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by Peter Knegt
April 17, 2011 5:10 AM
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Box Office: Tea Party-Fueled "Atlas Shrugged" Makes Respectable Debut

"Atlas Shrugged, Part I."

Rocky Mountain Pictures released "Atlas Shrugged, Part I" on 299 screens this weekend, receiving a fair but not overwhelming response from audiences. The tepidly reviewed film is based on Ayn Rand's final novel, which details a dystopian United States that collapses as government asserts control. It has received significant backing by Tea Party groups, with FreedomWorks, the Tea Party-allied group headed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, among the groups supporting the film. And according to weekend estimates, the result of their efforts was a respectable $1,676,917 gross, averaging $5,608 per theater (given its conservative audience, today's Palm Sunday is expected to affect its numbers).

"We were very optimistic about how it was going to perform," the film's producer Harmon Kaslow told indieWIRE over the phone today. "And it's performing to our expectations. The responses that we're getting at the theaters gives us a enormous amount of optimism. We are looking to expand significantly in the next few weekends."

Kaslow said he's unsure of how wide "Shrugged" will go just yet but said "it could be as many as 1,000 screens." He also said the film played best in places where there was "community-level support from various groups" and that "a lot of radio personalities really helped get the word out."

Kaslow singled out Atlanta, Nashville, Portland and New York as markets where theaters took in five figure grosses, and noted that the bottom twenty theaters really "dragged things down."

"Those are just markets we weren't able to organize on a community level," he said. "But knowing what we know now we think we can really push forward in the coming weeks."

Putting "Shrugged"'s numbers into context was Roadside Attractions' release of Robert Redford's "The Conspirator." On an aggressive 707 screens - one of the widest openings for a film in the distributor's seven year history - the film nearly matched "Shrugged"'s per-theater-average even though it was on more than twice the screens. The film took in an estimated $3,924,000, averaging $5,500. That's a very good start for the film, which takes on the the assassination trial of Abraham Lincoln and stars Robin Wright, James McAvoy, Tom Wilkinson and Stephen Root.

"We sold out many screenings, especially matinees, across the country and had to be moved to bigger theaters within complexes in many cases," Roadside's Howard Cohen told indieWIRE. "We had an amazing array of PR, including the cover of Parade magazine, Redford appearances on Today Show, Piers Morgan, Christiane Amanpour, Morning Joe, and Morning Edition, among others with the cast, and we had a great premiere at Ford’s Theatre in DC. We picked the weekend to counter-program against 'Scream' and 'Rio' and because it’s the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, which has gotten some coverage."

Also taking in good debut numbers this weekend was IDP/Samuel Goldwyn's release of Giuseppe Capotondi's "The Double Hour," which grossed $30,812 from two New York screens, giving the best per-theater-average of the weekend at $15,406. The film will open in Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia on April 29th.

Another European import, Bertrand Tavernier's "Princess of Montpensier," debuted on three screens for distributor IFC Films. The result was a $23,400 gross and a $7,800 average. Starring Gaspard Ulliel, Mélanie Thierry, Lambert Wilson and Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet, IFC will expand the film in the coming weeks.

-For box office news on holdover releases, continue to the next page-

As far as holdovers went, last weekend's top debuts led the field, with Kelly Reichardt epic indie Western "Meek's Cutoff," "No Wave" and documentary "Blank City" each holding steady. Neither film expanded in their sophomore frame, as "Cutoff" - distributed by Oscilloscope - dropped a mild 18% from its two screens, while "City" fell 29% from its exclusive engagement at New York's IFC Center (where it was held over on a split screen in small houses). The results were a strong $16,404 gross for "Cutoff" (and a $8,202 average) and a $9,868 take for "City," which is being released by Insurgent Releasing. "Cutoff"'s total stands at $46,474, while "City" has now taken in $42,035, the latter particularly impressive considering its exclusive location.

Also in its second weekend, Moving Pictures Film and TV saw their Keanu Reeves/Vera Farmiga starrer "Henry's Crime" expand from 2 to 7 screens and take-in a weak $19,568, averaging $2,795 as it took its total to $30,874.

Focus Features, meanwhile, continued to see good numbers from its wide release of Joe Wright's "Hanna." Starring Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana, the film scored $7,326,624 from 2,545 screens, averaging $2,879 and taking its total to $23,326,936.

"'Hanna''s significant 50% increase from Friday to Saturday confirms that it remains in great demand at the box office this weekend to a broad and diverse demographic in a competitive marketplace," Focus said. "In addition, 'Hanna'’s modest box office drops from last weekend indicate that the film remains a popular choice and is benefiting from strong word of mouth: Friday’s drop from last Friday was 49% and yesterday’s drop from last Saturday was 36%. A great second weekend."

Michelangelo Frammartino’s "Le Quattro Volte" expanded after two very successful exclusive weekends at New York's Film Forum (it moved to the Quad Cinema in that market this weekend) The 2010 Cannes debut, released Stateside via Kino Lorber, grossed $16,500 over the weekend, averaging $5,500 and taking its total to $65,803 since opening Wednesday, March 30th.

