By Peter Knegt | Indiewire June 14, 2010 at 1:25AM
After a few rather uneventful weekends at the specialty box office, a quartet of very strong debuts should lift the spirits of many a distributor this Sunday afternoon. According to estimates provided by Rentrak earlier this afternoon, four films opened to $15,000+ per-theater-averages, including two - Sundance alums "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" and "Winter's Bone" - that managed $20,000+.
At 7 theaters in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, IFC Films' release of Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg's critically acclaimed documentary "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" led the way, grossing $170,580. That was enough to give it a $24,368 per-theater-average - by far the best for a documentary so far this year (is-it-a-documentary "Exit Through The Gift Shop" comes the closest with $20,770). IFC said the film - which chronicles the private dramas of iconic comedian Joan Rivers - played to sold out shows all weekend and that they plan an aggressive expansion: The top fifteen markets next week, and the top fifty by Independence Day weekend. Its debut number suggest that the expansion has the potential to turn "A Piece of Work" into a "Valentino" or "September Issue"-sized hit, though obviously it's much too early to make such a forecast.
Also notable regarding the Joan Rivers doc is that it had the benefit of being on 3 screens at New York's IFC Center, meaning it was screening upwards of 15 times a day at that single venue. Not benefiting from such a scenario, but managing a $20,000+ per-theater-average anyway, was Debra Granik's U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize winner "Winter's Bone." Released by Roadside Attractions, the highly acclaimed "Bone" - a noir following a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) living in the Ozark Mountains - grossed $85,442 from 4 screens (2 in New York and 2 in Los Angeles), averaging $21,360.
“Films about rural America can be a challenge in New York and Los Angeles," Dustin Smith, Head of Acquisitions and Business Affairs at Roadside Attractions told indieWIRE earlier today. "So the fact that 'Winter’s Bone' opened to more than $20,000 per screen on the coasts speaks volumes about the strength of Debra’s talent and vision as a filmmaker, which has been reflected by some of the best reviews of the year. We think this bodes really well for our nationwide expansion throughout the rest of the summer. And the fact that there were four really strong specialized openers this week is also a very encouraging sign that there’s still room for all types of different films to succeed in the independent marketplace.”
On 3 screens, Sony Pictures Classics debuted its second Coco Chanel-related film in under a year - Jan Kounen's "Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky." The film grossed a very respectable $48,892, averaging $16,297. That gives the film a North American total of $153,664 as it had been screening in French Canada prior to this weekend. As far as the "Coco" comparison goes, SPC gave the other film - September 2009's "Coco Before Chanel" - a 5 screen debut in the U.S., where it grossed a considerably greater $177,339 (for a massive $35,468 average).
Variance Films released the charter school documentary "The Lottery" this weekend as well, and found excellent results. On a single screen (Big Cinemas Manhattan in midtown NYC), the film grossed an estimated $17,200.
"We're quite delighted with the gross, given that the film was co-released by Variance and the filmmakers with a release budget that likely wouldn't pay for an opening day ad for our (esteemed) competition this weekend," Variance's Dylan Marchetti told indieWIRE this afternoon.
"We didn't have a studio or studio-sized budget, but The Lottery tells a universal story about people wanting something that they deserve but can't have," "Lottery" director Madeleine Sackler added. "This education crisis affects all Americans, so we knew that this core audience was huge and decided to self-release with Variance. We have been very pleased by the response so far."
As far as holdovers went, Alejandro Amenabar's "Agora" - released by Newmarket Films - went from 4 to 5 screens this weekend. The result was a decent $30,690 haul and a $6,138 average. That was enough to give the Rachel Weisz-starring historical epic a 17 day total of $144,773 - a good number for a film that hasn't played on more than a handful of screens.
Even more impressive was the fourth weekend of Brian Koppelman and David Levien's "Solitary Man," which went from 22 to 53 screens and grossed $371,000 - a 113% boost from last weekend. That gave the film - which stars Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Danny deVito, Mary-Louise Parker and Jesse Eisenberg - a great $7,000 average and a new total of $874,000. That puts it on track to become distributor Anchor Bay's second million dollar grosser by next weekend (its first - "City Island" - hit $5,661,771 this weekend).
Jean Pierre-Jeunet's "Micmacs" also expanded this weekend. Sony Pictures Classics brought the film to 23 U.S. locations (up from 17), and found a fair $81,287 gross and a $3,534 average. In Canada, where the film was released by Entertainment One, the film went from 18 to 23 screens, and performed considerably weaker. It grossed $37,197 and averaging only $1,617. In total, "Micmacs" grossed $118,482, averaging $2,576 and taking its North American gross total to $422,467 after 17 days.
Another French import - Stephane Brize's"Mademoiselle Chambon" - went from 4 to 5 screens. The Vincent Lindon-Sandrine Kiberlain-starrer grossed a solid $22,500, averaging $4,500. The film - being released in the US by Lorber Films - has now totalled $95,286.
Finally, four releases that have been in the marketplace since April continued to prove themselves. The seventh weekends of both Daniel Barber's "Harry Brown" and Nicole Holofcener's "Please Give," and the ninth weekends of both Juan José Campanella's Oscar winner "The Secret In Their Eyes" and Banksy's" "Exit Through The Gift Shop" all saw great numbers.
"Brown" managed $117,594 from 63 screens (up from 49), averaging a decent $1,867 and taking its total to $1,356,393 - an impressive cume for a film that's never gone over 100 screens.
"Please Give" held on even more impressively as it expanded from 87 to 103 screens this weekend, and saw a 21% jump in grosses - taking in $320,009 and averaging $3,107. The film - starring Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Amanda Peet and Rebecca Hall - has now grossed $2,122,810, becoming one of 2010's horrifyingly rare $2 million indie grossers.
The DIY-oriented Producers Distribution Agency release of "Exit Through The Gift Shop" held steady on 43 screens and dropped just 16%. The film grossed $114,225, averaging $2,656 and upping its total to $2,364,322.
On 162 screens (up from 160), "Secret in Their Eyes" grossed another $375,222, averaging $2,316 (a very healthy number for a 9th weekend), and taking its total to a very admirable $4,533,952.
Next weekend, check back for what should be another interesting batch of specialty debuts - including Sundance alums "Cyrus" from Fox Searchlight and "The Killer Inside Me" from IFC Films, as well as intensely acclaimed Tilda Swinton-starrer "I Am Love" from Magnolia Pictures.
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..