With one spectacular exception - the Amy Sedaris-starring "Strangers With Candy" - and several smaller ones, the five-day Fourth of July holiday didn't produce fireworks for independent/specialty films, based on the results of the latest indieWire Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT). Only three films averaged over $10,000 per engagement - ThinkFilm's "Strangers With Candy," First Look's "Wassup Rockers," and Lionsgate's "Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man." The chart is based on five-day numbers reported to Rentrak Theatrical by distributors.
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"Strangers With Candy," directed and co-written by Paul Dinello and a prequel to Sedaris' Comedy Central TV series, average $31,748 over five days at two choice Manhattan theaters, Clearview's Chelsea Cinemas and Landmark's Sunshine.
The film grossed $63,496 over the five days - and another $26,059 from its first two days of release, June 28 and 29. According to Nielsen EDI, it did $22,113 from June 30-July 2 at the Chelsea and $21,024 during the same period at the Sunshine. The strong opening would appear to justify ThinkFilm's faith in the offbeat comedy, which has supporting performances by major stars and was acquired but then dropped by Warner Independent Pictures following its debut at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.
Meanwhile, First Look's Larry Clark-directed "Wassup Rockers" had an excellent second (five-day) weekend and finished second on the iWBOT, averaging $15,034 at three theaters. But it was a curious second-place finish. For the three days measured by Nielsen EDI, it lost 64% of its audience at New York's Angelika Film Center, grossing $10,646 compared to the previous weekend's $29,400.
But its opening at Landmark's Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles - which requests exclusives and had been closed for approximately a month for renovation - was a major hit, earning $18,063 over its first three days. Clark appeared in person at the theater.
"The Nuart re-opened with 'Wassup Rockers' last weekend to an enthusiastic response that ranks #4 in attendance for the past year," said Ted Mundorff, vice president of film and head film buyer for Landmark Theatres, via email. "Though the theatre hasn't completed the extensive renovation, the crowd loved the new rocker-back seats with expanded legroom that the improved design offers. The Nuart Theatre's first-class upgrade will allow Landmark to continue to serve its loyal customers in Los Angeles with the best in art and independent film in a comfortable yet classic theatre."
The film also opened at Landmark's Century Center Cinemas in Chicago. About a group of L.A. Latino skateboarders who venture to Beverly Hills, "Wassup Rockers" undergoes a major expansion this weekend into 56 theaters, including 24 throughout California.
In third place on the iWBOT in its second week of release is Lian Lunson's "Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man," which continued to pack in crowds at Manhattan's Film Forum. On seven screens in New York, L.A. and Toronto, the tribute-concert/documentary about the Canadian singer-songwriter/poet grossed another $84,322 over five days and now has a two-week total of $123,052.
Over the three-day weekend in New York, "Leonard Cohen" dropped only 17% in its exclusive run and its gross of $14,225 was higher than "Wassup Rockers" at the Angelika, also in its second week. "His fans are really coming out and we're getting some repeat business already," said Steve Rothenberg, president of theatrical distribution for Lionsgate.
In L.A. at two Laemmle theaters - West Hollywood's Sunset 5 and Santa Monica's Monica - the film did less well, just over $6,000 at each for the first three days of the holiday weekend. However, that's a bit misleading, according to Rothenberg. The L.A. audience isn't inherently bigger than New York's. Rather, patrons in such a spread-out city need several theaters to play the same indie/specialty film in order to find one close enough to drive to. That's much less of a problem in New York with its extensive subway system.
"If you have a film in Hollywood, people will not necessarily drive over from the west side or Santa Monica," Rothenberg said. "So you need opportunities in geographic corridors. If the numbers were much lower than New York, then I'd say L.A. was lagging. But if you add them up, it's within 10% of the New York number." The film expands into the Top 15 markets on July 14.
Sony Classics' "Who Killed the Electric Car?," the second environmental documentary of the summer to feature Al Gore (albeit in a cameo), finished sixth on the iWBOT with an $8,648 five-day average from eight theaters in New York and metro L.A. Because Chris Paine's film primarily is about a car manufactured for - and mysteriously withdrawn from - the California market, its L.A. numbers were better than New York's.
According to Nielsen EDI, it did best over the three-day weekend at Hollywood's ArcLight, where it grossed $8,660. The best New York performance over the same period was at the Angelika Film Center, where it brought in $6,215. Sony Classics plans to expand it nationally.
Another documentary, Patrick Creadon's crossword-loving "Wordplay," slipped on the iWBOT as it jumped to 95 locations from 45 in its third week of release. Its five-day per-theater gross fell to $5,184 from $7,226 - good for ninth. It was on the most screens of any film in iWBOT's Top Ten.
"The expansion last weekend was all about getting the film out there to the top markets and letting it run throughout the summer," said Mark Boxer, IFC Films' vice president of distribution, via email. "'Wordplay' performed well for the expansion as the gross crossed the $1 million mark in less than 3 weeks in release."
Meanwhile, the two biggest summer indie/specialty releases to date - Paramount Classics' Davis Guggenheim-directed "An Inconvenient Truth" (Al Gore's other film) and Picturehouse's Robert Altman-directed "A Prairie Home Companion," kept on grossing $2 million-plus per weekend. On 717 theaters in its fourth week, "Prairie Home" averaged $3,045 per site over the five-day weekend and now has grossed $15.66 million. And "Inconvenient Truth," at 587 locations for its sixth week of release, averaged $2,879 and has grossed $13.36 million. According to Box Office Mojo, it's the fifth highest grossing non-concert documentary.
The 61 indie/specialty titles on this week's iWBOT generated $7.54 million at 2,267 theaters over the five-day holiday weekend for a per-site average of $3,326. The previous (three-day) weekend saw the 79 titles in the market on 2,388 locations generate $6.875 million, for a per-location average of $2,879.
[Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles-based film writer and former movie critic at the Denver Post.]
indieWIRE:BOT tracks independent/specialty releases compiled from Rentrak Theatrical, which collects studio reported data as well as box-office figures from North American theatre locations. To submit information about your film to Rentrak, please email firstname.lastname@example.org