By Indiewire | Indiewire March 17, 2004 at 2:00AM
"Games People Play" Wrestles its Way to #1; "Passion" Still a Box-Office Miracle
by Brian Brooks
James Ronald Whitney's risqué feature "Games People Play: New York" seduced its way to number one on the indieWIRE BOT, grabbing the throne from Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," which had reigned for two weekends. Still, "Passion" maintained its zeal, remaining the top box office film industry-wide. ThinkFilm released "Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself" to decent numbers, while self-distributed "Maestro" gave a strong showing on one screen. The film is one of four without a formal distributor appearing on the chart this week.
Last weekend's total indie gross was $36.74 million, down from $59.2 million, while the number of titles increased to 58 from 48 previously. Minus "The Passion," (which represented 87 percent of the weekend indie take) the specialty box office total is approximately $4.6 million. The overall "indie" per screen average came in at $6,170, down 36 percent from the week before, compared to the overall industry average of $3,157, which was a decrease of 13 percent.
The reality-esque "Games People Play: New York," a 'game film' about three men and three women vying for a $10,000 cash prize by performing provocative stunts, took its place on the specialty box office crest, opening in Gotham on one screen with a stimulating $12,364.
"I was holding a can of Coke, and dropped it on my shoe because I was in shock," said director James Ronald Whitney via email to indieWIRE about his reaction to the film's opening after a producer friend of his called to wish him congratulations for being number one in the country based on per-screen average. "I had gotten calls from people in New York telling me that when they saw the movie, the theater was packed, and after the very first screening, the manager of the Cleaview chain called to tell me that he was moving 'Games' to the largest theater at Clearview's Chelsea 9 because the numbers were so strong, but I had no idea we would be number one for the weekend."
Whitney went on to say aside from winning an Emmy, it was the best professional news he had ever received. "Now anyone reading this better get his ass to the theater to see this unrated, totally twisted little movie that was made in just 72 hours." According to Whitney, the film will premiere in Los Angeles tonight and will begin its run there at the Sunset 5 beginning Friday. Over the next eight weeks, Artistic License will open the film in a new city, then continuing until it has played the top 10 markets. Concluding, an obviously elated Whitney told indieWIRE, "My plan today is to buy new shoes."
Newmarket's "The Passion of the Christ" expanded to 3,221 sites from last week's 3,170, taking in more than $32.13 million for a still awe-inspiring $9,975 average in its third weekend in theaters. The film reigned as the biggest film overall once again, and has now cumed over $264.5 million.
The German film "Good Bye, Lenin!" came in only slightly behind "The Passion" with a strong $9,384 per-screen average on 16 screens, an increase of 10 screens from last week. The Sony Classics release took in $150,137 and has now cumed $324,096 since release three weeks ago.
ThinkFilm's "Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself" debuted at two sites, grossing $13,747, giving the film a $6,874 per-screen average. "I was thrilled with the overwhelmingly favorable critical response," commented ThinkFilm head Mark Urman to indieWIRE about the feature. "We hope the audiences build for the film." Urman continued on to say that the film's reviews were "key" in addition to director Lone Scherfig's previous effort in attracting crowds. "'Italian for Beginners' had its fans, so hopefully some of that will come into play." On March 26, the film will open in Los Angeles, and expand in more New York theaters.
Self-distributed "Maestro" opened one theater, grossing $6,388, rounding out the top five on the iW BOT. "Maestro" is one of four self-distributed films on the chart, including "Greendale," "Robot Stories," and "The Gatekeeper," of which three titles managed averages above the overall industry per-screen average of $3,157 for the weekend. "The Gatekeeper," which averaged $856 at two sites, however, has been in theaters for 46 weeks.
This week's upcoming openers include Dagur Kari's "Nói" from Palm Pictures as well as John Crowley's "Intermission" form IFC Films. Also debuting is Zeitgeist's "Divan" by Pearl Gluck and Strand Releasing's "The Child I Never Was" by Kai S. Pieck.