Russia Box Office: Local-Language Disney Film Beats Controversial 'Matilda'

Courtesy of Studio Rock

The opening of the controversial movie was accompanied by false bomb threats to theaters and evacuations of cinemagoers.

Matilda, a controversial movie about the affair between Russia's last tsar Nicholas II and ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya, had a disappointing start at the Russian box office and was beaten during its opening weekend by Disney's local-language movie Posledny Bogatyr (The Last Knight).

Matilda grossed about $3.4 million (200 million rubles), which was roughly one half of the gross experts had projected for it. The Last Knight, Disney's second Russian-language movie, grossed $6.9 million (400 million rubles), coming in at the top of the local box office this weekend and leaving Matilda in the second spot.

Director Alexei Uchitel explained Matilda's lackluster performance by pointing to a thwarted advertising campaign due to protests against the movie's release from Orthodox activists claiming it depicted Nicholas II in a negative light.

"The numbers are easily explained by the fact that the film was released in a very special way, with no advertising," Uchitel was quoted as saying by business daily Kommersant. "There was not a single mentioning of the film on television. People are aware of the controversy, but those who watch movies, especially in the province, may not even know when it was released."

Despite threats from the movie's opponents, there were no major incidents during its opening weekend. Still, bomb threats disrupted several screenings in Moscow. Audiences were evacuated at seven cinemas in central Moscow, when police were forced to check for explosives after bomb threats were phoned in.

There was tight security last Monday for the film's premiere at St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre, where police arrested a number of religious protestors, carrying icons, who attempted to disrupt the event. Additional policemen were also deployed at theaters in various cities.

The film, which relates the events of the last tsar's life, and has been described by many observers as standard costume-drama fare, includes a number of blurred love scenes between Nicholas and his ballerina lover.

Matilda's opening coincided with an investigation of an incident at a cinema in Ekaterinburg in central Russia last month. Doctors who examined Denis Murashov, who rammed a car into the entrance to the city's Kosmos theater and set fire to its entrance, concluded that he was mentally ill. Murashov had said his action was a protest against a theater that planned to screen Matilda. Police are planning to charge Murashov with property damage and to request that he undergo compulsory psychiatric treatment.

Protests against the film, which started last year when the first trailer was released, have included attempts by Natalia Poklonskaya, a Russian member of parliament, to prevent the film from being shown, a fire bomb attack on the director's offices in St. Petersburg, and a billboard campaign by the Orthodox Church focusing on love letters Nicholas and his wife Empress Alexandra exchanged.