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by Brian Brooks
December 13, 2005 11:32 AM
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"Brokeback Mountain" Lassoes a Mammoth Limited Opening

Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in "Brokeback Mountain." Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

Focus Features opened its anticipated Venice, Telluride and Toronto fest feature "Brokeback Mountain," scoring the highest per screen average of any specialty release since this column began two-and-a-half years ago. The film easily lead the herd of specialty releases, handily taking the number one position on the chart, as ranked on a per screen basis, and had the second-highest overall gross. The indieWIRE Box Office Table (iW BOT) saw only a few additional titles opening aside from "Brokeback Mountain," including The Weinstein Company's "Mrs. Henderson Presents," the only other newcomer to enter the chart's top five. Last week's number one film, "Transamerica" took the second position, while THINKFilm's "The Boys of Baraka" placed third on the specialty list. Focus again scored the chart's highest grossing film with "Pride and Prejudice," while Warner Independent Pictures' "Good Night, and Good Luck" had the third highest gross in a weekend that, overall, saw a decline in the number of specialty films and screens offered.

[View the indieWIRE:BOT Box Office Table for this week's films here.]


Ang Lee's multi-Golden Globe nominated feature "Brokeback Mountain," starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal ponied up a heap of cash over the weekend, spectacularly bursting the six-figure average threshold. The critically lauded film grossed $547,425 from just five screens in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, averaging a whopping $109,485, the biggest screen average included in the history of this column. The previous record was held by Fox Searchlight's "Melinda and Melinda" (by Woody Allen) in March of this year, when the film opened exclusively at one location in Manhattan's Upper West Side, taking in $74,238. This also compares to the four-screen opening average of $73,044 in October, 2004 for "I (Heart) Huckabees," also from Fox Searchlight. "Brokeback Mountain"'s average is also significantly higher than THINKFilm's opening of "The Aristocrats" in July on four screens, which averaged $60,949. According to Box Office Mojo, "Brokeback"'s average is the ninth highest of all film openings since 1982 ("The Lion King" remains the B.O. average sovereign with $793,376 in its opening weekend in 1992, according to Mojo).


"I'm very happy with the opening, it's pretty big," said Focus Features' distribution chief Jack Foley in a phone conversation with indieWIRE from Madrid Monday afternoon ahead of the film's seven-strong Golden Globe nominations announced Tuesday morning. "Everything is coming in, [and] it's kind of magical with the accolades mounting in conjunction with the film's opening. We were hoping it would open well, but we couldn't expect this. It's unprecedented." The audience was about 40 per cent female, according to Foley, who added that "eyewitnesses" in the audiences saw women attending the film with men or with other women. "We're expecting that [crossover beyond its obvious gay appeal] to continue, building more of a male/female Saturday night crowd."


In continuing its release, Focus will rely heavily on positive word-of-mouth as a primary vehicle to further build the film's awareness and appeal. "Our target is very conservative, [including] the core art-crowd and cinema lovers [as well as] people who know this is an extraordinary film. The value of these people seeing this film is that they'll be advocates for it and we want to exploit that word-of-mouth factor." The film will expand to 69 screens this weekend, including more showings in New York, L.A. and San Francisco as well as roll outs in Boston, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Focus will expand further on January 6th depending on demand. "This is one of those times when you're dealing with something that has its own magic and we're the beneficiaries of that and we just have to take care of it. I hope the whole country goes to see this film... (laughs) for many reasons!"


The Weinstein Company and IFC Films' joint release "Transamerica" took the second place on the chart, remaining at two locations, grossing $21,372. The film, directed by Duncan Tucker, averaged $10,686, 55% below the opening weekend's $23,454 average. "Tranamerica," which received a best actress Golden Globe nomination for star Felicity Huffman, has cumed $85,451.


THINKFilm's doc "The Boys of Baraka," currently on the short list of films competiting for a best doc Oscar nomination, continued its exclusive engagement at New York's Film Forum, ranking third on the chart with $9,955. ThinkFilm VP of theatrical sales Michael Tuckman drew a parallel to the company's release of another acclaimed doc last year.


"We are very encouraged by the film's theatrical debut. It's no coincidence that 'The Boys of Baraka' opened at the same theater, over the same weekend, to similar opening numbers as last year's Oscar winner 'Born Into Brothels'." He said that the film will next open in Los Angeles at the Nuart on January 20th, ahead of the Oscar nomination. He added that it will play in the top markets throughout February and March, coinciding with the awards season. The film's two-week total is $29,685.


In the weekend's other sparse specialty rollouts, The Weinstein Company's "Mrs. Henderson Presents" took in $55,344 on six screens ($9,224 average), the only other new title to join the chart's top five films. Tartan Films, meanwhile, opened "Marebito," grossing $3,852 on two screens ($1,926 average) and First Run Features' "Go For Zucker" debuted at a pair of locations, grossing $2,130 ($1,065 average).


Joe Wright's "Pride and Prejudice" remained the chart's largest single earner, taking in almost $2.6 million over the weekend or about 52% of the entire specialty chart's combined take. The Focus Features release averaged $1,932 or 42% lower than last week's $3,308 average, and its five-week cume is nearly $26.5 million.


Overall, 59 films reported just over $4.9 million in grosses on 2,752 screens this week, compared to 66 films reporting about $7.24 million on 2,968 screens one week prior. The combined iW BOT average came to $1,781 or 27% lower than the previous week's $2,440. Factoring out the chart's top three earners, including George Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck" ($538,082 on 512 screens), the remaining 56 films on the chart took in nearly $1.24 million on 900 screens, averaging $1,375 or 23% below the overall iW BOT average.


This week's limited release openings include Sony Pictures Classics' "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," and First Run Features' "Electric Shadows (Meng ying tong nian)." Women Make Movies is also debuting "The Grace Lee Project."

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