‘Black Swan’ gets a big mainstream push, but how far can it go?


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At nearly $10 million in domestic box office, ‘Black Swan’ is already a hit on the art-house circuit. But can Darren Aronofsky’s supernatural drama defy the odds and become a mainstream sensation?

The film’s distributor, Fox Searchlight, is making a big bet that it can. The studio had initially planned on releasing the Natalie Portman film, which tells the story of a ballerina who may or may not be hallucinating, on about 800 screens over Christmas weekend. But buoyed by the movie’s performance in three weeks of limited release, it has decided to nearly double that number to 1,400 screens.


‘After seeing the opening grosses and realizing we were crossing over to the commercial multiplex theatres, we decided to quicken the pace,’ Searchlight distribution chief Sheila DeLoach told 24 Frames.

The movie already has some of the hallmarks of a cultural conversation piece, with David Letterman and other prominent types riffing on it. But the road to crossover success won’t be easy. Two years ago, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ became a national sensation, while five years ago ‘Brokeback Mountain’ pulled off the feat. But most indie dramas eventually hit a ceiling (Aronofsky’s previous effort, the buzzed-about Mickey Rourke movie ‘The Wrestler,’ topped out at a respectable but not groundbreaking $26 million).

Because of their more limited marketing budgets, independent films can’t browbeat their way to mainstream acceptance. And because of their dark and difficult subject matter -- something ‘Swan’ has in spades -- most independent dramas need to induce people to get over their natural reluctance to come out to see it ... and then have those people enjoy the film enough to recommend it to others.

Key to ‘Black Swan’ getting anywhere in the same stratosphere as ‘Brokeback’ ($80+ million in domestic box office) or even considerably ahead of ‘The Wrestler’ will be Searchlight convincing older audiences to overcome a possible innate skepticism about the movie’s outrageous and ambiguous elements -- while also getting a younger crowd to see a movie about ballet.

There are other obstacles. While the horror elements bring a built-in audience, they also could preclude a larger base; it’s rare for a horror movie to become a mega-hit. And the film could be hampered in more conservative quarters by its salacious lesbian love scene (ironically, the very scene that made the movie such a conversation piece in the first place).

This weekend brings the first test of the film’s broad appeal, as ‘Black Swan’ goes from the very selective precincts of 90 theaters to 10 times that number, including multiplexes in a host of suburbs. As of Saturday afternoon, the figures look solid, but it’s still far too soon to say whether hopes for a mainstream hit are real or, well, an illusion.



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-- Steven Zeitchik