As far as Hollywood was concerned, the foreign film was through. Finito. Muertos.
"With a few minor exceptions, the foreign-language film had died on the vine," said Brian Hearn, film curator at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. "American distributors were not willing to take them on anymore. And then this comes along."
By "this," Hearn referred to 2009's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," the Swedish crime thriller about the mismatched duo of disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and punk hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) attempting to solve an apparent murder of a missing woman.
Two immediate sequels followed, "The Girl Who Played with Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," all of which are based on the late Stieg Larsson's blockbuster novels and comprise what is called the "Millennium Trilogy."
The films were a critical and commercial sensation in Europe " a feat eventually duplicated in America. In fact, "Tattoo" and "Fire" are now OKCMOA's all-time top-grossing films, said Hearn, who expects a similar record-breaking reception for the local debut of "Hornet's Nest," showing Friday through Sunday for the next two weekends.
For those who need to catch up, "Fire" repeats the Wednesdays and Thursdays prior; "Dragon" on Tuesday.
But the trilogy almost wasn't imported to the U.S., he said, because the indie distributors who might've swooped on the rights a decade ago either aren't around anymore or just didn't care.
Enter Music Box Films, a relatively new art-house player based in Chicago.
"To be honest, I wasn't fully aware of it," said Ed Arentz, Music Box co-founder. "Most of the American buyers were in the same category."
One streamed viewing of "Tattoo" changed all that.
"It was a little bit bigger than a postage stamp. But it had enough impact on my laptop that we really felt like there was something there," Arentz said. "We acquired it based on that viewing experience. When a film works on that scale, you can kinda handicap how it will work with audiences."
He attributed the films' phenomenal reception to their faithfulness to the novels and the character of Lisbeth, who's "really quite riveting. She's someone who refuses to be victimized."
But instead of hitting only megaplexes, Music Box wasn't about to shut out boutique venues like OKCMOA's Noble Theater, which is the only cinema in the metro area to screen any part of the "Millennium Trilogy."
"Most of the films we distribute are foreign-language, and Brian and exhibitors like him across the country are where we turn to, so it'd be pretty dumb of us to turn our backs on them," Arentz said. "All along, our goal was to make this film cross over, but lure audiences to the independent theaters.
For that, Hearn and his counterparts are thankful. Each time OKCMOA has screened "Tattoo" or "Fire," it has sold out the 1,000-seat space.
"That film has been banking art-house cinemas. It literally has saved some. It was literally our best year ever," Hearn said. "For a foreign film to gross north of $10 million is remarkable in this day and age. It's a freakish anomaly. In my 15 years here, I've never seen anything like this. It's become this rabid, 'gotta see' thing."