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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

'Black Swan' Might Be the Most Unlikely $300 Million Movie Ever

Not your normal blockbuster. Fox Searchlight

During award season, "Black Swan" was the big winner at the Independent Spirit Awards, snagging four trophies, and director Darren Aronofsky took the opportunity to thank the film's distributor, Fox Searchlight "for putting your necks out, because on paper this was a really stupid move."

No kidding. There aren't many movies that are part psychological horror film, part ballet movie, part backstage drama. There are even fewer that have made $300 million worldwide.

Deadline reports that "Black Swan," the arthouse film that earned Natalie Portman an Oscar for Best Actress, just reached that magical commercial figure over this weekend, four months after it was first released. Granted, that's chump change for big blockbusters like "Alice in Wonderland" or a Harry Potter movie, which can make around a billion dollars worldwide, but for something legitimately challenging and daring like "Black Swan," that's practically unheard of. Astoundingly, it's made more money (and certainly more profit) than much bigger would-be mega-hits like "Sex and the City 2," "Salt" and "The Expendables," trumping proven box-office powerhouses like Sarah Jessica Parker, Angelina Jolie and Sylvester Stallone.

Consider for a second that "Black Swan" was directed by someone who has a track record for accomplished movies ("The Wrestler," "Requiem for a Dream") that aren't exactly box office dynamos. (The one time he tried to make a biggish studio movie, "The Fountain," it bombed badly.) Plus, the film's star was hardly a massive marquee draw, despite the fact that Portman had starred in the three "Star Wars" prequels. If all that wasn't enough, the movie's subject matter hardly screamed huge returns: An ambiguous, R-rated tale of an ambitious ballerina losing her mind while preparing to play the lead in "Swan Lake," "Black Swan" didn't always make it clear if what you were seeing on screen was real or not. Even when the trades gave the film strong reviews back in the fall, they noted that there were going to be "formidable marketing challenges."

But even before the marketing challenges, Aronofsky had to actually make the movie, which almost didn't happen, despite a relatively low budget of only $12 million.

"There were endless pressures to pull the plug," Aronofsky told The Wrap. "The money was harder to get than it was for the 'The Wrestler.' It took about 18 months of chasing money. And there were many moments where we didn't think it was going [to] be possible ... Unfortunately, any film that doesn't have a superhero in it is really hard to get made in today's world."

But when the movie debuted in early December, it caught on, averaging an impressive $80,000 per screen in a limited run. And from there, it just kept growing, almost out-grossing mainstream fare like "Gulliver's Travels" over New Year's Eve weekend and getting a high-profile Jim Carrey spoof on "Saturday Night Live." No doubt the multiple Oscar nominations and Portman's win helped its visibility, but to hit $300 million globally is pretty astounding: In fact, the movie has made more worldwide than all of Aronofsky's other films put together. Yes, "Black Swan" was a head-trip and not your usual studio fare, but the movie became one of those events you just had to experience for yourself -- and clearly enough people liked what they saw and told their friends.

So congrats to Aronofsky, Portman and all involved with "Black Swan." You can understand why Aronofsky was in a gloating mood at the Independent Spirit Awards when he said, "Everyone said this movie wouldn't make money, and now [the investors] are [expletive] rich." As for Aronofsky, he was going to do one of those superhero movies, "The Wolverine," before he decided to drop out. Considering he now has a $300 million movie on his résumé, you'd have to think he'd be in a great position to make whatever movie he'd like to now.

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