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by Brian Brooks
August 3, 2005 10:36 AM
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"Aristocrats" Swallows the Specialty Box Office; "Penguins" Continues Strong

Mark Urman from ThinkFilm with Penn Gillette at the New York premiere of "The Aristocrats." Photo by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE.

Foul-mouthed doc "The Aristocrats" attained an orgy of box office returns last weekend, becoming the second highest per screen winner this year, and one of the biggest since this column began in indieWIRE. The feature easily took the prime position on the chart, ranked on a per screen basis, after opening at several locations. The overall specialty box office winner, however, continued to be "March of the Penguins," which alone represented about two-thirds of last weekend's entire iW BOT total of just over $6 million. Other newcomers like "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress," and "The Conformist," however, did perform solidly in limited runs, while other debuts fared less spectacularly.

THINKFilm's "The Aristocrats" by Paul Provenza trashed the weekend specialty box office with a stunning $60,949 per screen average, grossing $243,796 from four screens. The film became the second highest specialty grosser this year, behind Woody Allen's "Melinda and Melinda," which opened one New York theater in mid-March with a $74,238 gross. In comparison, Warner Independent Pictures' "March of the Penguins" debuted on four screens with a $34,373 average at the end of June, while Sony Classics' "Kung Fu Hustle" opened at seven sites, averaging $38,461 in mid-April. Last year, Fox Searchlight's "Sideways" debuted at $51,761 on four screens at the end of October, while the company's "I ♥ Huckabees" opened at four sites as well, averaging $73,044, the highest for a specialty release in 2004.

"I think it's #@#%-ing amazing," Mark Urman, head of U.S. theatrical at THINKFilm told indieWIRE Tuesday, via email. "We worked hard, with a lot of intelligence and strategy, and of course, good taste, and we knew something exciting was happening. But only a fantasist imagines grosses like these." Urman said the film's uninhibited look at a running inside joke among comedians that's been told for decades scored the right note for some audiences looking for content that celebrates anti-political correctness.

"The film is fun, perhaps not exactly good 'clean' fun, but certainly 'fun.' The exceptional critical response has given people of, shall we say, aristocratic tastes, permission to climb into the sandbox with all of us lowbrows and everybody is having a good time. I tend to think that many people -- more than one might have imagined -- are fed up with the political correctness and pre-emptive self-censorship that has purged our popular entertainment of some of its most tasty and juicy bits. 'The Aristocrats' is the antithesis and the antidote to political correctness."

Last month, CNN reported that multiplex chain AMC would not screen the film, which is unrated, but other exhibitors have shown more willingness. "We've had enormous support from the exhibition community. We were asked, in a few cases, to set screenings for some high level executives who don't normally bother. Perhaps they needed to make sure they weren't participating in something that would blow up in their faces, but we passed inspection."

THINKFilm will roll out the film in several new cities on August 12th, while expanding in New York and Los Angeles, and will expand again on August 19th. "The 19th and 26th [of August] combined -- and details are still being pounded out as I write this -- should take [the film] to hundreds of prints," stated Urman.

Empire Pictures' "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" scored the second spot on the chart last weekend, which covers the Friday - Sunday period ending July 31. The film, directed and written by Sijie Dai took in $16,694 on one screen.

Paramount's "The Conformist," also debuted at one location, capturing the third position on the chart with $15,810, while Fabrication Films International's "Last Dispatch" rounded out the top five on the chart, debuting on two screens, grossing $16,848 ($8,424 average).

In other openers, First Run - Icarus Films' "The 3 Rooms of Melancholy" took $5,025 at one location, while Cinema Guild's "Oyster Farmer" grossed $4,245 from two screens. Indican Pictures' "God's Sandbox" took in $4,816 from three sites, averaging $1,605.

Warner Independent Pictures' "March of the Penguins" continued its breadwinner status, consuming about two-thirds of the entire specialty box office gross, with over $4 million from 778 screens (695 last week). The film averaged 18% below last week's figure at $5,181, and its six- week cume stands at over $16.33 million.

The weekend's specialty gross totaled nearly $6.1 million from 1,855 screens, fifty more sites then one-week prior. Overall, the iW BOT averaged $3,275, a 7% decline from the previous week. Factoring out "March of the Penguins," the remaining 70 titles on the chart took in over $2 million on 1,077 screens, averaging $1,899, or 46% below the general iW BOT average. Using similar calculations, however, the combined average of all films on the chart minus "Penguins" increased 5% over the weekend from the previous week's $1,798. Industry-wide, 119 films grossed $122.96 million on 39,642 screens, averaging $3,102 or 5% below the iW BOT's average.

Sony Pictures Classics' "2046" as well as "Junebug," and Focus Features' "Broken Flowers," and "Saint Ralph" from Samuel Goldwyn Films are among this week's openers. Also debuting in theaters are Echo Bridge Entertainment's "Bailey's Billions," Newmarket Films' "The Chumscrubber," Slow Hand Releasing's "My Date with Drew," and Miramax's "Secuestro Express."

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