Fox Searchlight. “But Miley Cyrus has actually been a big problem for us: She’s huge on Twitter and online, and she’s been in movies, so it’s really hard to isolate for our Cyrus with Miley Cyrus in all those tweets.”

And so Retzik came up with, both as a means to differentiate the film and to showcase such catchphrases as, “Seriously, don’t fuck my mom.” Also available on T-shirts! No, seriously: The studio says they’ve already sold thousands of them online, so as Jonah Hill’s infamous ad-lib begins to crop up on the chests of hipsters and college kids, it’s a sure sign that the rest of the nation will eventually, you know, hit that.

UPDATE: The Duplass Brothers just emailed us about their history publicizing movies, and it came with a helpful hint for when you’re on a vast publicity tour for your next studio film: “We toured a little bit with [our indie, 2005’s] The Puffy Chair, though usually we got picked up in some kid’s ‘94 Tercel and did interviews out of a Days Inn. Then, when Sony Classics sent us out for [2008’s] Baghead, we hit quite a few cities, and that time it was a town car and we stayed at nice hotels. The Cyrus tour primarily involved Cadillac Escalades, especially when John and Jonah were involved, and Four Seasons type accommodations — not to mention first class airfare, which was our first taste. Don’t ever fly first class if you plan to fly coach again — it’ll ruin you!”

Box Office: Cyrus Looks Like a Sleeper Hit