"Fahrenheit 9/11" Boils the B.O.T. While Most Specialty Releases Stay Flat
by Brian Brooks
"Fahrenheit 9/11"'s massive debut last weekend is only the second to top both the iW: BOT as well as the industry-wide grosses since this column became a staple in indieWIRE. Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" broke box office records, including the largest opening weekend for any doc and the highest opening ever for a Palm d'Or winner, not to mention other b.o. milestones. Aside from "Fahrenheit," however, the iW: BOT remained fairly flat once again. "Napoleon Dynamite" showed some spark taking the second placement in expansion, while "The Hunting of the President" came in third with two new screens added.
Clearly, the inclusion of "Fahrenheit 9/11" produced a lopsided boost to the general specialty take over the weekend. The overeall indie gross came in at $26.13 million, versus the previous weekend's $3.45 million. Sixty-one films were tracked in the iW BOT, a decrease of four, but the number of screens increased by 482 to 2,281. Factoring out "Fahrenheit 9/11" however, the overall take would have been about $2.21 million and the number of screens would have been down by 386 to 1,413. Three films, "Napoleon Dynamite," "Super Size Me," and "Saved!" represent almost $1.34 million of the weekend take, with all other iW: BOT films representing about $900,000 of the indie gross.
"Fahrenheit 9/11" topped the U.S. box office and the iW: BOT, which ranks 'indie' films by per screen average. Only Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" has done the same this year, when it debuted with a $27,554 per screen average on 3,043 screens, raking in $83.8 million on its full opening weekend beginning February 27th. Michael Moore's controversial doc, which criticizes the Bush Administration's reaction to 9/11 and its subsequent invasion of Iraq, broke box office records last weekend with a gross of over $23.9 million on 868 screens. The take is the highest opening ever for a wide release under 1000 screens, beating the previous record holder "Rocky III" in 1982, according to the film's distributors, Fellowship Adventure Group, Lions Gate Films and IFC Films.
"Fahrenheit 9/11" averaged a sizzling $27,558 and has cumed more than $24 million since opening on two screens in Manhattan last Wednesday. To give more perspective on "Fahrenheit"'s colossal debut, the second largest grossing film in the country last weekend, "White Chicks" from the Wayans bothers, grossed $19.7 million at 2,726 sites for a per screen average of around $7,230.
"This is a testament to Michael Moore, his voice resonates across the country in what I think we can all now fairly describe as America's movie," Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate Films said during a conference call with a group of journalists on Sunday afternoon. Ortenberg commented that exit polls gave a 91% "excellent" and 93% "definite recommend" in data collected, with a 96% favorability in Dallas, TX, the home state of Bush.
"To say that we came up with a turnkey marketing plan, I'd love to take credit like that, and I'm sure Tom [Ortenberg] would love to [as well]," Jonathan Sehring, president of IFC Entertainment told indieWIRE over the weekend, adding, "Michael is a lightning rod for debate [and] for publicity [with a] huge fan-base. The film obviously struck a chord." Sehring also said that they had been predicting a $10,000 per screen average just three weeks ago.
"What the numbers are showing here is that tens of thousands of people came to this movie this weekend, people who had never seen a doc in their lives," director Michael Moore said during the same conference call. "We look forward to joining 'Spider-Man' in bringing truth and justice to all of America," he later added, alluding to the upcoming holiday weekend's expected monolithic release. Moore went on to praise the three film companies' efforts in releasing the film. "You have essentially three competing studios who have joined together, and I have never seen any group of people so committed."
Today, the film will add 316 runs to 1,184 and climb to 1,710 theaters by Friday. On Monday, "Fahrenheit"'s gross was estimated at $4.45 million, a 38% decrease from Sunday, the smallest drop among the industry-wide top ten.
In other specialty releases for the weekend, Fox Searchlight's "Napoleon Dynamite" remained in second place on the iW BOT, adding 55 sites, taking in $388,112 on 73 screens. The film averaged $5,317 (vs. $10,750 last weekend) and has cumed $953,215 in three weeks.
Regent Releasing's "The Hunting of the President" added two screens, grossing $15,691 at three locations. The film averaged $5,230 and has totaled $50,163 in two weeks.
Wellspring's "Seducing Dr. Lewis" remained at its exclusive Paris Theater engagement in Manhattan, grossing $5,136 over the weekend (a decrease of $2,028). The Quebec-produced feature has cumed $20,814.
Palm Pictures' "Time of the Wolf" opened with two engagements and $7,560. The film ranked eighth on the iW BOT, averaging $3,780. Palm will open it on one screen each Friday in Los Angeles and Long Island, NY. Samuel Goldwyn, meanwhile, debuted "Kaena: The Prophecy" on one screen, taking in $2,173.
The two most recent highest grossing indie films in the iW: BOT prior to "Fahrenheit" decreased their engagements last weekend. Roadside Attractions/Samuel Goldwyn's "Super Size Me" shed 40 screens, taking in $383,178 at 190 sites. The doc averaged $2,017, a drop of about 25% from the previous weekend, and has cumed over $9.5 million. U.A.'s "Saved!" dropped 136 theaters grossing $565,151 from 456 screens. The average came in at $1,239, a decrease of about 40%. "Saved!" has totaled over $7.93 million.
Warner Independent Pictures will open "Before Sunset" in limited release this weekend, while Fox Searchlight will do similar for "The Clearing." Also in limited release from Sony Pictures Classics on Friday is "Zhou Yu's Train."