By Indiewire | Indiewire December 2, 2003 at 2:00AM
"In America" Migrates to the Top in Specialty BOT
by Brian Brooks
Fox Searchlight's "In America," the story of Irish immigrants in New York, topped the specialty box office with its opening over the Thanksgiving weekend, kicking off a holiday weekend that saw a slate of high per screen averages including Sony Classics' "The Triplets of Bellville," and Lions Gate's "The Cooler," which also opened. Focus' "21 Grams," New Yorker's "My Architect" and Miramax's "The Barbarian Invasions" also maintained audience sway over the holiday.
Jim Sheridan's "In America," took residence at the crest of the iW: BOT over the Thanksgiving weekend. Over the most American of holidays, the film about Irish immigrants who move to a poor New York neighborhood had a robust opening on 11 screens grossing $260,353 for a per screen average of $23,668.
"We're thrilled with the opening," commented Steve Gilula, president of Fox Searchlight distribution in a conversation with indieWIRE. "The film built [box office numbers] throughout the weekend, selling out a lot of shows especially at Lincoln Plaza. We knew word of mouth would be critical, and we're pleased." Gilula continued to say that Fox Searchlight had worked on the film's release "for a long time," describing the film as "not high concept," and "not driven by big name stars." "The film is unique in terms of its social aspect. It's a contrast from a lot of stuff out there that's tough and edgy."
"The strongest element going for the film is that it's a Jim Sheridan film," said Gilula crediting the director with "In America"'s strong showing. Gilula continued to say that people familiar with his work came out to theaters during the weekend. "[It's] a very personal film, and people really feel that," he said, adding that the film is based on actual circumstances during Sheridan's upbringing in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York.
"It's a movie we're very proud of and it's been a year since we first screened it and we're happy to now have it out there," Gilula concluded. Fox Searchlight plans a slow expansion over the next four or five weeks, maintaining the same number of theaters in New York and L.A. next weekend, then moving o nto about 50 screens in 11 cities on December 12th with a larger expansion planned for Christmas.
Lions Gate opened Wayne Kramer's "The Cooler" as well over the five night holiday, taking a fourth place showing on the iW: BOT. The film also screened at 11 sites taking in a jackpot of $171,621 for a $15,602 per screen average. "It's the coolest," Lions Gate Tom Ortenberg told indieWIRE to chuckles about the film's release. "I thought we had a terrific opening, [doing] very well in the face of perhaps the most competitive week of the year." Ortenberg continued to say that he hopes word of mouth and awards season recognition will "propel the picture forward."
Support from "Cooler" cast members Alec Baldwin, William H. Macy and Maria Bello, as well as from Kramer, helped with the film's debut according to the Lions Gate chief. He also said "generally good reviews" and "great responses" to the film company's creative material were also key.
Going forward, Lions Gate will expand into other markets beginning December 19th and will most likely reach its widest distribution in early to mid-January. "[The film will] stay on 11 screens next week, then we'll evaluate it on a week by week basis."
Forty-six films were tracked on the iW BOT, down from 54 the previous week, but the overall box office gross was $5.41 million, up from $3.54 million previously, although the holiday weekend covered additional nights. The box office took in more money despite a lower number of screens showing specialty titles. 1,472 sites screened films tracked this week, down from 1,579.
French animated film "The Triplets of Bellville" debuted on six screens raking in $108,080 for a magnifique average of $18,013 and a second spot on the chart. "Bellville" has cumed $143,762.
Focus' "21 Grams" expanded into 73 venues from its opening of eight screens, taking the third place on the chart with a gross slightly under $1.26 million for a $17,256 average. The film's total is now almost $1.6 million.
New Yorker Films is cruising forward on the iW: BOT with three of its titles in the top ten including doc "My Architect" on the fifth position after opening at one more site. The film grossed $45,694 on three screens ($15,231 average) for a three-week cume of $184,629. The distributor's "To Be and to Have" and "Sans Soleil" also took the chart's eighth and ninth places respectively.
Palm Pictures' "The Legend of Leigh Bowery" opened at New York's Cinema Village taking in $6,038, the highest grossing film at that venue.
"Lost in Translation" returned to the top ten over the weekend, showing on 177 screens, down from the previous week's 228. Now in its 12th weekend of release, the film grossed $734,114 for a per screen average of $4,148, up from $2,332 last week. The film has now cumed slightly over $28.9 million.
Next weekend's openers include doc "Forget Baghdad: Jews and Arabs -- The Iraqi Connection" at Cinema Village, "Pride & Prejudice" from Excel Entertainment, "Prisoner of Paradise" at the New York Quad Cinema, and "What Alice Found" from Castle Hill Productions.