Oscar-winning doc ‘Undefeated’ does gangbusters in Memphis

03.10.12 5 years ago 4 Comments

The Weinstein Company

Here’s a box office story antidote to all those depressing sentiments regarding the $100 million write-off that is “John Carter.”

As Austin’s South by Southwest Film Festival forges ahead this week, it’s worth remembering that last month’s Oscar-winning documentary feature, “Undefeated,” started it’s long journey there almost exactly a year ago. Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin’s inspirational look at an embattled high school football program bowed at the fest on March 13 of last year, was later acquired by The Weinstein Company, and finally saw a theatrical release on February 17, just a week before the Academy Awards.

However, it wasn’t until March 2, last weekend, that it finally found its way to Memphis, Tennessee, the film’s setting, as it splashed onto a screen at the Malco Paradiso Theatre. And what a splash it made.

According to Commercial Appeal, “Undefeated” raked in $20,000 of it’s $82,000 gross last weekend on that one screen alone. That’s good for 25%. Of course the home town would come out to take a look and/or be supportive, but that’s a pretty significant percentage.

“It’s very unusual when you have Memphis do better business than New York or Los Angeles,” Weinstein Co. distribution and marketing maven Erik Lomis is quoted as saying in the piece. “It was twice the next-best single theater gross.” And not only that, but the Paradiso’s take for the film was good enough to beat the combined amount earned for the film on two screens in Los Angeles.

The piece also notes that in the wake of the film’s success and impact, subject Bill Courtney — the volunteer coach who whips the team into shape in the film — has signed on to WME and will tour the country as a promotional speaker. Normally I’d chafe at the Hollywood machine gobbling up a guy like that, but Courtney had a huge impact on a lot of lives and if he can be positioned to do the same for more, then that’s hardly a bad thing. On top of which, I’m sure it’s going to be lucrative for him, and he is not the kind of guy I’d begrudge a dollar by any means.

“Undefeated” is currently on just 12 screens nationwide and is clearly expanding slowly to build intrigue. Lomis says the film will “continue to roll out in a meaningful way,” whatever that might mean, but I find myself wondering if this could be a lovely little box office story at the end of the day. Time will tell.

If you haven’t had a chance to see “Undefeated,” do so the first chance you get. It’s an emotional, intimate, expertly crafted story that’s sure to draw out a tear or two, the kind of filmmaking that should be encouraged.

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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