By Peter Knegt | Indiewire September 20, 2009 at 4:55AM
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, Cédric 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 firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of the day each Monday.
[Brian Brooks contributed to this article.]