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by Peter Knegt
September 6, 2010 3:22 AM
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Box Office: "Train Home" Leads Labor Day Debuts; "Tillman," "Get Low" Hang On Nicely

At a single New York City theater, Lixin Fan's critically acclaimed doc "Last Train Home" led all specialty debuts this Labor Day weekend. According to estimates provided by Rentrak earlier today, the film, which follows a Chinese couple who move away from their rural village to earn money in a big city factory that produces goods for export, grossed an estimated $20,418 over the three-day weekend at the IFC Center, and $25,520 including Labor Day. While high-grossing single screen debuts can often inflate expectation, it's definitely a promising start for the Zeitgeist Films-released doc. It eclipsed the April 2008 debut of "Up The Yangtze," which was also a Chinese-based doc produced by Canadian company EyeSteel Films and distributed by Zeitgeist. "Yangtze" opened to $15,851 on a single screen en route to a respectable $783,969 final gross. Zeitgeist has so far only seen two films - 2003's "Nowhere In Africa" and 2004's "The Corporation" - hit the $1 million mark. It's obviously too soon to tell if "Home" will make three, but so far things look hopeful.

Another single screen New York debut came with Sean Baker's "Prince of Broadway," which opened at the Angelika. The film - about two men whose lives converge in the underbelly of New York's wholesale fashion district - grossed $9,800 over the three-day weekend, and $13,000 over the four-days. Many of "Broadway"'s shows were sold out, promising for the film's expansion to Los Angeles on September 24th. Though both only on one screen, "Broadway" and "Home" were the only two films to find $10,000+ per-theater-averages over the holiday frame.

Understandably finding lower per-theater-averages were two more aggressively released openers, Zhang Yimou's Chinese "Blood Simple" remake "A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop," and the second part in the "Mesrine" series (the first of which was just released last weekend), "Mesrine: Public Enemy #1."

"Noodle Shop" - released by Sony Pictures Classics - grossed $27,332 from 5 screens over the three-day weekend, and $36,332 over the four-day. That gave it fair averages of $5,466 and $7,266, respectively. The film will expand in the coming weeks.

"Mesrine: Public Enemy #1," meanwhile, headed onto 31 screens and grossed $93,190 over the holiday frame, averaging $3,006. It's a decent number for the film - the second part in director Jean-François Richet's chronicle of French gangster Jacques Mesrine. However, its predecessor, "Mesrine: Killer Instinct," averaged $5,357 from 28 screens over a three-day weekend in its debut last weekend. That film expanded to 34 screens this weekends (most of which were also debuting "Public Enemy #1"), and grossed $117,104 for a four-day average of $3,444. Music Box Films, distributor of both films, took a bit of a risk in releasing them nearly simultaneously, but perhaps once audiences catch up on "Killer Instinct," they'll head over to "Public Enemy #1" in bigger numbers. And when considering the dual release, it's actually impressive that Music Box was able to garner these numbers from both films at the same time.

Another pair of foreign releases from the same series that Music Box released quite close together each crossed notable milestones this weekend, so the distributor should definitely be pleased overall. In its ninth weekend, "The Girl Who Played With Fire" grossed another $292,875 over the holiday frame on 153 screens, passing the $6 million mark, while "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" - still screening on 23 screens in its whopping twenty-fifth frame - took in $21,199 to cross the $10 million mark.

A quartet of other holdovers all had happy Labor Day weekends. Amir Bar-Lev's doc "The Tillman Story," which spotlights Pat Tillman, a former NFL star-turned-soldier who died in Afghanistan in 2004, expanded from 5 to 24 screens and saw its grosses shoot up 456%. Over the four-day frame "Tillman" grossed $176,000, averaging an impressive $7,333 and bringing its total to $300,080. Its three-day average was almost on par with last weekend's (despite being on 19 more screens), and distributor The Weinstein Company looks like it might have a $1 million doc in "Tillman," which has now taken in $300,080 after 17 days.

Also having a good third weekend was Bruce Beresford's "Mao's Last Dancer," which expanded from 75 to 95 screens. The story of a Chinese Ballet Dancer who defects to the US, "Dancer" grossed $449,389 over the four-day weekend, averaging a strong $4,730. Including its Canadian release earlier this year, the Samuel Goldwyn release has now topped $1,787,399.

Meanwhile, Sony Pictures Classics had two holdover-related reasons to be happy this weekend. Aaron Schneider's "Get Low" dropped from 570 to 560 screens in its fifth weekend and held on very nicely, taking in another $1,638,457 over the four-day weekend. That gave the film, which follows Felix Bush (Robert Duvall), a hermit who decides he wants to throw himself a "funeral party" before he actually passes, a $2,926 average and a shiny new total of $5,837,389. That makes it only the 10th specialty film this year to hit the $5 million mark, and suggests there's much more where that came from. In fact, "Low" should easily surpass "The Last Station" and "The Secret In Their Eyes" to become Sony Classics' top grossing film of the year thus far.

The distributor also saw good numbers from David Michôd's "Animal Kingdom," which expanded from 35 to 53 screens in the U.S. in its fourth frame The result was a respectable $141,692 gross over the 4-day frame, giving it a $2,673 average. "Kingdom," a crime drama set in the underground of Melbourne, Australia, also played on 3 screens in Canada (via E1 Entertainment), where it took in $6,349 for a $2,116 average. In total, the film grossed $148,041 in North America over the holiday, and found a new 17-day total of $536,712 as it continues to expand.

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

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..

1 Comment

  • Lily | September 8, 2010 9:03 AMReply

    Mao's Last dancer is fantastic. Saw it twice and each time, it received a standing ovation