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Box Office: "September" Skyrockets; Finds 5th Best Doc Debut Ever (UPDATED)

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire September 1, 2009 at 8:25AM

R.J. Cutler's Anna Wintour doc "The September Issue" made a very fashionable entrance into theaters this weekend. According to final numbers provided by Rentrak, the Roadside Attractions release - which premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival - grossed a massive $220,416 from six New York screens, giving it an average of $36,736. That's the second-best per-theater-average of any 2009 release (behind "Sunshine Cleaning") and the fifth best documentary debut ever, behind 1995 IMAX featurette "Across The Sea of Time," Davis Guggenheim's "An Inconvenient Truth," Michael Moore's "Sicko" and Paul Provenza's "The Aristocrats" (for a full list of the top doc openings, click here).
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R.J. Cutler's Anna Wintour doc "The September Issue" made a very fashionable entrance into theaters this weekend. According to final numbers provided by Rentrak, the Roadside Attractions release - which premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival - grossed a massive $220,416 from six New York screens, giving it an average of $36,736. That's the second-best per-theater-average of any 2009 release (behind "Sunshine Cleaning") and the fifth best documentary debut ever, behind 1995 IMAX featurette "Across The Sea of Time," Davis Guggenheim's "An Inconvenient Truth," Michael Moore's "Sicko" and Paul Provenza's "The Aristocrats" (for a full list of the top doc openings, click here).

"We’re thrilled with this opening," Roadside Attractions' Howard Cohen told indieWIRE this afternoon, "people are fascinated by Anna Wintour and wanted to see this intimate and funny film, the first real portrait of a legend who’s reigned at Vogue for 20 years. Of course the recognition factor from 'The Devil Wears Prada' was a major factor in getting this kind of immediate and large response -- we knew that and helped that along. We did giant wildposing all over Manhattan with an image of her and a quote referring to TDWP. As a result we held our own at big commercial multiplexes like the Lincoln Square and the Empire 25 on 42nd st. But RJ Cutler did a great job, it’s a beautiful and well-made film and people are loving the movie itself, too, which is great... As Andre Leon Talley would say, 'there is a famine of beauty, honey” and this film is clearly satisfying people’s desire for it!!'"

"Issue" also marked the highest per-theater-average opening for a film in the history of both distributor Roadside Attractions, and producer A&E IndieFilms. Additionally, none of the previous four record holders found their opening number with big multiple in one market. "Issue" was release entirely in New York City, with the Chelsea 9 proving its big seller, grossing $22,464 on Friday and $22,054 on Saturday.

Roadside is planning on expanding "Issue" further into the New York market during Labor day weekend, and are saving their first big expansion until after the holiday, on September 11th, where they will be opening an additional 21 markets and be on somewhere between 95 and 120 screens. They are planning to have fashion event-tie ins in almost every market. And though it's all but certain the numbers from fashion-centric New York won't hold in other markets, even if "Issue" holds on to a fraction of its debut average, it should be destined for significant success.

-For information on the the films that opened - some with a lot of promise in the shadow of "Issue"'s powerful debut, please continue to page 2-

A scene from Robert D. Siegel's "Big Fan." Image courtesy of First Independent Pictures.

Also opening this weekend was Ondi Timoner's Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner "We Live In Public." The film - which Timoner is releasing independently through Interloper Films & Abramorama - debuted on a sole screen at New York's IFC Center, grossing a mild $7,325. Timoner had told indieWIRE that she was hoping that online tools will stir grassroots awareness for the movie that will effectively replace an expensive marketing campaign. The film is heading to the Nuart in Los Angeles and the Brattle in Boston next Friday, with theatrical runs in Austin, Chicago and Seattle are also in the works.

Yet another Sundance alum - Robert D. Siegel's "engaging portrait of obsession", "Big Fan" - managed quite well this weekend. On 2 screens, the First Independent Pictures release grossed $24,266, averaging a promising $12,133. What's more, over $19,000 of that came from its New York screen - a very impressive number considering the crowded late summer marketplace.

"Hats off to 'September Issue,' the story of the weekend," First Independent Pictures' Gary Rubin told indieWIRE. "That being said, we think we have a nice little story ourselves."

Hirokazu Kore-eda's "Still Walking" also took in some good numbers from an exclusive NYC release (which has been the case for every film noted thus far). The IFC Films release - which received some of the year's best reviews, grossed $20,298 from 2 screens, giving it a $10,149 average.

Another Roadside Attractions opener - "Mystery Team" - opened at the Alamo at the Ritz in Austin Texas, and grossed an estimated $7,840 for the weekend. It's a fair number considering the film was released with minimal traditional advertising, depending almost entirely on online traffic.

"It was a great validation of our strategy, which was to open college towns first and to begin translating Derrick’s major online fan base to theatre ticket sales," Roadside's Cohen told indieWIRE

There was also the wide debut of Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock." After a decent mid-week debut on just 2 screens, Focus Features' "Woodstock" suffered in its expansion, grossing $3,457,760 from 1,393 screens. That made for a soft $2,482 average - placing it behind the fourth weekend of "Julie and Julia," which was playing on nearly twice the screens. It also found less than half the average of the sophomore frame of Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds," which held on quite nicely. The Weinstein Company release - which surprised many with its powerful debut - dropped only 49% in its second frame, making it an essential certainty that it will become the Weinsteins' first $100 million grosser at TWC. "Basterds"' total stands at $73,022,841 after 10 days.

Finally, two notable holdovers came in the form of two imports - Strand Releasing's "The Headless Woman" and Vitagraph's "The Baader Meinholf Complex." Both films were in their second weekend, and both held on nicely to debut numbers. "Woman" grossed $11,862 from its sole engagement, taking its total to $40,398 before it expands beyond its initial screen, while Oscar-nominated "Complex" grossed $31,692 from 3 screens, averaging $10,564 and taking its total to $59,198.

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 studiogrosses@rentrak.com by the end of the day each Monday.