The critically acclaimed film is an unlikely epic about an assortment of colorful characters who make their livings in the adult-film industry of the late 1970s and early '80s.
EXPANSION PLANS QUESTIONED
It has performed strongly in New York, Los Angeles and other major markets. But its national prospects were dimmed after it was expanded to 783 theaters across the country with the Oct. 31-Nov. 2 weekend. The film pulled in a paltry $5.1 million in that period.
And although those results are at least partially attributable to a sluggish Halloween weekend at the box office, New Line executives are tempering their expectations.
"To be honest, we're getting some resistance in small towns, by virtue of the first-week numbers," said Mitch Goldman, the studio's president of marketing and distribution. "The reviews really don't impress everyone you want to impress if there's a vacuum of information about the plot of the movie."
New Line has been reluctant to reveal much of "Boogie Nights" in its advertising. The TV spots and trailers have primarily played up the movie's disco sound track and the kitschy fashions of the period, playing to the '70s nostalgia that's rampant in '90s pop culture.
"The music sets the stage for a fun movie that tends to be naughty," said Mr. Goldman. "If the movie had been set in the modern day, it would have almost been impossible to make this film palatable for audiences."
With no marquee names to tout and a reticence to use sexy imagery in print ads, New Line has relied on ads featuring a star-shaped collage of faces from the film. Ads allude to strong reviews and underscore the film's themes about a culture that esteems celebrity. Creative and media buying are handled in-house.
The good buzz "Boogie Nights" has earned has been exploited by New Line to take the edge off the film. New Line took the film to the Toronto and New York film festivals last summer, where it won top honors.
New Line built on that by rolling out the film slowly, common for prestige pictures with limited appeal.
The movie opened in New York on Oct. 13 on two screens. It moved to Los Angeles the week after, growing to 30 screens. The strategy yielded impressive per-screen revenue averages. The flick averaged $25,000 on the first weekend; by the second week-end that was up to $28,000 per screen.
Mr. Goldman said while anecdotal research has shown that audiences reacted favorably to the film's trailer, test audiences gave the trailer a low score. His theory: The sample wouldn't respond honestly because of its attitude toward the subject matter.
Mr. Goldman hopes those audiences will change their minds during the holiday season, when critics announce their top 10 lists and yearend awards. For now, New Line won't add screens, but wants to stay on as many screens as possible until Christmas.
"We're playing it by ear," Mr. Goldman said. "Hopefully, it won't run out of gas