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by Peter Knegt
July 17, 2011 5:56 AM
8 Comments
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Box Office: Sarah Palin and Errol Morris Open Opposite "Potter;" "Paris" Becomes Woody's Top Grosser

While the final "Harry Potter" broke essentially every record in the book this weekend, an unlikely trio of Sarah Palin, Errol Morris and Wayne Wang proved the film's main indie opener alternatives. According to estimates, Palin doc "The Undefeated," Morris' "Tabloid" and Wang's "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" each found somewhat respectable debuts this weekend, though no film managed an average over $10,000.

Though early reports suggested the film was underwhelming, Stephen K. Bannon's doc "The Undefeated" ended up with a respectable opening weekend. ARC Entertainment did not respond to indieWIRE's request for final weekend estimates, but they did say that the film had accumulated approximately $5,000 per screen through Saturday night.

That suggests the film (released on 10 screens in conservative cities and small towns: Grapevine, Texas; Indianapolis; Independence, Maryland; Kennesaw, Ga.; Houston; Orlando; Oklahoma City; Highlands Ranch, Colo.; Phoenix and Orange, Calif.) would end up with a weekend gross in the $65-75,000 range, averaging an unspectacular $6,500-$7,500. indieWIRE will have final numbers as soon as they come in.

Notably, the film was rushed to select digital theaters in only three weeks and was marketed almost entirely through social media and grassroots efforts, with virtually no traditional media spend. According to its distributor, the film is going into wider release later this month.

"We are extremely pleased with the audience reaction, which has been over-the-top enthusiastic and very passionate, including standing ovations at most screenings," said Trevor Drinkwater, CEO of ARC Entertainment, the film's distributor. "We expect word-of-mouth to keep ticket sales strong and we will definitely expand the film to a wider national audience."

The film's final numbers for this weekend - and how it expands outside conservative areas - should be telling.

Sundance Selects tried to make it a 2011 documentary hat trick this weekend, releasing Errol Morris' "Tabloid' on 14 screens. After considerable success stories from "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" and "Buck," things seemed to be off to a decent start for "Tabloid," which follows Joyce McKinney, the colorful Midwestern woman convicted of kidnapping her Mormon ex-lover in the U.K. in the late 1970s. The film grossed $100,800, averaging $7,200. That was on par with the debut of Morris' 2008 doc "Standard Operating Procedure," which averaged $7,054 from just two theaters. "Tabloid" will expand to the top 25 markets within the month.

Also opening this weekend was Fox Searchlight's release of Wayne Wang's "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan." On 24 theaters, the film grossed a respectable $135,619, averaging $5,651. Searchlight noted that the film - a story set in 19th century China and centered on the lifelong friendship between two girls who develop their own secret code as a way to contend with the rigid cultural norms imposed on women - "played better in the art/specialty theaters to the older audience than to the Chinese and Chinese-Americans." On July 22, the film will open in 11 new markets.

Sony Pictures Classics released Oliver Schmitz's South African drama "Life Above All" on five screens this weekend to disappointing results. The film grossed $14,328, averaging only $2,865.

Those were better numbers than the ones that met David Barker's psychological thriller "Daylight," which was estimated to have grossed just $900 from its sole screen for distributor Cinema Purgatorio.

Among holdovers, last weekend's top debut - Michael Rapaport's doc "Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest" - went from 4 to 22 screens and held on to a decent gross. The Sony Pictures Classics-released film took in $142,379 for a $6,471 average. That took "Beats," which documents the inner workings and behind the scenes drama of the Queens hip hop collective A Tribe Called Quest, to a new total of $298,902. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

Another sophomore Sundance doc, James Marsh's "Project Nim," went from 4 to 22 screens with a less promising result. The film grossed $50,336 for a $2,288 per-theater-average. The film's total now stands at a disappointing $89,131.

Many other holdovers hit significant milestones.

Cindy Meehl's "Buck" hit the $2 million mark as it held on very respectably in its fifth weekend care of Sundance Selects. The film, which takes on a living legend in the horse world, Buck Brannaman (inspiration for "The Horse Whisperer'), grossed $312,80 over the weekend on 136 screens. That made for a $2,300 average and a new total of $2,233,800, making "Buck" one of only two indie docs to cross the $2 million mark this year. The other - another Sundance Selects film, Werner Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" - took its cume to $4,931,800 this weekend. By next week it should become the 25th documentary to gross over $5 million.

Chris Weitz's "A Better Life" expanded aggressively from 151 to 216 screens in its fourth weekend, and grossed an estimated $333,000 for a $1,542 per-theater-average. The film crossed the $1 million mark as a result, finding a new total of $1,033,740 for distributor Summit Entertainment.

A different "Life," Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life," crossed the $10 million mark this weekend as distributor Fox Searchlight dropped it from 237 to 235 theaters. The Palme d'Or winner grossed another $625,000, dropping a reasonable 21% from last weekend. "Life" averaged $2,660, taking its total to $10,088,766. The film should top the $12,712,093 Malick's "The New World" took in back in 2005 within the next few weeks.

