Entertainment A-List 2010

Entertainment A-List No. 3: 'Blind Side'

Reaching Out to Churches, as Well as Sports Fans, Helped Movie Tackle Unexpected Numbers at the Box Office

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Sure, "Avatar" made more money than any other film in history. But the real surprise blockbuster of 2009 was "The Blind Slide." What helped the movie score big late into 2009 was an unconventional marketing playbook that helped bring different audiences together at the multiplex.

Distributed by Warner Bros. and produced by Alcon Entertainment, the Sandra Bullock sports drama was initially pitched to older women and families as an alternative to the much more anticipated "Twilight: New Moon," released on the same day. But after a large-scale outreach to the Christian community, an increasing following among men and sports fans and a surprising Oscar campaign for Ms. Bullock, the football drama echoed its own main character's underdog story, grossing a whopping $255 million at the box office.

Richard Ingber, Alcon Entertainment marketing president
Richard Ingber, Alcon Entertainment marketing president
"It really took on a life of its own," Richard Ingber, Alcon's marketing president, said of the movie's word-of-mouth marketing."

The faith-based push kicked off the film's late-November release, with more than 20,000 churches downloading clips from the film to use during Sunday sermons, courtesy of a campaign conducted by faith-based marketing firm Grace Hill Media. Jonathan Bock, a Warner Bros. publicity veteran who now runs Grace Hill, estimated that the average church congregation had 400 members, meaning roughly 8 million churchgoers had been exposed to "Blind Side" footage and messaging in its first weeks of release.

"[On] any given weekend, you're looking at about 43% of the country in church, while those who are showing up once a month is basically two-thirds. And if you're talking to two-thirds of the country, you're going to get a pretty huge spectrum of people and the kind of movies they like," Mr. Bock told Ad Age at the time.

Alcon also made a big play for the male sports crowd, taking out buys on NFL and basketball games to appeal to fans who might be familiar with the film's true-life story of Baltimore Ravens player Michael Oher. That helped males account for a surprising 43% of the film's opening weekend, making it the best-ever opening for a sports film (beating out the "Rocky" franchise and Adam Sandler's remake of "The Longest Yard") and for Ms. Bullock.

Domestic box office
Churchgoers who were exposed to "Blind Side" marketing materials during its first weeks of release
Male opening-weekend audiences attending what was initially marketed as a female-targeted film
It was the lead actress's career momentum during the awards circuit that helped the movie pick up additional steam well into the first months of 2010. As Ms. Bullock made the rounds of talk shows, Golden Globes, Oscars and even the Razzies (for "All About Steve"), more moviegoers flocked to the film, with the movie taking in nearly $50 million of its $255 million haul during the weeks between January and March.

Mr. Ingber said "The Blind Side" has been the most profitable film in Alcon's history, which had previously made mid-sized films such as "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," and "P.S. I Love You." And although Warner Bros. has a distribution partnership, Alcon independently markets its films. Mr. Ingber said the company has not determined its expansion plans after its newfound haul of "Blind Side" cash, but Alcon nevertheless has plans to release several other films, the Ice Cube vehicle "Lottery Ticket" and live-action Warner Bros. cartoon remake "Marvin the Martian," later this year.

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