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January 6, 2004 2:00 AM
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04's First Weekend Dominated by a "Monster"

04's First Weekend Dominated by a "Monster"

by Brian Brooks

Patty Jenkins' debut feature "Monster" has the makings of a solid movie, according to the iW: BOT of specialty titles. The film took the top spot over the weekend with an impressive per screen average in its still limited run. Sony Classics enters the new year on a high note, with three titles in the top ten including "The Fog of War," "The Company" and "The Triplets of Bellville," while "Secret Things," "Japanese Story" and "Millennium Mambo" kick off the first full weekend of 2004.

Newmarket Films' Christmas Eve opener "Monster" continued its roar in the new year, playing 14 screens over the weekend taking in $230,642 for a giant $16,474 per screen average. To date, the film has cumed $455,848.

"It's excellent... I'm really thrilled," said Newmarket chief Bob Berney in a conversation with indieWIRE yesterday afternoon. "I'm not only happy for Charlize [Theron] but also for Patty [Jenkins]. She is such a great person to work with..." Berney was referring to Theron's Golden Globe nomination for best actress for her performance in the film. Asked why he thought the film has resonated with audiences, Berney cited the team's lack of inhibitions in telling the story, which is based on the true-life account of Florida prostitute and murderer, Aileen Wuornos. "The film lets the scenes play out [and] goes all the way. Both in the performance and in the writing and direction, it doesn't hold back." Continuing, Berney said he believed the timing of the film's release peeked audience interest. "People are in the mood for something counter to 'holiday fare.'"

"Monster" played well to both an uptown and a downtown audience according to Berney, who said that a broad audience are buying tickets to the film, with an especially great response from gay audiences as well as in the suburbs of L.A. and San Francisco. Next weekend, the film will expand to 100 theaters with an additional 50 sites slated for January 16th.

2004's first weekend was dominated with titles that opened in '03, with 43 films tracked compared to 32 films previously and a total gross of $4.8 million, up sharply from $2.4 million in the prior weekend. The number reflects a general increase in per screen average numbers, as audiences return to theaters after the new year's holiday. 1,242 screens offered specialty films, up from 837 reported in the final weekend of last year. Also to be noted, many film companies did not report grosses last week due to the end of the holiday season.

Errol Morris' doc "The Fog of War" maintained its strong occupation in the iW: BOT, adding one screen for an $81,427 gross at six sites and a $13,571 per screen average, up from $11,627 last week. Since release three weeks ago, the film has cumed $276,427. "The Fog of War" distributor, Sony Classics also had two additional films in the BOT top ten. Robert Altman's "The Company" ranked fourth on the chart, grossing $92,139 on 11 screens ($8,376 average). The film has totaled $316,013 since its opening three weeks ago. The New York-based distributor's "The Triplets of Bellville" continued its 'magnifique' run, taking in $282,236 ($6,564 average). Since opening seven weeks ago, the film has cumed slightly under $1.1 million.

First Run Features debuted the French film "Secret Things" at the Nuart in Los Angeles, taking in $9,421 over the weekend. Samuel Goldwyn Films, meanwhile brought out "Japanese Story" on five screens, grossing $23,962 ($4,792 average). The film had actually opened December 31st in L.A. and has cumed $32,699. Palm Pictures debuted "Millennium Mambo" at New York's Cinema Village also on December 31st with a $4,619 weekend gross and a total of $7,575.

Fox Searchlight's "In America" and Lions Gate Films' "The Cooler" were among the titles to have increased per screen averages over the weekend well into their runs in theaters. "In America" added two sites taking in over $1.2 million on 327 screens for an average of $3,760 ($3,295 previously) in its sixth weekend of release. The film has cumed $5.3 million. "The Cooler" maintained 77 screens, grossing $340,002 for a $4,416 average ($4,010 previously). Also in its sixth week of release, the film has totaled over $1.8million.

This coming weekend will be light for new specialty film releases. Doc "Aileen: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer" examining the case of Aileen Wuornos, subject of "Monster" will open from Lantern Lane Entertainment. New Yorker Films, meanwhile, will debut Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "Distant" in Gotham.

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