The Blinding Success of 'Brokeback Mountain'

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Dec 29, 2005 4:42 PM

I haven't bothered to write about "Brokeback Mountain" at all because I haven't seen it, and don't have a real opinion about the flick itself.

Ace of Spades did a good job of keeping up with the blogosphere discussion of the movie, here, here, here, and here.

Critics and Hollywood types, predictably, have positively clambered to praise this message film to within an inch of its little celluloid life. There's a lot of cheerleading going on because the people who write about movies approve of the movie's theme and political implications, not necessarily its entertainment value.

Today, an AP entertainment reporter seems to...err... creatively present some box office numbers to carry the "Brokeback Mountain" pride flag.

Who's afraid of a couple of gay cowboys?

Not moviegoers, who helped "Brokeback Mountain" post the highest per-screen average over the film-flush holiday weekend.

The Ang Lee film, which follows the 20-year forbidden romance between two roughneck ranch hands, earned $13,599 per theater, compared with $9,305 for weekend winner "King Kong" and $8,225 for "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

The big question is whether "Brokeback" can maintain its momentum as it moves from selected cities, where audiences are receptive to the subject matter, to suburbs far and wide, where that might not be the case.

Doesn't it just feel like we're stretching it a bit here? This article feels like the time I tried to rationalize my senior superlative: "'Most Likely To Bore At A Dinner Party With Talk of Social Security When Everyone Really Just Wants to Enjoy the Wine' is totally just as cool as winning 'Best Dressed,'" I said to myself. Yeah.

Aren't we comparing tree-ripened fruits of differing colors and sizes? And without context. At no point does the reporter compare the total weekend gross of the three movies or the number of screens each is on. Let's imagine the story in reverse and see how silly it sounds:

Who's afraid of a couple gay cowboys?

Moviegoers, apparently, who helped "King Kong" and "The Chronicles of Narnia" top the box office this weekend, leaving "Brokeback Mountain" in a cloud of Wyoming dust.

The two holiday blockbusters did nothing short of whoop up on the gay cowboy love story, both earning at least $10 million more this weekend than "Brokeback's" $1 million showing.

After all, it's the truth. Can you imagine how people would howl over that?

"But, but, but...'Brokeback' is only open on 217 screens compared to thousands...and Middle America and the Bible Belt won't accept it...and it's just a more sophisticated movie with an inherently smaller audience...very arthouse...you really can't compare them at all."

Well, yes, context is required when comparing, and it goes both ways. Reporters don't get to abandon the idea when it makes things look rosy for "Brokeback Mountain." Further down in the story, you'll find why the AP is trying so hard:

The gradual release allows moviegoers to talk up the film's appeal, Foley said.

And it seems to be working.

Imagine that! A very silly story. Whatever you think of "Brokeback," visit Box Office Mojo for all the figures.