For 25 years the Miramax brand was synonymous with intelligent, classy dramas typified by Good Will Hunting, The English Patient, My Left Foot and Shakespeare in Love, plus Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill and the multiple Oscar-winner Chicago.
Not any more. Ever since brothers Harvey and Bob Weinstein, who founded the company in 1979, departed after an acrimonious parting with the Walt Disney Co. in 2005, the Miramax label has lost its distinctive identity, if not its mojo.
Through September 21, Miramax had released just six movies in the US this year, for a combined gross of a measly $44 million. Adventureland is its top-grosser with $16 million, while Doubt raked in $14.7 million out of its $33.4 million haul since its December 2008 premiere. Meanwhile Extract, Cheri, Happy-Go-Lucky and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas all fared poorly.
After a corporate downsizing at Disney and the surprising exit of the studio's chairman Dick Cook, The Los Angeles Times is questioning whether the Miramax unit may be a casualty. “Miramax has never appeared to be a priority for Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger, nor does it fit his strategy to focus on Disney's 'branded' mass entertainment that can be exploited across the Burbank studio's various businesses including theme parks, television and consumer products,” the Times opined.
“Chances are Disney will continue to scale back the operation, whose overhead and production and marketing budgets were dramatically slashed after the Weinsteins left.”
A Disney spokeswoman denies there are any plans to unload Miramax, and The Times acknowledges, “Presumably it would be tough to find a buyer for the unit right now given the weak economic climate and the difficulty most smaller independent films face attracting adult audiences.”
To be fair, Miramax has enjoyed some artistic and financial successes under the reign of Daniel Battsek, who took over from the Weinsteins. A Brit, Battsek learned his craft as a producer and distributor with Nik Powell at Palace, which gave Miramax one of its biggest hits in 1992, Neil Jordan's The Crying Game.
Miramax's No Country for Old Men won best picture in 2007 and was profitable; Daniel Day-Lewis won best actor for There Will Be Blood, although that film didn't make money. Helen Mirren took home best actress for its 2006 release The Queen.
Last weekend Miramax launched Scott Hicks' The Boys Are Back on six screens in the US; the drama starring Clive Owen as a widowed sportswriter who's left to care for two sons opens here in November. Its upcoming slate includes The Last Night, a romantic drama toplining Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington and Eva Mendes; Everybody's Fine, a remake of an Italian film about a widower who hits the road to reconnect with his children, starring Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore and Kate Beckinsale; The Debt, the story of a former Mossad agent who tracks down a Nazi criminal, with Helen Mirren, Worthington, Marton Csokas and Tom Wilkinson; and Gnomeo and Juliet, an animated comedy riff on Shakespeare's play.
I could be wrong, but I don't see any Crying Game-type break-outs there.