Box Office Noon for "Sunset" as "Fahrenheit" Maintains Sizzle in Further Expansion
by Brian Brooks
Richard Linklater's "Before Sunset" dawned atop the specialty box office over the holiday weekend in limited release, edging out last weekend's nationwide number one film, "Fahrenheit 9/11," which scored second following a huge expansion over the 4th of July holiday weekend. Fox Searchlight's "The Clearing" bowed in theaters, while Zeitgeist's political doc "The Corporation" returned to the top tier of the iW: BOT, as ranked by per screen average, after opening in New York. Regent's "The Hunting of the President," meanwhile, gained some holiday steam in the top ten along with other recent openers.
The specialty take once again appeared lofty with the inclusion of Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," which expanded significantly over the holiday weekend. Excluding the film from the overall figures, however, the box office was down slightly from the same period last year. Fifty-nine films were tracked in the period ending Monday, taking in a total of $25.21 million (compared to $26.13 million from 61 titles the previous week) for an overall 'indie' average of $8,924. Minus "Fahrenheit," the box office would have come in at about $3.183 million on 1,100 screens for a b.o. average of $2,894. Last year, 52 films, including toppers "Swimming Pool" and "Whale Rider," placed in the chart with a $4.29 million gross from 1,471 screens (although "Whale Rider" represented about $1.24 million of that total on 209 screens). Last year's overall Independence Day weekend average was $2,916.
Warner Independent Pictures debuted its first feature, "Before Sunset" starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, over the 4-day holiday weekend box office period, taking the premier position on the iW: BOT. Linklater's feature lit up 20 screens, grossing $311,194 for a golden $15,560 per screen average.
"We are extremely pleased with the opening of this film," Steven Friedlander, executive vice president of distribution for Warner Independent Pictures told indieWIRE Wednesday afternoon. "Castle Rock provided [us] the best reviewed movie of the summer as our first release, and based on the reaction from the critics and the overwhelming positive results from our exit polls, we anticipate that this film will have very strong legs and will be playing in these theaters for a very long time."
Despite heavy competition, Friedlander seemed confident the film would be received well by audiences. "Even though the marketplace is extremely crowded with upscale product -- it seems that everyone had the same idea about counter-programming this season -- we knew that this film was a crowd pleaser and that there would be great word-of-mouth, and that contributed greatly to the opening performance and especially the outstanding mid-week numbers." Friedlander also credited the popularity of "Before Sunrise" with drawing interest in the movie.
Echoing the sentiment of other distributors offering their thoughts in this column recently regarding the challenging box office environment that currently prevails, Friedlander expressed his opinion on the difficulty for smaller films to grow under current conditions. "The marketplace is very crowded now, and unfortunately, it has the effect of limiting the overall performance of smaller art house films that would've had the chance to sit in a few screens and find an audience in a less competitive environment. With the amount of specialized film out there in the summer, and the relative lack of screen space [due to multiple prints of summer blockbusters] specialized film ends up mirroring their commercial counterparts. Instead of being able to slowly grow an audience, these films are now subject tot he same pressures of being knocked off screens early if they don't open up to substantial box office levels."
"Before Sunset" will increase to about 65 screens on Friday in 25 markets, and will expand to about 100 runs on the 16th and 23rd with what Friedlander described as, "an eye to further expansion over the next few weeks."
"Fahrenheit 9/11" continues to bulldoze through the saturated summer season, ranking second in the nation in terms of gross after "Spider-Man 2" and also occupying the junior spot on the iW: BOT with an explosive $12,769 per screen average on 1,725 screens. The feature-length doc took in just over $22 million, for a two-week cume of over $61.11 million. "Fahrenheit" debuted the previous weekend on 868 screens with a $27,558 average.
Fox Searchlight rolled out "The Clearing" at 56 sites, taking the third spot on the chart with a $618,674 gross. The Pieter Jan Brugge directed film averaged a solid $11,048.
Zeitgeist took its doc "The Corporation" east, opening at Film Forum in New York after spending most of June at Northern California locations. The film grossed $54,536 on eight screens for a $6,817 average. Since it opened in San Francisco on June 4th, the doc has cumed $344,296.
The holiday weekend drew additional crowds to the screens as evident by padded screen averages for recent releases. "Napoleon Dynamite" added 68 screens, grossing $794,558 from 142 sites. The film averaged $5,595, a $278 increase from the previous weekend. It has now totaled just over $2 million in three weeks.
The 4th of July weekend also saw a small per screen average increase for Clinton doc, "The Hunting of the President," which stayed on three screens in its third weekend of release, taking in $16,641. The film averaged $5,547 (ranking seventh on the chart), an increase of $317, while Palm's "Time of the Wolf" averaged $4,126 (a $346 increase) on a weekend gross of $16,505 on four screens. It's two-week total stands at $29,143.
Two Sundance Fest docs are among the films opening this week. IFC Films will release "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster" in New York and San Francisco, while Sony Pictures Classics will debut surf doc "Riding Giants" in limited release.