Not holding up so well was Academy Award-winning Danish film "In a Better World." Directed by Susanne Bier, the Sony Pictures Classics release went from 12 to 30 screens in its third frame and grossed $77,410. That made for a $2,580 per-theater average and a new total of $188,187. Last year's foreign language Oscar winner, "The Secret in Their Eyes" - also released by Sony Classics - expanded to 45 screens in its third weekend last April and welcomed a $7,493 average, en route to a fantastic $6,391,436 final gross. "

Also continuing to disappoint was IFC Films' release of James Gunn's dark superhero comedy "Super." Starring Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler and Kevin Bacon, the film grossed only $37,500 from its 25 screens (up from 15 last weekend), averaging a weak $1,500. IFC's Toronto International Film Festival pick-up has now grossed $140,230.

In its fourth weekend, Tom McCarthy's "Win Win" expanded from 226 to 384 screens and had a 13% increase in grosses. The high school wrestling dramedy, starring Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan and Bobby Cannavale, grossed $1,300,000 averaging a strong $3,385. The Fox Searchlight film is still tracking ahead of McCarthy's previous efforts, 2008's "The Visitor" and 2003's "The Station Agent," and its cume rose to $5,057,371

In its sixth frame, Cary Fukunaga's adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's "Jane Eyre" expanded from 247 to 273 theaters and also performed very nicely, taking in $1,001,867. Distributor Focus Features should be quite pleased with the film's $3,670 per-theater-average and its new $6,613,670 total. "Eyre," which stars Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell and Judi Dench, could be heading for the $10 million mark, as could "Win Win."

Finally, Richard Press's "Bill Cunningham New York" also continued to impress in its fifth weekend. On 20 screens (up from 17), the Zeitgeist Films doc took in $73,912. Its $3,696 per-theater-average helped take the film's total to $544,722, a fantastic number for a doc with such a limited release thus far. The film is now the 10th highest grossing doc in Zeitgeist's 23 year history, and could become the first 2011 doc to cross the $1 million mark (save for "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never," if that counts).

For a list of the 10 best per-theater-averages of those reporting indies, click here.

Peter Knegt is indieWIRE Associate Editor. Follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

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 studiogrosses@rentrak.com by the end of the day each Monday..

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7 Comments

  • Cindy | April 19, 2011 7:21 AMReply

    I was insulted by the Tea Partiers outside the theater distributing their propaganda. The movie, based on one of my all time favorite books, was fairly good - but in NO way should be linked to the Tea Party movement. Like the previous comment, I am a free thinker and would point to the protagonists in this film, as in the movie, as totally counter to this movement. I do not believe Ayn Rand would approve any association with the Tea Party and it's a shame more poeple may see this movie as a result of their 'backing.' I am curious to know if, in fact, the Tea Party had invested in the creation of this film.

  • Dana Harris | April 18, 2011 10:02 AMReply

    While certainly this movie is attracting audiences that don't identify w/ the Tea Party, the Tea Party has been working hard to make the film seen: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/onpolitics/post/2011/03/atlas-shrugged-movie-tea-party-/1

    And when I interviewed David Kelley, head of the Atlas Society and a consultant on "Atlas Shrugged," he said: “‘Atlas Shrugged’ has become the bible of the Tea Party movement.” (Article here: http://www.indiewire.com/article/somewhere_ayn_rand_smiles_atlas_shrugged_is_no._1_on_google/)

    As you point out, this is a truly independent movie -- and that's why iW is covering it. Thanks for reading us.

  • Hobbes | April 18, 2011 9:47 AMReply

    Of course the slanted press links this movie to the Tea Partiers. I'm an independent and not a Tea Partier. I watched this movie and enjoyed its content because I am a free thinker and I like rationality and reason. I'm not normally a movie theater goer, but I will probably go watch this truly independent movie again.

  • Tim Tignor | April 18, 2011 5:34 AMReply

    I liked it quite a lot. Hard to live up to the book. Too much information for film. They did a great job. I can't wait for part II. I think amazing turn out for zero publicity.

  • Dana Harris | April 18, 2011 3:55 AMReply

    Susan wrote to the editors as well, so I thought I'd share my reply:

    The take addresses all monies received for the weekend, whatever the extraneous circumstances might be. Theaters have to deal w/ all kinds of issues - broken projectors, blizzards, rainstorms, holidays. ("Atlas Shrugged" opened on Palm Sunday weekend; that could also affect its take.) For what it's worth, one day of a broken projector won't have much impact overall.

  • hardy jenns | April 18, 2011 3:18 AMReply

    Hey, Susan Shelley, if you're gonna plant right-wing conspiracy drivel, you should probably not post your URL at the end. You're shouting at the end of a whisper campaign.

    Crossing my fingers for Atlas Shrugged Parts 2 - 7!

  • Susan Shelley | April 17, 2011 8:45 AMReply

    In suburban Los Angeles, the Pacific Winnetka 21 turned away customers all day on Saturday, telling them "The projector is broken and all showings have been canceled for the rest of the day."
    http://www.AmericaWantsToKnow.com