"The King's Speech" once again proved the old Hollywood truism -- never count out Harvey Weinstein.
The former Miramax chief and co-chairman of The Weinstein Co. had the comeback story of this year's Oscar season when his character-driven period piece beat out favorites like "The Social Network," "True Grit" and "Black Swan" for Best Picture. "King's Speech" also became a surprise box-office smash, grossing more than $138.6 million in the U.S. and an additional $266 million in foreign territories, adding up to an impressive $405 million worldwide haul for a $15 million movie.
How did "The King's Speech" beat out Facebook, the Coen Brothers and a dancing Natalie Portman for the top honors? Old-school marketing, strong word-of -mouth and a little bit of controversy. Mr. Weinstein challenged the film's R rating in the press, noting that the movie was faring better among British audiences for having a more family-friendly 12-and-older rating. But above all, timing was everything. David Glasser, Weinstein Co.'s chief operating officer, said Mr. Weinstein paid close attention to his competitors' release schedules and premieres at film festivals like Telluride, Toronto and the Hamptons so "King's Speech" could generate buzz at just the right moments.
"He wanted people to have some time to enjoy the success of 'Black Swan,' let them enjoy 'Social Network,'" said Mr. Glasser. "You have to think about what's in the marketplace, what's competitive on the weekend. Our marketing guys sit with us all day long looking at dates and positioning."
And even though "Speech" was being outspent on a 5-to-1 ratio by films like "Social Network" in terms of trade advertising, it was able to rise above the pack by gaining major general-market momentum in the post-holiday months of January and February and key trade recognition from Academy screenings and PR events.
"He really is a marketing genius when it comes to how he is able to get the attention of the Academy," said Lynne Segall, publisher of Deadline.com.
"The King's Speech" is the latest in a series of awards-marketing triumphs for Harvey Weinstein. In 2009, Weinstein Co.'s aggressive trade campaign for "The Reader" managed to score a Best Picture nomination and a Best Actress win for Kate Winslet despite the film's middling critical reception. At Miramax, he racked up a whopping 249 Oscar nominations and 60 wins, including Best Picture trophies for 1996's "The English Patient," 1998's "Shakespeare in Love" and 2002's "Chicago."
The film also serves as a model for Weinstein Co.'s future release slate. After financial setbacks forced a corporate restructure, the studio is focused almost exclusively on finding films that will have dual critical and commercial appeal. Recent Cannes acquisition "The Iron Lady," for example, has built-in cache for Academy voters and mass audiences alike by featuring Meryl Streep playing British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. "We know we can buy these things, now consistency needs to be a part of the game," Mr. Glasser said.