Sony Pictures Classics’ Michael Barker On ‘The Father’s Six Oscar Noms & Why The Industry Shouldn’t Panic Over Indie Box Office

EXCLUSIVE: “Don’t be in a panic!”

These are the sage words from Sony Pictures Classics’ Co-President Michael Barker about the future of independent films at the theatrical box office.

While the pandemic and the proliferation of streamers has sent a number of awards season contenders into the home, he believes that arthouse fare will be able to bounce back and cross over at the box office once Covid is behind us and all theaters are open and operating at top capacity.

“The history of motion pictures as I know it has always been about adapting to new institutions,” Barker tells Deadline. “In each situation, and each upheaval, the theatrical experience has survived.”

Many distributors expect tentpole films to rebound, no problem. However, with certain distributors including Searchlight not reporting B.O. figures, and with Amazon jumping on the limited truncated theatrical two-week release-to-streaming Netflix bandwagon, many wonder if this is the new norm for awards contenders.

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Not so, per Barker, because theatrical continually will raise the profile of arthouse and niche titles.

“There is a sea of titles, and you need a curation for it,” Barker says about how the B.O. and theatrical is poised to raise the profile on indie movies. “Especially with these films, it’s important for them to be distinctive as they’re released on these platforms.”

When it comes to SPC’s release of Florian Zeller’s The Father, Barker and SPC Co-President Tom Bernard have two reasons to be happy today: Not only did the Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman movie receive six Oscar nominations including Best Picture, but the pic is off to a respectable start considering all the constraints of the pandemic B.O. with close to a half-million.

In order to get to the level of B.O. on a specialty title that we are used to seeing from a handful of NYC and LA theaters pre-pandemic, it simply takes more screens. The Father opened February 26 in select venues and expended to 865 locations this past weekend, earning $433,600 for a No. 8 rank with $501 per theater. To date, through three weekends, The Father has grossed $477,600. By comparison, in its first expanded weekend of Feb. 19-21, Searchlight’s Nomadland earned an estimated $503,000 at 1,175 theaters for a $428 theater average. The Father was in its second weekend in NYC over the last three days with bookings at Lincoln Square, the Angelika and the Cinema on 3rd Avenue. The movie will be in more than 10 sites this coming weekend when Los Angeles cinemas return from Covid’s yearlong shutdown.

Drill down into The Father‘s box office, and there’s an even more promising statistic: The single largest demographic to show up over the weekend, according to Screen Engine/Comscore’s PostTrak, were people over 55 at 39%. That demo already was known to be a slow one to come out to theaters pre-Covid, and the concern among those in distribution and exhibition circles is that they’ll be even slower. But Father‘s turnout here is a good sign. Audiences overall gave the movie a very good 84% “positive” with a 54% “definite recommend” in exits. The Father‘s audience leaned male at 52%, with 76% over 35. Critics, natch, love the film at 99% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

In the pic, Hopkins stars as a dad who refuses all assistance from his daughter (Colman) as he ages. Each was Oscar-nominated, for Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively, with The Father also earning noms for film editing, production design and Zeller and Christopher Hampton’s adapted screenplay (based on the former’s play). The pic will hit PVOD on March 26.

With such awards-season standards as cocktails parties and in-person buzz screenings with talent Q&As morphed into at-home, virtual events, Barker says that changeup never slowed The Father‘s momentum.

“We were concerned about that for the longest period of time, however, over the last few months, there were many Academy members who had seen the movie on the Academy’s platform,” he says. “There was also a huge turnout in Toronto for the movie and many festivals allowed people to see the film virtually. We sensed there was a huge number of people gravitating toward the film.”

He adds, “The Father is very powerful on both big screens and small; we’re lucky to have this kind of film”

In addition today, Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group Chairman Tom Rothman gave a shout-out to Barker and Bernard as well as other Sony productions that were bestowed with Oscar noms. You can read Rothman’s internal email to staff below:

Dear Colleagues,

For the second year in a row, Sony Pictures has two Best Picture nominations from The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. In an unusual time to say the least, this is a terrific accomplishment.

Please join me in congratulating Michael Barker, Tom Bernard, and the entire team at Sony Pictures Classics on their outstanding showing with six nominations for The Father, including Best Picture and Best Actor. It is marvelous to see this outstanding film get the recognition it deserves and a validation of our strategy of programming for all audiences.

I also want to congratulate Steve Bersch, Michael Helfand, Joe Matukewicz, Jonathan Freedberg and the team at Stage 6 Films for Sound of Metal, where we hold worldwide rights excluding the U.S. and Canada. The film received six nominations, including Best Picture.

And lest we forget Greyhound – which we made, fully financed and ultimately licensed to Apple TV+ early in the pandemic – has been nominated for Best Sound. Although the circumstances of the pandemic redirected the trajectory we anticipated, it is a film of which we are most proud.

And cheers to Michelle Grady and the entire Sony Pictures Imageworks team for their stunning contributions to Mulan, which received two nominations including one for Best Visual Effects.

Bravo to all,

Tom

THE FATHERSony Pictures Classics

Best Picture – Philippe Carcassonne

Best Actor in a Leading Role – Anthony Hopkins

Best Supporting Actress – Olivia Colman

Best Adapted Screenplay – Florian Zeller, Christopher Hampton

Best Film Editing – Yorgos Lamprinos

Best Production Design – Cathy Featherstone, Peter Francis

SOUND OF METAL – Stage 6 Films

Best Picture – Sacha Ben Harroche, Bert Hamelinck

Best Actor in a Leading Role – Riz Ahmed

Best Supporting Actor – Paul Raci

Best Original Screenplay – Darius Marder, Derek Cianfrance, Abraham Marder

Best Sound – Phillip Bladh, Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés, Carolina Santana

Best Film Editing – Mikkel E.G. Nielsen

GREYHOUND – Sony Pictures licensed to Apple TV+

Best Sound – Warren Shaw, Michael Minkler, Beau Borders, and David Wyman

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