By Peter Knegt | Indiewire July 21, 2009 at 3:47AM
Fox Searchlight looks like it might have a big indie hit in Marc Webb's "(500) Days Of Summer," according to estimates from Rentrak earlier this afternoon. The Zooey Deschanel-Joseph Gordon-Levitt romantic comedy grossed $834,501 from 27 screens in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, DC, San Francisco, Dallas, San Diego, Seattle, and Toronto. That gave "Summer" a 12th place position on the overall chart, and hot $30,907 average - nearly twice that of the incomparably wide release of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."
Comparable openings are actually few and far between considering "Summer's" rare (and somewhat risky - pouring some considerable ad dollars on such a small opening and depending on word of mouth to keep things going) strategy to open on 27 screens. The four 2009 releases to hit a $30,000+ per-theater-average ("Sunshine Cleaning," "The Hurt Locker," "Away We Go" and "Whatever Works") all opened in the single digit range, and then expanded gradually from there. Over the past few years, 20-40 screen openings have generally been reserved for Oscar-favored runs which benefit from Oscar-flavored buzz as they expand. Last year, "Milk" opened on 36 screens, finding a $40,385 average. The year before that, "Atonement" started on 32 screens and "No Country For Old Men" on 28. Those films averaged $24,504 and $43,797, respectively.
For better examples you have to go back a bit further in 2006's "Broken Flowers" and 2005's "Friends With Money." Those two films - released in August and April without considerable Oscar dreams - opened on 27 and 28 screens, respectively. "Flowers" averaged $28,904, and "Friends" averaged $21,047. "Summer"'s slight to considerable lead on those two films bodes well. Each ended up with final tallies between $13-14 million, which if "Summer" were to top, it would become 2009's highest grossing film that didn't open wide.
One would assume Fox Searchlight has even bigger dreams for "Summer," and if the word-of-mouth the distributor is betting on pulls through (and female audiences across North America - almost entirely neglected so far this summer save for "The Proposal," "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" and "My Sister's Keeper" - decide to get passionate about the film), that could very well be the case. Fox Searchlight is no stranger to summer crossover hits, from "Little Miss Sunshine" to "Napoleon Dynamite" to "The Full Monty." Betting on "Summer" to hit the $44-60 million range of those films is very premature at this point, particularly when a non-awards season specialty film hitting $20 million seems nearly impossible the past year or two. But it's definitely going to be an interesting film to watch expand.
Meanwhile, the slow, steady expansion of Kathryn Bigelow's four-week-old "The Hurt Locker" appears to still be working as the film hit lucky number 13 on the overall chart. The Summit Entertainment release - which follows a bomb disposal team in Iraq - went from 60 to 93 screens Friday and managed to gross an estimated $740,224 over the weekend - a 23% rise from last weekend (note that aboot $48,000 of that came from three screens in Canada, where the film is being released by Maple Distribution, not Summit). That gross resulted in a per-theater-average of $7,875, a reasonable drop from last weekend's $10,686. "The Hurt Locker"'s biggest test yet comes next weekend, when it will head to 200+ screens across North America. As of Sunday, the film is estimated to have grossed $2,148,619.
Joining "Summer" and "Locker" in top 20 of the overall chart generally reserved for studio fare was Sony Classics' duo of "Moon" and "Whatever Works," which both began their respective descents after six and five weekends of decent numbers. Duncan Jones' "Moon" added just 5 screens, bringing its total count to 252. It managed to drop only 22%, grossing another $525,740 and taking its total to a very respectable $2,654,338. And while expectations were much higher for Woody Allen's "Whatever Works," its additional $471,288 gross this weekend, dropping off 30% (decent considering it lost 92 screens) brought its total to $3,890,755. That's not "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" or "Match Point" money, but the film could still end up grossing $6-7 million, which would put it well ahead of other recent Woody efforts like "Melinda and Melinda," "Anything Else" and previous Sony Classics release "Sweet and Lowdown."
Other openers this weekend included a promising sole-screen debut from $12,439 gross from Max Färberböck's "A Woman in Berlin," which took in $12,439 for Strand Releasing; International Film Circuit's release of Aron Gaudet's festival favorite "The Way We Get By" which grossed a fair $7,154 from its sole engagement at New York's IFC Center; Screen Media Films' release of Boaz Yakin's "Death In Love," which grossed a weak $14,296 from 4 screens, for a $3,574 average.
Last weekend's top opener, Lynn Shelton's "Humpday," unfortunately did not hold on to its momentum. The film expanded from 2 to 5 screens but saw its gross actually drop 5% to $27,251. Its $5,450 average certainly isn't disastrous, but its disappointing considering the warm reviews and potent buzz the film received leading up to its release.
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 email@example.com by the end of the day each Monday.