"Garden State" Sows a Bountiful Box Office Debut
by Brian Brooks
Zach Braff's "Garden State" tunneled its way to the apex of the iW: BOT, debuting in limited release and becoming only the fourth non-documentary feature to top the chart, as calculated by per screen average, since Memorial Day weekend. Paramount Classics' "Intimate Strangers" opened with some zeal, while "Maria Full of Grace" expanded, settling for a third placement after spending two weeks as the b.o. winner. Self-distributed media consolidation doc "Orwell Rolls in his Grave" along with "Festival Express" were the lone documentaries in the top ten over the weekend, a rare case following a sizzling summer for the genre, although the season's monolith, "Fahrenheit 9/11" is now just shy of a $110 million cume.
Theaters devoted 2,897 screens to specialty releases for the weekend ending Sunday, August 1st, a decline of 651, although the number of indie titles increased by 13% to 63. The overall specialty gross declined by about $1.88 million to $7.62 million (a $2,630 per screen average), although "Fahrenheit 9/11"'s weekend gross decline of approximately $1.65 million accounted for most of the decrease from the previous weekend's numbers. Nevertheless, as has become a ritual in this column this summer, "Fahrenheit" once again consumed a disproportionate chunk of the specialty gross, representing more than 40% of the total. In fact, both "Fahrenheit" and "Napoleon Dynamite," which itself took in more than $1.4 million on 423 screens (with a $3,316 average and a 20% decline) represented nearly 60% of the weekend indie box office, while the other 61 films grossed the remaining nearly $3.11 million. Factoring out "Fahrenheit" and "Napoleon," the iW: BOT would have averaged $2,473 on 1,257 screens, a drop of about 16% from the previous week using similar calculations.
Fox Searchlight and Miramax jointly released Zach Braff's Sundance 2004 feature "Garden State" at nine locations over the weekend. The film grossed $201,115, and averaged $22,346, the largest number since "Fahrenheit"'s opening in late June at $27,558, and the highest averaging non-documentary film since "Bon Voyage"'s $27,480 opening on one screen in late March.
"'Garden State' had a terrific opening," Stephen Gilula, president of distribution at Fox Searchlight, told indieWIRE yesterday. "The Monday [gross] was almost as big as last Thursday, so we're seeing word of mouth continuing." Gilula said that the film offered audiences an alternative to the more sober films that have been released in the specialty market this summer. "Most other films aside from 'Napoleon Dynamite' (also a Fox Searchlight release) are pretty serious in the indie market right now. It's a pretty serious summer. 'Garden State' is a good counterpoint to these other films." Audiences attending the film tended to be "young and fairly hip" according to Gilula, although the distributors did not do any formal exit polling.
Gilula, who saw the film at Sundance at its first screening and acquired it along with Miramax afterward, attributed part of the film's successful opening to a publicity tour by Braff leading up to the film's theatrical debut. "Zach [Braff] had a cross-country tour, and we [organized] word of mouth screenings, where we had to turn people away. Zach did Q&As following [the screenings]." Additionally, Fox Searchlight and Miramax screened the film at festivals. "[We] took the film to festivals from Maui to Nantucket," said Gilula. "Garden State" will be at 35 locations this week, and will be on 100 screens by August 13th. Gilula said the film will be in 500 theaters nationally by August 20th.
Paramount Classics opened Patrice Leconte's "Intimate Strangers" on five screens, grossing $201,115. The French feature averaged $11,167, and placed second on the chart.
In other openers, Pathfinder Pictures' "Gozu" took in $5,030 on one screen, while Strand Releasing's "Proteus" made $10,047 at two locations. Sony Classics released "She Hate Me" at 11 sites, averaging a mellow $5,001.
HBO Films/Fine Line's joint release, "Maria Full of Grace" added 58 engagements, taking in $525,706 on 65 screens. The film averaged $8,088 (versus $19,562 last week, a 59% decline). "Maria" has digested $971,570 since its release three weeks ago.
Emerging Pictures opened its baseball feature "This Old Cub" in Botavia, IL, grossing $11,145. [The figures were provided to indieWIRE past the 6pm deadline on Monday, so the film is not reflected in the chart.] Had it been ranked, the film would have placed third.
Miramax added four runs to "Zatoichi," grossing $54,117 and averaging $6,765 (it made $15,276 last week, for a 56% decline) on eight screens. The film has totaled $155,870 in two weeks.
Self-distributed doc "Orwell Rolls in his Grave" remained at one location, taking in $5,632 ($6,059 last week, a 7% drop) and placing fifth on the iW: BOT. In two weeks, the film has cumed $13,797.
ThinkFilm expanded music doc "Festival Express" to 17 sites, grossing $93,874, for a $5,522 per site average. The film has cumed $112,182 in two weeks.
Also expanding was Warner Independent Pictures' "A Home at the End of the World," which added 21 locations, grossing $118,668 ($4,564 average). "Home"'s two week total is $216,411. Warner Independent added 63 screens to "Before Sunset," taking in $459,263 from 203 sites ($2,262 average) with a cume of nearly $3.23 million.
"Fahrenheit 9/11" closed the weekend just short of another b.o. threshold. The doc's six-week total came just shy of $110 million on a weekend gross of over $3.1 million on 1,217 screens ($2,555 average, a decline of under 1%) down from 1,855 the previous weekend.
United Artists will open "Code 46" in New York and Los Angeles Friday, while Lions Gate will debut "Open Water" in limited release. Also in limited release this weekend is "Stander" from Newmarket Films, Ryan Little's "Saints and Soldiers" from Excel Entertainment, Schani Krug's "Marilyn's Man," and Celia A. Fox's "Wasabi Tuna."