Focus Features release of Mike Mills' "Beginners" eased toward the $4 million mark as it expanded from 155 to 170 screens. The romantic drama, starring Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Melanie Laurent, grossed another $415,848 as a result, making for a $2,446 average and a new total of $3,910,158. That's three times the gross of Mills' 2005 "Thumbsucker," with a couple more million dollars likely en route.

Michael Winterbottom's "The Trip" crossed the $1 million mark as it went from went from 38 to 41 theaters in its sixth weekend. The film, which follows fictionalized versions of actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as they stop at some of the best restaurants and inns in the north of England, grossed another $110,700, averaging $2,700 and bringing its total to a fantastic $1,107,111 for IFC Films.

Finally, Woody Allen's "Midnight In Paris" finally surpassed "Hannah and Her Sisters" to become his highest grossing film ever (without adjusting for inflation, at least). Distributor Sony Pictures Classics saw the screen count drop from 819 to 706 screens, but "Paris" still only lost 28% of its grosses from last weekend. Taking in $1,890,585, Allen's 42nd feature film averaged a strong $2,677 and took its total to $41,792,695 after 9 weekends. That tops 1986's "Hannah," which had grossed $40,084,041. Its also the second highest grossing film for Sony Classics, behind only "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," which grossed $128,078,872 in 2000.

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

indieWIRE 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..

TAGS: Tabloid

8 Comments

  • Scott | July 18, 2011 7:27 AMReply

    Correction: In your list of cities for the Sarah Palin doc, you list Independence, Maryland. That should read Independence, Missouri. For a second, you had me worried that the movie was playing in my home state!

  • Brandt Hardin | July 18, 2011 7:11 AMReply

    This film is simply another publicity stunt to make Palin what she really wants…. not the presidency, but cold hard CASH. Palin is for $ale and is making it rich on your dime with every book, speaking engagement, and movie ticket that markets her image and sells her looks (it’s certainly not her choice of words which got her this far.) Just watch her rolling in the money with an indecent proposal on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/06/ecstasy-of-sarah-palin_15.html

  • hoco | July 18, 2011 2:20 AMReply

    the correct way to compare HANNAH to Midnight is looking at number of admissions for each, if those numbers are available. If not that, then you look at average ticket price in 1986 compared to 2011 and do the math. The inflation rate is irrelevant. The average current ticket price is $7.80. I don't know the average ticket price in 1986 but my memory is that it was around $5. It if was $5 then HANNAH sold 8M tickets,. So the $85M number is wrong. MIP has to do about $62M in box to equal HANNAH in admissions, which it might not do, but it's not $85M.

  • boydster | July 17, 2011 11:04 AMReply

    Sorry---correct the adjusted gross of "Hannah" in the above entry to "approximately $85 Mil in 2011 dollars" My bad...

  • boydster | July 17, 2011 10:57 AMReply

    Adjusted for inflation, Woody Allen's Hannah And Her Sisters' $40 Mil gross in 1986 would be approximately $110 Mil in 2011 dollars, so Midnight In Paris has a ways to go, methinks. The following site, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, provides a quick and easy way to plug in the numbers, and therefore gives one a more realistic look at a movie's grosses:

    http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

  • Jeremy | July 17, 2011 6:31 AMReply

    JB, a $7,000 per screen average is anything but spectacular for a limited release's first weekend. The Tree of Life and Midnight in Paris did over $90,000 per screen in their first weekends by comparison. Tabloid did similar per-screen numbers just this weekend.

    There's no unfair bias at work here. Get you head out of your agenda.

  • JB | July 17, 2011 5:45 AMReply

    This is hilarious. You are downplaying the opening of what would be the #3 highest per screen film gross this weekend. Incredible how bias affects good reporting.

  • mary | July 17, 2011 5:28 AMReply

    According to moviecitynews.com, the estimated PTA of "Undefeated" is only $6,570, while "Project: Nim" grossed about $42,200 from 22 theaters.
    http://moviecitynews.com/2011/07/100556/

    I think that the opening of "Undefeated" is so-so. Although many of Americans are conservative, most of them don't like to frequently watch conservative films in theaters. (It is just like what happens to Christian films)
    http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20277417,00.html

    The opening of "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" is okay, even though the mostly mediocre reviews will stop this film from grossing much further. Anyway, Fox Searchlight are doing the best they can do on handling this train wreck from Wendi Murdoch. (leeson to filmmakers: please don't try to adapt ‘sensitive’ stories to pass Mainland China's censors again. )

    Sony Pictures Classics were clearly dumping "Life, Above All" (beside reviews, I didn't see any press coverage about this film in US medias in recent weeks). Still, it is sad that even Roger Ebert's quote (on the poster) and NY Times' strong review can't save this film.
    Anyway, “Midnight In Paris” and “Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest” would still keep Sony Pictures Classics happy.