Paul Verhoeven, a directorial name long missing from and no longer expected on the marquees of art-house cinemas except for midnight screenings of his campy "Showgirls," made a triumphant second-place debut on this week's indieWire Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT) of independent/specialty films as his Sony Pictures Classics-released wartime drama "Black Book" averaged $12,502 at nine New York and L.A. theaters. But healthy as that showing was, the biggest story over Easter weekend was the remarkable interest in Charles Burnett's "lost" "Killer of Sheep," the 1977 movie about a family in Watts that Milestone Films patiently restored and is slowly releasing to theaters. It finished first on the iWBOT with a $15,864 per-screen average playing Greenwich Village's IFC Center and West L.A.'s Landmark NuArt Theatre. There were two other new films in the Top Ten this week besides"Black Book" - Picture This! Entertainment's single-screen release of Amnon Buchbinder's "Whole New Thing" and Miramax Films' moderately wide debut of Lasse Hallstrom's spirited take on the Clifford Irving/Howard Hughes publishing scam, "The Hoax."
The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available here at indieWIRE.com
For "Black Book," a tale set during the German occupation of the Netherlands and involving a Jewish woman trying to survive, Verhoeven returned to his native Holland for the first time since he made his name there with internationally released art films like "Soldier of Orange" and "The Fourth Man." He subsequently traveled a far different course with Hollywood action/exploitation films like"Total Recall," "Basic Instinct" and the abysmal "Hollow Man."
"I think his return to Holland is bringing back a specialized audience to him, but also the quality of the film is helping," said Michael Barker, Sony Classics' co-president. "Verhoeven is a known name but this kind of old-fashioned filmmaking speaks for itself."
"Black Book" averaged above $10,000 last weekend at five of its nine theaters en route to its overall gross of $137,034, including at three in Los Angeles where such high grosses aren't always easy for art films. Especially ones like "Black Book" that are 2 1/2 hours long. New York's Lincoln Plaza grossed $23,978 and Regal Union Square $16,286; L.A.'s Laemmle's Encino Town Center did $14,630, Pacific ArcLight $12,885 and Landmark NuWilshire $12,533. The lowest gross was at a Times Square house - $5,970 at Regal's E-Walk.
On Friday, it expands to San Diego, the Bay Area, Chicago, Seattle and Boston.
(Sony Classics, by the way, excels at marketing auteurist thrillers from European directors. Its Oscar-winning "The Lives of Others," from Germany's Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, quietly passed the $7 million mark in overall gross last weekend by averaging $2,774 at 213 theaters.)
In its second weekend in release, "Killer of Sheep" actually moved up to first from second as the previous chart-topper - ImaginAsian's Ham Tran-directed Vietnamese-diaspora drama, "Journey From the Fall"-- experienced a per-screen drop of some 60% to $6,765 from $16,513 as it expanded to 10 play dates from six in its third weekend.
At the IFC Center, "Killer of Sheep" continues to do amazing business. In its second weekend, it generated $19,800 - down just a bit from its first weekend's record-setting $22,747. Dropping the Jacob Burns Center in Westchester County, where local press the previous weekend failed to realize it was a major "new" release, Milestone opened it in L.A. where it did $11,928. The film, of course, is set in L.A. and Burnett lives there.
"L.A. could have been a little stronger, but then it's generally not as strong as New York so that's OK," said Amy Heller, Milestone's president. But we had almost $20,000 for the weekend in New York and that's delightful. We'll be sticking around New York for a long time and that's everything a distributor could hope for."
Additionally, the film already has 44 other bookings at art houses, universities, museums and film festivals around the country with more coming in daily. "Killer of Sheep's" bookings show that interest in independent film does extend far beyond the big cities. It's now set for places like Merrill's Roxy Cinema in Burlington, Vt.; Athens Cine in Athens, Ga.; Flint, Michigan, Institute of Art, and Gold Town Nickelodeon in Juneau, Alaska. "There's nothing like good grosses to make the bookings fly through the door," Heller said. "I'm updating the list three times a day."
Meanwhile, the film industry this week has been filled with post-mortems about "Grindhouse," the Weinstein Co.'s effort to score a massive, wide-release hit by having Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino pair up to update and recreate the experience of 1970s-era exploitation films. The two directors were mainstays of Miramax Films when it was run by Harvey and Bob Weinstein. Opening on 2,624 screens - way too high a count to be included on the iWBOT - "Grindhouse" averaged only $4,419 per play date.
At the same time Hallstrom - another Miramax mainstay known for more upscale fare - saw his particular take on the 1970s, witty literary-scandal biopic "The Hoax," average $6,167 from 235 play dates in urban locales. Its first-weekend take was $1.5 million. The film got very good reviews, especially for Richard Gere's turn as conniving author Clifford Irving.
"I think we nailed it," said Elliot Slutzky, Miramax's executive vice president of general sales. "We figured the best way to platform it was to go into the upper-scale areas where it would do best. It's being seen as an upscale 'Catch Me If You Can' with Gere playing a lovable rogue. We attracted the same (older) audience that went to 'The Queen.'"
Miramax will add 150 screens this weekend and then go wider on April 20.
Overall, the 67 titles on this week's iWBOT did $5.952 million at 2,091 screens. That's a nice increase of 22% in overall gross from the previous weekend, when 59 titles on 2,252 screens did but $4.9 million. The per-screen average of $2,846 likewise saw a 30% jump from the previous weekend's $2,176.
ABOUT THE WRITER: 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 be included in the indieWIRE Box Office Chart, distributors must submit information about their films to Rentrak at firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of the day each Monday.