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April Showers an Uneven Slate

21 Mar, 2003 By: Joan Villa

To make up for an April dominated by the sellthrough release of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and not many other top hits, retailers say they'll dip lower on the box office list to take a chance on independent films and others that they typically wouldn't have risked in a busy month.

“There's nothing that screams ‘blockbuster,' [except] Red Dragon, Harry Potter and Two Weeks Notice. Everything else is kind of borderline ‘B' titles,” said Kevin Brock, buyer for 11-store Bradley Video in Petaluma, Calif. He plans to go deeper on the hits and pick up more second-tier titles, especially Darkness Falls, which Columbia TriStar moved up to April 22 to fill in what Brock calls a “very soft” week.

“Everyone I've spoken to is under budget because there's nothing to buy,” said Todd Zaganiacz, owner of Video Zone and president of the 55-store New England Buying Group. “There are titles that will be picked up that wouldn't have been bought. We've bumped up Rabbit-Proof Fence and Waking Up in Reno, with Billy Bob Thornton and Patrick Swayze. We've gone back and reupped quantities because they've now become bigger titles.”

Retailers fear that after reaping the benefit of harsh winter weather, the May rental slump will be more pronounced than usual, as customers seek relief for “cabin fever,” Zaganiacz said. “With nothing out in April, is that going to drive business away earlier?”

A huge theatrical hit like the Harry Potter sequel is a mixed blessing at the rental counter, especially when consumers can buy it at cutthroat prices, said Richard Goffman, editor of the Movie Monitor buying guide. He sees Red Dragon as the top pure rental title, followed by Drumline, which at $56 million box office extended beyond its “niche” label.

Bowling for Columbine and The Pianist are both great movies that were moved out of April, and that leaves Far From Heaven,” he said. “Although it's one of the finest films of the year, it's got ‘art' written all over it, at least as far as the mainstream renters who pile up the big numbers are concerned.”

Sandra Bullock's Two Weeks Notice gives rentailers a gift at the end of the month, although Goffman wished Warner would have put it up against Harry Potter.

“Moms going into discount stores to buy Harry for their kids would feel completely justified picking up Two Weeks for themselves for under $20,” he said.

Nonetheless, April's $436 million tally, excluding the $261 million windfall from Harry Potter, stacks up favorably to last year's $464 million.

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