By Indiewire | Indiewire March 24, 2004 at 2:00AM
"Bon Voyage" Sails to High Debut; Focus Features Takes "Eternal Sunshine" Wide
by Brian Brooks
Jean Paul Rappeneau's "Bon Voyage" touched down at the specialty box office pinnacle last weekend, with a sensational opening engagement at the Paris Theater in New York, knocking off last week's topper, "Games People Play: New York," which still remained a competitor in fourth place on the chart, as ranked by per screen average. "James' Journey to Jerusalem" increased its average over last week, while "The Passion of the Christ" expanded slightly, reining in continued large audiences.
In the macro look at the weekend's box office, 65 specialty releases were tracked, an increase from 58. The total gross came in at $22.45 million, vs. $36.74 million previously, a decline of 39%, for an indie-wide per screen average of $4,068, a decline of 34% from last week's $6,170, but still above the industry-wide average of $3,163 for the week ($3,157 previously). Once again, "The Passion" consumed much of the largesse, with grosses from that film totaling about 86% of the entire specialty take. Factoring out that one title, the indie gross would have been about $3.04 million, a decline from the $4.6 million figure last week (minus "The Passion").
Last weekend's release of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," by Michel Gondry sparked an internal debate at indieWIRE of whether to track the film as a specialty release. Eventually, we decided to spotlight the film in this article but not track the film in the iW BOT due to the combination of its financing, star power and wide debut in theaters. Still, iW consistently tracks Focus Features releases, and has followed the feature career of Gondry, thus the compromise. "Eternal Sunshine" grossed over $8.175 million over the weekend for a $6,042 per screen average on 1,353 screens. Had the title been ranked on the iW BOT, it would have appeared third on the chart, and would have added nearly a third to the total gross for the indie market for the weekend.
"We're ecstatic that it opened so well, not only was the weekend gross extremely sizeable, but what happened inside the theaters was exciting," commented Focus distribution chief Jack Foley in a telephone conversation from Las Vegas, where he is attending ShoWest. Foley went on to say that the film's draw among what he termed a "core" group of 17-35 year-olds (split about evenly male to female) was a positive sign for the film's 'longer term' viability. "A lot of theaters pretty much sold out around the country. In Manhattan and L.A. [as well as] Portland, Chicago, Seattle, we went 'clean' in all shows. In Union Square on Saturday, there wasn't a seat that wasn't sold out all day Saturday, and the Grove and the Arc Light in Los Angeles was pretty much the same."
Foley continued to comment that the satisfaction levels for the core 17-35 year demograph was high, which helped bring out the baby boomers later in the weekend. Jim Carrey also steered audiences to theaters as well, and the star's role in the film also influenced the New York-based film company's decision to release the film widely on its first weekend. "It's the smart thing to do -- to exploit the Jim Carrey factor," said Foley. "We went with both Jim's broad based appeal coupled with [scribe] Charlie Kauffman's off-beat sensibility [to sell the film]. We also sought out areas where Jim has played well in the past." Foley also explained that Focus spent a lot of money to market the film initially, so that by the time it opens outside of urban areas and college towns (where Foley said the film also did big business) it should be received well and "perceived as a commercial film."
Jim Carrey's appeal also translated into overall high box office numbers, which Focus was eager to exploit outright with a wide release, versus a limited debut Foley indicated. "Would you rather have a bigger smaller number, or a smaller bigger number?" he laughed comparing the appeal of a high per screen average with a limited bow as opposed to a higher general gross. "Give me the money," he laughed, "Gross is my favorite measure." Going forward, the film will remain at about the same number of screens according to Foley who added, "We're already in the theaters where there are the right audiences." He also commented that the release of the Coen brothers' "The Ladykillers" and Kevin Smith's "Jersey Girl" will be the "Eternal Sunshine"'s upcoming hurdles. "The Coens will be a big competitor to ['Eternal Sunshine'], they're the same audiences, and the boomers like Tom Hanks, but we've nurtured the film to [go forward] powerfully."
Sony Pictures Classics' "Bon Voyage" sailed to the apex of the specialty box office over the weekend. The film, which was France's official entry to the Academy for best foreign language consideration this year, packed a whopping $27,480 at the Paris in Midtown Manhattan where the feature debuted. indieWIRE placed calls to Sony Classics for comment from the company's co-presidents, Tom Bernard and Michael Barker, but neither were available due to their attendance at ShoWest.
Zeitgeist's "James' Journey to Jerusalem" packed a bigger per screen average in one theater (down from two), grossing $6,735. The film averaged $3,705 previously. Since release three weeks ago, the film has cumed $27,751.
"The Passion of the Christ" crusaded its way to 3,250 screens, up from 3,221, taking in over $19.41 million for a strong $5,974 per screen average, down from $9,975 last week. Now one month in theaters, the film has totaled over $295.5 million.
Last week's number one film, "Games People Play: New York" added one engagement, grossing $11,870 for a per screen of $5,935 ($12,364 previously). The film has now cumed $30,649.
Sony Classics expanded "Good Bye, Lenin!" with screenings in 43 venues, up from 16 last week for a $247,592 gross. "Lenin" averaged a still robust $5,758 average one month into its release ($9,384 last week) and has totaled $643,221.
Self-distributed stalwart "The Gatekeeper" catapulted to the top tier of the rankings over the weekend, grossing $10,841 at two theaters for a $5,421 per screen average, a big jump from $856 previously. The film, which has been in release a remarkable 47 weeks, has cumed $255,531.
The weekend's debuts included Palm Pictures' Icelandic feature, "Nói," which took in $4,808 in one venue, while IFC Films rolled out "Intermission" on 10 screens with a $39,936 take for a $3,994 per screen average.
Next weekend's debuts include Las von Trier's anticipated "Dogville." Also slated is festival fav "Mayor of the Sunset Strip," "A Foreign Affair," from Innovation Film Group, and Focus' "Ned Kelly."
[Brian Clark contributed to this report.]