The poster reads, ”Evil has many faces.” But the image is the angelic mug of Macaulay Culkin, the Prince of Hollywood Cute.
The movie is The Good Son, out in late September, and in it, the pint-size star plays a murderous little demon — not exactly the kind of family fare we’ve come to expect from Culkin, who’ll earn a reported $5 million for this film and $8 million for his next, MGM’s Getting Even With Dad. In fact, Good Son presents Twentieth Century Fox with one of the toughest marketing challenges of the fall movie season: How do you sell a $28 million drama starring the world’s most famous kid to an audience that doesn’t need permission to stay up past 9 p.m.?
”Macaulay couldn’t buy a ticket to see this movie,” says Fox’s marketing president Andrea Jaffe, confirming that the studio has written off the kid audience that allowed the Home Alone films to gross almost $454 million. Among the marketing strategies:
· Fox attached a chilling Good Son trailer — in which Culkin is seen briefly, uttering the line, ”What do you think this is, a game?” — to such adult-oriented films as Rising Sun.
· The movie has an R rating, clearly not for tots.
· Its TV ads will air after the family-viewing hour.
Sources who have attended two test screenings of Good Son report that audiences were not distressed watching Culkin channel for Damien. But will America buy Culkin as a Junior League Jason? ”They’ll be cool to the idea,” says a Disney exec. ”Culkin is practically a brand name as far as wholesome movies are concerned.” And Brian Fox, president of his own movie marketing agency, B.D. Fox & Friends, says, ”He’s the Shirley Temple of his day. It’s risky when a star tries on a new face.”
The irony is that Fox executives might not have cast Culkin if his manager-father, Kit Culkin, hadn’t reportedly strong-armed them by threatening to pull his son out of Home Alone 2 (Fox denies this). Culkin’s dad is eager to position his son as the next Jodie Foster instead of the latest Ricky Schroder.
But if audiences reject Culkin as naughty by nature, it’s Fox, not Culkin, who stands to lose. As a source notes, ”Culkin is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of kid movies. If it works, fine. If it doesn’t, no problemo. He’ll be back — in Home Alone 3.”