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by Peter Knegt
September 20, 2009 4:55 AM
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Box Office: Is the "Star" Stellar?

A scene from Jane Campion's "Bright Eyes." Image courtesy of the Apparition.

After a promising mid-week debut, Jane Campion's "Bright Star" dimmed a bit over its opening weekend, according to estimates provided by Rentrak earlier this afternoon. The film - which marks the first film from Apparition, the new film distribution outfit from former Picturehouse chief Bob Berney and producer Bill Pohlad, from River Road - had debuted to a $4,507 daily average on two screens this past Wednesday, an admirable number for a mid-week debut in the midst of a major, publicity-stealing film festival (that it had screened at just days earlier). But upon its expansion to 19 screens over the weekend, the film grossed a more fair $190,343 for a $10,018 per-theater-average.

Though these numbers are certainly short of stellar, "Star" was hindered by a few factors: Rosh Hashanah, the typically underwhelming September box office, and an overcrowded batch of competitors - most notably wide releases of its fellow TIFF-titles Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant!" and Karyn Kusama's "Jennifer's Body." Debuting an awards-bait title this early in the season is always a bit of a risk - especially on a weekend when the industry hasn't quite exhaled from the Venice-Telluride-Toronto triad - and though the next few weeks will be "Star"'s true test, it seems so far it's not paying off. Though it notably debuted on at least twice the screens, diluting its average (perhaps an error in itself), "Star"'s opening does not fare well against Campion's other films. On 7, 2 and 6 screens respectively, "The Portrait of a Lady," "Holy Smoke" and "In The Cut" each averaged between $15,000 and $17,000, while "The Piano" debut to a whopping $37,854 per its four theaters back in November 1993 (and that's not even considering inflation, in which all those numbers would increase substantially).

A hopeful note for "Bright Star" was its significant rise in grosses on Saturday (which also might suggest Rosh Hashanah's role in "Star"'s numbers). After a $51,252 Friday take, the film rose to $81,818 on Saturday, and is estimated to take $57,273 on Sunday. Since Wednesday, the film's total stands at $207,289, and it should be interesting to see what the next few, non-Rosh Hashanah, non-TIFF weekends entail.

"Bill and I are really pleased with both the strong opening numbers and amazing reviews for 'Bright Star,'" Apparition's Bob Berney said optimistically to indieWIRE today. "I'm so proud to have the film as our first release, Jane had made a beautiful film and it's thrilling to see the warm reception she has received... It's a great opening for our new company."

[Editor's Note: The following comments were added from Apparition's Bob Berney after this article was published: "I don't think it's fair to compare the 'Holy Smoke' opening to this since it only opened back then in one theater. 'Bright Star' opened on five screens in Manhattan and six in Los Angeles. Our [strategy] was that if you're going to do an aggressive advertising campaign then it makes sense to open bigger. These are [Jane Campion's] best reviews - and I mean, stellar reviews." Berney went on to say that the film will expand to 26 markets on Friday with an additional 105 screens planned. "We're aggressively sending this out. It's not a typical art house release," he added.]

A Toronto title from last year, Claire Denis' "35 Shots of Rum" was actually the weekend's top specialty opener, though granted on a single screen. The intensely acclaimed French import - released stateside by The Cinema Guild - grossed $10,622 from its sole screen over the weekend, which like "Star," is both somewhat disappointing and somewhat understandable in light of the weekend's circumstances. But if one compares "Rum" to another overwhelmingly acclaimed 2009 French release - Olivier Assayas' "Summer Hours," which averaged $24,742 from 2 screens this past May - the former thought shines brighter. We'll again see what the future holds for "Rum" before drawing conclusions.

Another French import, C├ędric Klapisch's "Paris," starring "Summer Hours"'s Juliette Binoche and release by its distributor IFC Films, opened on six screens in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, and grossed a decent $46,800, averaging $7,800. The film expands to 15 markets next weekend.

