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by Brian Brooks
December 21, 2005 12:41 AM
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"Brokeback Mountain" Ropes in First Round of Suburbs and Dominates Specialty Box Office

Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain." Photo provided by Focus Features.

Focus Features' "Brokeback Mountain" climbed atop the specialty box office crest over the weekend once again, racking up a blockbusteresque screen average following an expansion. The film topped not only the indieWIRE Box Office table, ranked on a screen average basis, but also grossed the highest absolute dollars despite its still limited reach. The Weinstein Company's "Mrs. Henderson Presents" took the chart's second position, while the company's joint release with IFC Films, "Transamerica," added one location falling to third. Sony Pictures Classics' "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" was the only newcomer in the top five, although the weekend saw very few new specialty titles in the lead-up to the holidays.

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


"Brokeback Mountain" lured large audiences to its expanded but still limited showings. The film, directed by Ang Lee, took in a spectacular $2.5 million from 69 screens, averaging a brawny $36,355. The film's two-week cume is now almost $3.48 million.


It's great [and] overwhelmingly impressive as the first weekend was. It is, out of historic context, a great response [and] a whole new standard," said Focus Features' head of distribution, Jack Foley to indieWIRE Tuesday afternoon. "A good number of theaters were sold-out throughout the weekend, and evening to late shows were pretty much sold-out as were many matinees." Over the films' second weekend, Focus opened "Brokeback Mountain" in the suburbs, which proved successful for the film, expanding its reach, according to Foley. "


"New York suburbia was outstanding. They're often difficult because they don't gross a lot but they're typically word-of-mouth machines [and] Friday grosses were non-typically high. People went out to the movies on Friday, which isn't typical [because] they usually go out on Saturday to the movies. We had big grosses in Montclair, NJ, which I've never seen."


The film also played strongly in the suburbs of Chicago, San Francisco and San Diego, said Foley. "Since we know it's doing well in the suburbs, we know it's capturing the boomers and the [non-gay community]. The film made $45,000 over the weekend in Costa Mesa, CA -- that's like two or three good weeks [at once]," said Foley. "There's a 'chemical' out there that's drawing people to see the film - the marketing campaign, word-of-mouth, the two stars (Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger) are an undeniable attraction, and of course, Ang Lee can't be discounted. But, it's something I've never seen since working in movies. The reality is that the film is playing more broadly then its demographical access [would suggest]."


In its second weekend, at least, the film has drawn not only gay people in the urban centers where the film has done very well, but has also attracted large numbers of boomers and even audiences older then the post-war baby boomers. Communities with large numbers of the already retired such as Scottsdale, AZ and the wealthy San Diego enclave of La Jolla have also seen large numbers turn out according to Foley, including a cross-section of older residents that live there in high numbers. And as many had suspected, the gay community has also embraced the film.


"The standard that it's just the gay cowboy film playing to the gay community just doesn't stand, but it does play well to the gay community too and we're also very happy about this, it's important to the movie."


Focus will continue to expand the film in the 20 markets it's currently playing and will add only a few others over the Christmas and Chanukah weekend taking the film to 118 screens by this Friday and expand further after the first-round of holidays.


"The weekend of the 30th we'll do another group of big markets like Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, Baltimore, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Kansas City, Louisville [and others]," added Foley. "We'll be in the top 30 to 40 markets by New Years and we'll expand the film further on Jan. 6th. [But] we'll see what happens this coming weekend in the suburbs, [which] will influence how we expand going forward. Exhibitors are getting calls from their patrons wondering when they'll get the film. We'll judiciously expand on the 6th and go from there. It could be 300 or 800 [screens], but we'll go from there."


In other box office news, Stephen Frears' "Mrs. Henderson Presents" placed second on the chart in its second weekend, remaining on six screens taking in $42,486. The film averaged $7,081 or about 23% lower then its opening $9,224 average, while its cume is now $123,522.


Duncan Tucker's "Transamerica" added one location for its third weekend in release, grossing $20,394 for a $6,798 per screen average. The previous week, the film averaged 36% higher at $10,686.


Tommy Lee Jones' "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" debuted at five locations, grossing $23,859 or $4,772 per screen. The Cannes winner has cumed $31,644 since opening last Wednesday. The weekend's only other specialty newcomer, "Electric Shadows" from First Run Features opened at one location, taking in $784.


"Brokeback Mountain" alone grossed 46% of the entire reported specialty box office gross of almost $5.4 million. Combined with fellow Focus Features title "Pride and Prejudice" (almost $1.58 million on 1,141 screens for a $1,385 average), the two films represented about 76% of the entire iW BOT.


This week, the iW BOT's 51 titles averaged a combined $2,366 on 2,282 screens. Last week, the iW BOT averaged 25% lower at $1,781 on 2,752 screens with 59 films reporting grosses.


Factoring out "Brokeback" and "Pride and Prejudice," the remaining 49 films on the chart took in over $1.31 million on 1,072 screens, averaging $1,223 or 48% below the iW BOT average that includes both films.


The upcoming holiday weekend's specialty offerings include Sony Classics' "Cache," and "The White Countess" as well as Wellspring's "The Intruder."

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