By Indiewire | Indiewire November 25, 2003 at 2:00AM
"21 Grams" Leads Weekend Box Office With Stellar Debut
by Eugene Hernandez
"21 Grams" from Focus Features was without a doubt the top specialty film this weekend. Alejandro González Iñárritu's Indiewood film, starring Sean Penn, Benicio del Toro, and Naomi Watts, earned more than $274,000 in its debut on eight screens, for an average of $34,307. That's the second highest opening weekend per screen average this year, next to Focus' grosses for "Lost In Translation" back in September. That film debuted with an average of more than $40,000.
In a conversation with indieWIRE on Monday, Focus head of distribution Jack Foley called the opening a "great statement of confidence for us." Continuing he said, "Not just to tell the industry that the film opened successfully, but in terms of our [release] plan, the big opening was critical."
Foley explained that he will expand the film to nine markets on Wednesday, for the Thanksgiving weekend. He plans to have the film on about 60 screens over the holiday weekend, including four cities in Canada. From there he will hold the number of screens until December 26, when he intends to expand the movie much wider, to about 250 screens in 80 markets.
Foley explained that as with all Focus Features releases, he employed exit surveys to get a sense of audience reaction to the film. He indicated that the polls showed a younger audience embracing the film in downtown New York, which Foley says will be crucial in broadening the audience for the movie as it expands.
"This is probably the most challenging film I have ever dealt with," explained Foley, who said that he is balancing an awards campaign alongside the opening. "There is an artist's career on the line, [Iñárritu] is one of the great moviemakers in the world right now." The Mexican filmmaker drew accolades for his debut "Amores Perros."
Among other films opening over the weekend, "The Barbarian Invasions" from Miramax was certainly weaker than "21 Grams." The movie opened on six screens and made $79,650. Thats an average of $13,275 for Denys Arcand's film, which was an award winner at Cannes this year and received solid reviews ahead of its debut. Miramax's "The Human Stain" is just shy of $4 million. It made $701,709 on 388 screens for an average of $1,809. Its gross so far is $3,944,212. The company's "The Station Agent" made $421,473 on 149 screens for an average of $2,829. It has made $2,596,195 since its debut in early October.
In its eighth weekend, THINKFilm's "Gospel of John" made $271,365 on 105 screens. The movie had an average of $2,584 and passed the $2 million mark last week. It has made $2,327,165 so far. THINKFilm's "Bus 174" made just over $8,200 on four screens and has earned $127,683 so far, while "Spellbound" made $1,603 on three screens and is at a cume of more than $5.7 million since debuting in early May.
"Shattered Glass" from Lions Gate did not catch on with audiences in its expansion. The well-reviewed film, directed by Billy Ray and starring Hayden Christensen and Peter Sarsgaard, made $370,643 as it expanded more than 100 screens to 176, but that's an average of just $2,105. It has passed the million-dollar mark and has made $1,035,023 since its debut on Halloween. However, the film has topped Lions Gate's "Wonderland" which earned $25,316 on 31 screens for an average of $817. it has made $1,031,087 since opening at the end of September.
A number of new movies will debut over the Thanksgiving holiday, including Wayne Kramer's "The Cooler" from Lions Gate, Gyorgy Palfi's Hungarian film "Hukkle" from Shadow, Jim Sheridan's "In America" from Fox Searchlight, Charles Atlas' "The Legend of Leigh Bowery" from Palm, Jonathan Karsh's "My Flesh and Blood" from Strand, and "The Triplets Of Belleville" from Sony Pictures Classics.