Seven and Pitt outstrip Showgirls

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Give up those front-and-center theater seats, ladies. A new group of moviegoers are going ga-ga for celebrity stud-of-the-moment Brad Pitt: men.

Forget "Showgirls," United Artists' masterfully marketed but terribly cheesy NC-17 skin flick that was supposed to rake in male movie watchers. It's New Line Cinema's "Seven," also starring critical favorite Morgan Freeman, that men--and most people--are lining up to see, thanks in part to a marketing campaign crafted to position the dreamy Mr. Pitt into a gritty hero.

Star power and a growing buzz have driven the arty and sinister "Seven" to the top of the box office, bringing in $30 million in the 10 days after its Sept. 22 opening. The flick posted near-blockbuster numbers ($15 million) in its opening weekend and stayed on top after its second weekend with an impressive drop-off of just 11%.

By contrast, "Showgirls," which also opened Sept. 22, brought in $14.6 million in 10 days. While its opening weekend numbers of $8 million on roughly 1,300 screens is unprecedented for an NC-17 movie, critical drubbing knocked the hot air out of it, and second-weekend ticket sales were down 57%.

For New Line's marketing and publicity executives, the challenge in opening "Seven" was to sell men on Mr. Pitt, who boasts a predominantly female following.

"Brad Pitt isn't necessarily a sought-after star among men right now," said Chris Pula, president of theatrical marketing at New Line. "We had to legitimize him for the typical thriller audience. We would have killed this movie if we depicted him otherwise and targeted another audience."

To that end, the ads and trailers always feature equal doses of Messrs. Pitt and Freeman, suggesting an endorsement of the brash young Mr. Pitt from the venerable, credible Mr. Freeman.

The ad effort, created in-house, was supported by a publicity effort coordinated by Christina Kounelias, senior VP-publicity. Limited by Mr. Pitt's time constraints, New Line picked just a few outlets, including US and the Los Angeles Times.

New Line also tried to generate a buzz among media types with a series of seven cryptic post cards and screen savers each illustrating a different deadly sin but no return address. Yet when New Line caught wind that several major opinion shapers like Time and The New York Times were going to weigh in with very negative reviews, Mr. Pula struck pre-emptively with print and TV spots that touted the film's many credible positive notices. New Line intends to spend north of $14 million to promote "Seven."

New Line executives credit the studio's small size for their ability to react so nimbly. Whether United Artists' bigger size prevented it from reacting as effectively after "Showgirls" opened to even worse reviews remains to be seen; marketing executives there declined to comment.

Still, the buzz about town is that United Artists' marketing efforts to open the film were nothing short of brilliant, and have given Hollywood reason to believe an NC-17 rating isn't necessarily a commercial kiss of death.

United Artists scored with an extensive outdoor campaign and a teasing trailer, created in-house. The studio managed to buy prime-time slots on spot TV despite the NC-17 rating. The studio also released an unsual 8-minute trailer on video that retailers could rent out for free. And United Artists' provocative World Wide Web site for "Showgirls" was still generating 1 million hits a day last week.

Copyright October 1995 Crain Communications Inc.

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