At last the independent/specialty film world has a summer-season superhero to match Hollywood's X-Men, Superman, Batman and Spider-Man.
Al Gore, man!
"An Inconvenient Truth," the documentary about global warming that combines Gore's surprisingly witty and appealing stage presence with innovative graphics and even animation, debuted over the four-day Memorial Day weekend to some record-shattering numbers. Global warming has long been an issue of paramount importance to Gore, the former Democrat vice president and presidential candidate.
According to the preliminary figures used to devise this week's indieWIRE Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT), the Paramount Classics release directed by Davis Guggenheim finished first with a $91,828 per-theater average at four locations in New York and Los Angeles.
[View the indieWIRE:BOT Box Office Table for this week's films here.]
That's stratospherically higher than the per-screen average for the cluster of smaller, niche films that trailed it, based on Rentrak figures. They are: The second-place Bollywood entry "Fanaa" from Yash Raj Films with a $15,154 average at 58 locations; Cinema Guild's new Emmanuel Carrere-directed "La Moustache" with $11,758 at one site; ThinkFilm's "The King" with $10,622 at one theater in its second week of release; Rialto's rediscovered 1969 Jean-Pierre Melville film "Army of Shadows" with a $9,221 average at five sites in four cities; and Truly Indie's low-budget Filipino-American thriller "Cavite," which averaged $8,062 at its debut runs in New York and L.A.
But, truthfully, "Inconvenient Truth" towered over those. It opened on a Wednesday - May 24 - and sold out several screenings that day. Pacific's Arclight Theatre in Hollywood had it on three screens; Laemmle's Monica Theatre in Santa Monica on two. "I wish we had a third screen for it," Greg Laemmle said. He said it came close - and may have surpassed - the house record held by "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."
Rob Schultz, executive vice president of specialty-film distribution at Paramount Classics, said this is by far the highest opening-weekend per-theater average for one of his films, breaking the $27,752 (three-day) average of Justin Lin's "Better Luck Tomorrow."
And he said its three-day Friday-through-Sunday average of $70,585 set the opening-weekend record for a documentary, breaking the $69,949 average hit by dirty-joke-telling "The Aristocrats" last year on four screens.
"Clearly there's an appetite within the sophisticated marketplace for films with a little more meat to them," Schultz said. "And this film's success is also about the environment surrounding it - the discussions going on daily about oil prices and what to do."
"An Inconvenient Truth" opened in two very friendly markets for Gore. But, Schultz said, Paramount Classics determined early - right after the film's premiere at the Sundance Film Festival - that Gore would be a "positive element" in the film's marketing, period.
Gore won the popular vote in the 2000 presidential election but lost the electoral vote to George W. Bush in a close, complicated race. At the time, many pundits derided him as being a stiff, impersonal candidate. But as advance word got out that he was a comforting, comfortable presence in this movie, those same pundits began speculating on his presidential prospects for 2008. Though he has said he isn't running, he is suddenly considered a top Democratic candidate.
"Our focus has been on his interest in the topic of global warming," Schultz said. "The interest in his political future is not something we were working toward. It's interesting to see it gain life again."
The film jumps to anywhere from 60-75 screens in the Top 10 markets this Friday, including expansions in New York and L.A. It will be in the Top 35-50 markets on June 9.
Meanwhile, Rialto Pictures' "Army of Shadows" keeps marching on to strong business at New York's Film Forum, where it had its best weekend to date by grossing $14,500 from Friday through Sunday and another $5,000 on Memorial Day. That was its fifth weekend at the theater. And buoyed by a strong Roger Ebert review, the drama about the French Resistance did just under $13,000 over four days at Chicago's Music Box. It was also at two L.A. sites and a theater in Washington.
"We also had a fantastic review on (NPR's) 'Fresh Air' on Friday," said Bruce Goldstein, Rialto's president. (He also handles repertory programming at Film Forum.) "I'm thinking we should probably make more prints." It next opens at Landmark's Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge on June 16.
Finally, a film being marketed by 2929 Entertainment's Truly Indie division kicked up some outsized art-house interest over the four-day weekend, given its budget. As part of the division's strategy, as previously reported in indieWIRE last October, a filmmaker pays an up-front fee covering distribution costs, keeps 100% of box office receipts and retains rights. It's meant to help difficult films get a chance theatrically.
Ian Gamazon and Neill dela Llana's "Cavite," a digitally shot and projected feature about a Filipino-American who gets forced into a terrorist plot in his home country, is the third Truly Indie release. It benefited from good reviews that singled out the newness of its guerilla-filmmaking vision in getting inside the teeming streets, exotic markets and grungy shanties of a busy Third World metropolis. The film played at the NuArt in Los Angeles, which is owned by 2929's Landmark Theatres, and at New York's Cinema Village, which isn't.
Overall, there were 81 indie/specialty films in the marketplace last weekend, compared to 83 the previous weekend. They were in 1803 theaters, compared to the previous weekend's 2,070 engagements. Over the four-day holiday weekend, they cumulative grossed $5.48 million and had a per-engagement average of $3,039.
(Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles-based film writer and former movie critic at Denver Post. James Israel contributed to this story.)
indieWIRE:BOT tracks independent/specialty releases compiled from Rentrak Theatrical, which collects studio reported data as well as box-office figures from North American theatre locations. To submit information about your film to Rentrak, please email firstname.lastname@example.org