This week's indieWIRE Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT) of new art and specialty films was led by 1969 movie, Jean-Pierre Melville's "Army of Shadows." The latest restoration project by Rialto Pictures grossed $12,620 at New York's Film Forum last weekend. Rialto's previous release, director Carol Reed's 1948 adaptation of Graham Greene's "The Fallen Idol," opened in second place on February 14th's iWBOT by grossing $9,030 at Film Forum.
[View the indieWIRE:BOT Box Office Table for this week's films here.]
New films placed second and third on this week's iWBOT - Deepa Mehta's "Water" from Fox Searchlight opened at five locations and averaged $11,256; Andy Garcia's "The Lost City" performed superbly for Magnolia Pictures by averaging $10,642 at 18 locations in New York, Los Angeles and Miami. The iWBOT is based on per-location average, usually but not always the same as per-screen. Numbers are provided by Rentrak.
Yet "Army of Shadows'" success wasn't due to a case of romantic nostalgia among cinephiles for the old days of French classics. The film is an unsentimental look at people surrounded by violence and under life-or-death pressure. Melville's drama is set during the French Resistance to German occupation during World War II.
"When released in France in 1969, it was met with disinterest and disdain because the time wasn't right," said Rialto Pictures' co-president Bruce Goldstein. "The political mindset was wrong. People weren't interested in the Resistance, and de Gaulle was no longer considered a hero after the student riots," he said. "And it was not picked up for release in the U.S. Nobody thought anyone in the U.S. would be interested."
Thus, as he likes to point out, this not a "reissue" like such other recent Rialto projects as "Fallen Idol," Louis Malle's "Elevator to the Gallows" and Claude Sautet's tough crime drama "Classe Tous Risques."
"We keep telling people it's a premiere," Goldstein said. "It has never shown before in the U.S. except at some museums, and then not this print." Because of that newness, the film received intense press coverage in New York last weekend, including two stories in The New York Times. And it sold out its screenings at Film Forum's 150-seat cinema, including one at 3:45 p.m. on Friday."
Rialto hopes for "Army" to play nationally like a new arthouse release rather than quickly move through the small repertory or "calendar-house" circuit. Goldstein says he's earmarked approximately $100,000 - a huge amount by his company's standards - for marketing and promotion. And it's been booked for open-ended runs at four theaters in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., beginning May 12.
In another seemingly unusual development, Miami topped New York and Los Angeles for grosses for the third-place film on iWBOT, "The Lost City." But then, since that's the center of the nation's Cuban-American population, it makes sense. Garcia, himself a Cuban emigre, long had wanted to make and star in this 2-plus hour film about the changes forced upon a Havana club owner by Castro's regime in the 1950s.
"Business in Florida was enormous, but it also played well in New York and L.A.," said Eamonn Bowles, Magnolia's president. "And Sunday business was up considerably over Friday. So the word-of-mouth started to demonstrate itself right within that weekend."
The film's best grosses were at Miami's AMC Sunset Place, where it took in $28,000, and Cobb's Dolphin, where it earned $21,000. In Los Angeles, the best gross was at a suburban house - $10,480 at Edwards University Town Center in Irvine - although other locations were close behind. New York's highest gross was $8,035 at AMC's Empire, according to Nielsen EDI. The film will go into other major markets on May 12.
This week's fourth-place film, Tommy Stovall's self-distributed "Hate Crime," grossed $8,382 at Landmark's Magnolia Pictures in Dallas, the city in which it was filmed. The film is a crime drama involving a gay couple and the son of a fundamentalist preacher.
"Hate Crime" has ever so slowly been getting booked into theaters since last September, when Palm Desert, Calif.'s, Cinemas Palme d'Or (which calls itself "The Grand Prix of Cinemas") showed it after it played L.A.'s Outfest. It did just $1,000 over two weeks. But a concurrent booking in Scottsdale, Ariz., did better and kept it alive.
In Dallas, Stovall said that reviews were only mixed but the film benefited from several newspaper and television features. "After the Dallas numbers, I've been getting calls from other theaters," he said. He will rent a screen at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema in Chicago on May 11, and has more traditional bookings set for Laemmle's Sunset 5 in L.A. and San Francisco's Castro Theatre later in May.
Several films that did well on last week's iWBOT slowed down considerably. David Slade's sexual thriller "Hard Candy," released to 152 locations last weekend after two weeks at just two theaters, saw its per-site average plummet 89%, to $2,003 from $18,901.
Matthew Barney's IFC Films-distributed "Drawing Restraint 9" cooled after a spectacular opening at Los Angeles' Landmark Nuart Theatre the previous weekend. It moved over from the calendar-house NuArt to Laemmle's Sunset 5 in West Hollywood, while holding in New York and Chicago, but saw its per-screen average slip 63% to $2,628 from $7,017. IFC blamed that primarily on a fall in its third week in Chicago - it earned an estimated $500 at the 3 Penny Cinema there.
Perhaps most perplexing was the collapse of Balcony Releasing's Vietnam-protest documentary, David Zeiger's "Sir! No Sir!" In its second week, it expanded to three screens from one, but saw its per-screen average fall 87% from $11,930 to $1,571. It dropped from second to 32nd on iWBOT.
Balcony's Connie White said that was due to being limited to just two screenings per day at a 60-seat house in Manhattan's IFC Center because of its previous commitments, plus soft openings at Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, N.Y., ($1,204) and Starz Film Center in Denver ($992).
"Yes, we took quite a dive in per-screen average but we're hanging in there," White said. "Now we're opening in Los Angeles at three theaters on Friday." (It's also opening in Madison.) "So the more interesting conversation to have about the film may be next week." Also, Jane Fonda - who appears in the film - has agreed to help promote its May 12 opening in Atlanta.
Overall, the number of screens dedicated to art/specialty releases fell last weekend to 3,180 from the previous weekend's 3,532, and cumulative gross dropped sharply to $5.98 million from $8.24 million. Sony Classics' "Friends With Money" leading the chart in total weekend gross with $2.08 million from 1,010 screens.
There was an increase in titles reported to iWBOT last weekend; 93 up from 87. The per-location average for all the films was $1,881, representing a 19% dip from the previous weekend's $2,334.
[Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles 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