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How ‘Land of Bad’ Distributor The Avenue Is Disrupting the Action Thriller Space

It’s been four years since The Avenue first launched, and the indie distributor just scored its first top 10 film with William Eubank’s “Land of Bad.”

The action flick starring Liam Hemsworth, Russell Crowe, Luke Hemsworth, Ricky Whittle and Milo Ventimiglia opened on Feb. 16, had the fourth-highest per screen average over the holiday weekend and was the only independent film in the top 10.

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While indie films in awards contention can often make a modest box office dent, it’s unusual for an action film like “Land of Bad” to reach such heights: the actioner’s four-day total on opening weekend was $2.1 million from 1,057 screens.

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President of domestic marketing and distribution JJ Caruth says the box office success of “Land of Bad” is a strong signal that audiences are hungry for more action-packed movies. “I’m just happy to see an independent film succeed at the box office. It’s so important that we keep making independent films so that the filmmakers are able to tell their stories. But it’s also important for me as a distributor and as a marketer that this film has been successful for exhibition — they recognize that we have the ability to create movies that have theatrical potential. I’m just so excited about the future.”

Small-but-mighty The Avenue is Highland Film Group’s U.S. distribution division, helmed by CEO Arianne Fraser and COO Delphine Perrier, and handling all aspects of distribution, from theatrical through home entertainment to television, SVOD and AVOD. It also boasts a partnership with Paramount Home Entertainment to handle Blu-ray, DVD, VOD, and Digital distribution.

Caruth had a background with studios before joining The Avenue at its outset four years ago, working at Universal and with indie projects at Focus Features.

While she’s passionate about uplifting independent cinema, she admits it’s not for the faint of heart. “I love the collaborative passion that goes into independent filmmaking. You have to work so hard in order to get a film made, and then you have to work just as hard to market it and get it distributed. And if you don’t have that passion, you’re not going to survive and the film probably isn’t going to be hugely successful either.”

So what’s the secret sauce for a project from The Avenue? Of course, Highland Film Group titles most often make the cut, but the distributor also works with third party acquisitions. “We look for films that have broad appeal and that are very commercial, so we are very committed to action thrillers,” Caruth says. “And then for me on the domestic side, I look for the star power that’s really going to have some built-in awareness. We also look to partner with great directors.”

That’s abundantly clear in The Avenue’s upcoming slate, which includes Russell Crowe and Karen Gillan in “Sleeping Dogs” (out March 22) and “Blood for Dust,” starring Kit Harington and Scoot McNairy (out April 19). It’s also landed the North American rights to “Old Guy,” a buddy comedy releasing in theaters this September featuring Christoph Waltz, Lucy Liu and Cooper Hoffman.

Next, The Avenue has sights set on its first sequel, a follow-up to the megalodon shark thriller “The Black Demon.”

“We’re obviously learning every day, so we’re going to be building on that success. One of my priorities is to keep delivering films that will generate box office. I want to build on a relationship with exhibition,” Caruth says. “We want to be able to keep doing that at least with one or two films a year.”

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