And while not technically specialty releases, brief mention is warranted for two studio titles also choosing to release Toronto-titles - Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant!" and Karyn Kusama's "Jennifer's Body" - before that festival even ended. Somewhat remarkably, the seemingly much less marketable "Informant!" - released by Warner Brothers - rose well above the Megan Fox-starring, Diablo Cody-written "Body." "Informant!" - a black comedy starring Matt Damon as an overweight whistleblower - grossed $10,545,000 from 2,505 screens, while Fox's "Body" took in only $6,800,000 from 2,702. While neither gross is something to phone home about, "Informant!"'s rose above industry expectations.

Among holdovers, R.J. Cutler's Anna Wintour doc "The September Issue" had the highest specialty per-theater-average as it continued on its way to become the year's top grossing doc (though next weekend's "Capitalism: A Love Story" might problematize that journey). The Roadside Attractions release grossed another $406,000 from a slightly expanded 115 screens, averaging $3,530. That brings the films total to $1,936,000 after 4 weekends, topping fellow fashion doc "Valentino: The Last Emperor" to become the year's #2 doc after "Food, Inc."

Check back with indieWIRE Monday for updated information about this weekend's box office.

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.

[Brian Brooks contributed to this article.]

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6 Comments

  • crab | September 21, 2009 7:50 AMReply

    this ia problem with american critic if there is no blood and gor special effects they cannot appreciate great quality movies i have seen it time and time again also where the distributors and the critics forget what great films with performance and script is it is sad this film was selected at telluride festival which is know for quality films so that should speak for it self

  • Peter Knegt | September 20, 2009 9:43 AMReply

    I have nothing but respect for Apparition and the work they have put into bringing Bright Star to US audiences. And I tried to be hopeful throughout this article in the way I approached any criticism of its performance this weekend. I most certainly understand this was a tough weekend to start things off, and that a 19 theater count makes using a per-theater-average as a comparative tool complicated - and feel this was made clear on both accounts. I hope very much that Bright Star's performance in the weeks to come makes any negative suggestion in this article prove itself horribly misguided. In the meantime, I do stand by my hesitation in championing the film's initial numbers, though I apologize if my tone came across as more harsh than hopeful, as I too am a supporter of quality films.

  • rberney | September 20, 2009 8:53 AMReply

    BRIGHT STAR is a beautiful film and has performed very well so far. The tone of the article and characterization of the opening, comparing it to other Campion films on different screen counts and in different situations, is really harsh and unfair, especially for IndieWire. This is a tough time in the indie business and generally the arrival of a film like this, with the opening of a new distributor should be supported. I admit I'm totally biased, but Jeanne and I and our team have been working very hard on this film. Being on the road with Jane, Jan and the cast and seeing the hard work they've done to get the film out to the public makes me naturally very defensive about the project. We're supporters of quality films and really believe this film will have a lasting impact on audiences, it really stays with you.

  • smith55 | September 20, 2009 8:34 AMReply

    Adding to garymey's note, comparing Claire Denis 35 SHOTS to SUMMER HOURS is an unfair comparison. Despite both being French, SUMMER is a much higher profile (read: glossier) film, has a well known star (Binoche) and got a much stronger Times review ("masterpiece" vs. "lovely"). These days, any time such a wonderful, sublime (some may say difficult) film opens to these numbers, it should warrant more Hurrah's.

  • ben77 | September 20, 2009 6:20 AMReply

    garymey, I think the article actually speaks to your concerns quite clearly. We'll see what happens next weekend, but its hard to celebrate this opening wholeheartedly.

  • garymey | September 20, 2009 6:13 AMReply

    The problem with comparing BRIGHT STAR to those previous Campion movies is that each had at least one major movie star in them which can bring in people who might not other be seeking a "Jane Campion film."

    BRIGHT STAR is likely to have better legs than any of those releases as word of mouth keeps sophisticate audiences coming and spreading the word, especially among those interested in literature and poetry and the female audience in general. Opening against Rosh Hashanah is always an interesting challenge bit it also shifts attendance to keep midweek grosses stronger.

    I think you have been a bit harsh in your analysis of the opening.