Robert Kenner's "Food, Inc.," Duncan Jones' "Moon" and Francis Ford Coppola's "Tetro" helped put a positive spin on the indie box office this weekend, according to estimates providing by Rentrak earlier this afternoon. Each film scored per-theater-averages in the $18-21,000 range, making them a rare triple threat for this underwhelming year - this is the first time in 2009 three specialty openers found $15,000+ PTAs in the same weekend.
Magnolia Pictures' "Food," a doc exploring how modern developments in food production pose grave risks, led the trio, grossing $63,000 on 3 screens for a $21,000 average. That puts it just slightly behind "Valentino: The Last Emperor"'s opening PTA of $21,762, which is thus far the highest doc debut of 2009, and comes after a remarkable slew of press. Last week, the film was featured on Nightline, Good Morning America, NPR's Morning Edition, PBS's NOW, Regis and Kelly, The Colbert Report and Howard Stern, and had big features written about it in The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. At one point last week it ranked #20 out of all searches in Google.
"The crowds were electric at the screenings," Magnolia's Eamonn Bowles told indieWIRE. "We're in New York, LA, and San Francisco, and all screens performed pretty much in the same great ballpark. We're pretty much maxing out the Film Forum [in New York] and selling out shows all over. We're expanding to a bunch of markets this weekend and it looks like this is something that will perform well in all the markets. It's a tremendous opening for the film."
The film opens on 25 additional screens this coming weekend, and if it can continue this momentum, could become a considerable doc success story.
Behind "Food" was Francis Ford Coppola's "Tetro," released through Coppola's American Zoetrope. On 2 screens, "Tetro" - based around the troubles of an Italian-American family living in Argentina - grossed $38,169. Its $19,084 average places it well above Coppola's last effort, 2007's "Youth Without Youth," which averaged only $4,758 from 6 screens. As the film expands and initial curiosity wains, the mildly received "Tetro" might struggle to keep up a promising pace. While outgrossing "Youth"'s $244,397 seems all but assured, recouping its $15 million budget does not.
Budgeted only at $5 million, sci-fi drama "Moon" should have an easier time achieving that goal. Sony Classics released the Sundance alum on a relatively aggressive 8 screens this weekend, and got an impressive $145,218 gross. Indie sci-fi is a pretty untested genre, but "Moon"'s $18,152 average suggests that Sony Classics' risk might become their reward.
Other openers included Steve Clark's "The Last International Playboy," which grossed $12,627 from its sole engagement at the Village East Cinema in New York City; and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi's doc "Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love," which opened decent on three New York screens. Though it didn't find "Food, Inc."-sized numbers, its $30,500 opening is hopeful nonetheless. Other than "Food," its $10,167 average is the highest PTA for a doc opener since April.
Last weekend's iW BOT champ (and the second best specialty opener of the year), Sam Mendes' road trip dramedy "Away We Go," made good on its initial promise in its sophomore frame. The Focus Features release went from 4 to 45 screens and saw its gross jump 325% to $554,000. Its $12,311 average now actually has it tracking slightly ahead of the year's best opener (and "Away"'s Big Beach sibling), "Sunshine Cleaning," which has taken in $11,796,977 since opening this March. "Away We Go"'s total cume stands at $751,322 after 10 days.
More good news came from the second weekend of Nati Baratz's doc "Unmistaken Child." Oscilloscope reported the film's expansion from 1 to 3 screens saw its average drop only slightly to $5,757, and its grosses from its one holdover engagement - at New York's Film Forum - actually rose a staggering 32%. "Child"'s total gross stands at $32,105. Another doc - Arthouse Film's "Herb & Dorothy" - also held on strong. Static on 2 screens, the film's average dropped minimally from $4,621 to $4,041.
Other holdovers included Here Media and Regent Releasing's Oscar-winning "Departures," which went from 16 to 23 screens and held on strong. The Yojiro Takita film grossed another $104,098, averaging a steady $4,526 and taking its total to $334,104.
Sony Classics' "Easy Virtue," which doubled its screen count to 90 and found itself hitting the $1 million mark in its fourth weekend out. The Noel Coward adaptation grossed another $323,000, averaging $3,589, and bringing its total to $1,028,000.
Gary Hustwit's "Objectified," which took its standing grossing to $170,162 thanks to an expansion to the Cinema du Parc in Montreal and one-night screenings in Seattle, Portland and Tulsa.
And finally, IFC's "Summer Hours" hit 50 screens, grossing another $125,000 and inching toward that million dollar mark. Olivier Assayas' French import has now grossed $965,000.
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.