After four consecutive weekends of exceeding pretty much all expectations, "Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire" finally had something of a rough go this past weekend. According to final numbers, the Lionsgate release dropped a steep 67% from last weekend's frame, grossing only $2,282,077 from its basically static 664 screens (up just 1 from the weekend prior).
While it is expected for films to find considerable drops in grosses in the weekend after Thanksgiving, "Precious" took a tumble greater than any wide release in the top 10, including front-heavy blockbusters like "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" and "2012." All of a sudden, it looked like "Precious"'s best box office days were behind it.
Take a look at the film's first five weekends of box office receipts:
Screens: 18 | Gross: $1,872,458 | Average: $104,025 | Total: $1,872,458
Screens: 174 | Gross: $5,874,628 | Average:$33,762 | Total: $8,699,180
Screens: 629 | Gross: $10,881,772 | Average: $17,300 | Total: $21,277,521
Screens: 663 | Gross: $7,081,032 | Average: $10,680 | Total: $32,433,482
Screens: 664 | Gross: $2,282,077 | Average: $3,437 | Total: $36,252,010
It's easy to see what Lionsgate was going for here, and for a while there I was in awe of how perfectly orchestrated their release strategy was. They didn't set the film up as a typical arthouse release. Instead, they cornered urban markets and heavy African-American neighbourhoods, and timed the release to build enough buzz to bring in sizeable numbers when the screen count hit the semi-wide mark. This all worked out exactly as planned. Then, I assume, Lionsgate had hoped word-of-mouth and potential awards notices would carry "Precious" through December, where it would be released wide. But so far, this has been a problematic plan.
Because "Precious"'s initial numbers and buzz were so intense, it actually peaked the weekend before Thanksgiving, and by the weekend after, it was almost grossing the same amount it did in its first frame, except it was on 646 more screens. And a week into awards precursor announcements, there already seems to be a bit of a "Precious" backlash. It scored with the Spirit nominations, but was shut out by the National Board of Review. Neither mean much in the way of box office boosts, but the latter might suggest trouble from upcoming announcements like the Golden Globes and Critic's Choice, which are key stops on the way to Oscar. Or maybe not. But either way, films like "Up In The Air" (which found huge numbers in its first weekend) are all of a sudden stealing "Precious"'s Oscar frontrunner buzz, and the conversation - after four strong weeks - has moved on to a different film.
Worst case scenario, "Precious" peters out over the next few weekends and ends up with a final gross close to $50 million. Now, that is not at all a done deal. Awards could very much still come through for the film, and its expansion over the coming weeks (it adds a few dozen screens this weekend, and a few hundred the weekend after that) could prove a second wind. And either way doesn't mean "Precious" has become anything close to a disappointment - it's now $36,252,010 total is already greater than many expected, and is the highest grossing specialty platform release of 2009. But it does mean that "Precious" is entering another phase of its release as something it hasn't been since before those first box office numbers came in: an underdog.
"Box Office 2.0" is a weekly column by indieWIRE Associate Editor Peter Knegt. Check out the previous editions:
Box Office 2.0: The Curious Case of "Orson Welles"
Box Office 2.0: Fall Winners and Losers
Box Office 2.0: Assessing 2009's Dox Office From "Capitalism" to "The Cove"
Box Office 2.0: Two Notable DIY Releases That Opened In "Precious"'s Shadow
Box Office 2.0: Snap Judgements & Great Expectations