If you think the adult-oriented thriller "The Da Vinci Code" didn't cut into last weekend's market for art/independent films, consider this: Cincinnati's premiere art-house, the independently operated Esquire Theatre, devoted four of its six screens to "Da Vinci." Overall, Columbia Pictures' Ron Howard-directed "Da Vinci" averaged $20,635 at the 3,735 theaters where it opened. By comparison the per-theater average for the 83 art/indie films at 2,070 theaters last weekend was just $1,559.
[View the indieWIRE:BOT Box Office Table for this week's films here.]
"Anytime something that big comes, you run the chance of seeing some (audience) bleed," said Greg Laemmle, of Southern California's family-owned Laemmle art-house chain. "But the bigger question is whether there were alternatives to it that were compelling." Laemmle mixed "Da Vinci" and even "Over the Hedge" into the lineup at a few of its more mainstream-oriented sites, such as Pasadena's One Colorado multiplex. There other offerings included "Wah-Wah," "The Proposition," "Lost City" and "Kinky Boots."
Against "Da Vinci Code's" numbers, the performance of the top film on this week's indieWIRE Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT), British director James Marsh's "The King," seems miraculous. (The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages, using numbers compiled by Rentrak.)
But the tough-minded THINKFilm family drama nevertheless grossed a reasonably strong $8,927 last weekend at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema in New York. And the reviews for its actors - Gael Garcia Bernal as ex-sailor Elvis and William Hurt as his estranged father - would seem to indicate a future. In particular, Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper both called Hurt's performance Oscar-worthy.
"We got out of the gate with the film quite solidly and we are especially pleased to have received some really important and extravagantly positive reviews," said Mark Urman, THINKfilm's head of theatrical distribution, via e-mail from Cannes. "This film needed to be 'ordained' by the critical community, and it has been. There is no doubt that the cast is what is most attractive here, and with acclaim for the performances such as we have received, people are clearly going because they want to see Hurt and Gael at their respective peaks."
Alas, another film with a highly praised performance by an established - and sometimes taken-for-granted - American actor, Palm Pictures' "Clean," did less well. The multi-language offering from French director Oliver Assayas features Nick Nolte as the grandfather of a boy whose drug-ridden dad has died. On seven screens in its fourth week of release, it finished 25th on iWBOT with a $1,730 average.
Most surprisingly, Sony Pictures Classics' "Sketches of Frank Gehry" didn't open well in Los Angeles, despite the fact the architect is a bona fide celebrity in the city that is also his home, having designed downtown's Walt Disney Concert Hall. And the documentary's director, Sydney Pollack, is a well-regarded Hollywood director ("Out of Africa," "Tootsie"). The Los Angeles Times review didn't help - architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne called the film "sluggish" and "more than a little out of date."
"Frank Gehry" opened at six metropolitan L.A. theaters, while holding at two screens in New York. At the three most central L.A. sites, the best gross last weekend was at Laemmle's Monica 4 in Santa Monica. But that was just $3,335. Overall the film finished 15th on iWBOT. Its $3,106 per-screen average was down 64% from the previous weekend's $8,620 at two theaters.
"It just didn't do that well in L.A.," Laemmle said. "I'm at a bit of a (loss) about it, myself. I thought L.A. would be stronger on this picture. It opened below a number of holdover films in our market."
Besides "The King," another new film opened in second place on iWBOT - Strand Releasing's "Lemming," Dominik Moll's French-thriller follow-up to his international hit "Harry, He's Here to Help." It averaged $5,665 at its two Manhattan locations, the Village's Angelika Film Center and the West Side's Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. It did almost $2,000 better at the uptown site, according to Nielsen EDI.
Meanwhile Rialto Pictures' "Army of Shadows" continued to pack in devotees of rediscovered classics at New York's Film Forum. In its fourth weekend there, the solemnly revelatory 1969 Jean-Pierre Melville film about the French Resistance dipped just 7% as it grossed $13,145. That was strong enough to keep the film in the iWBOT Top 10, counterbalancing lesser grosses at its other sites - two in Los Angeles and two in Washington. It moved to fourth from fifth place even though its overall per-screen gross dipped 17%, to $5,166 from $6,254.
"It's kind of a phenomenon in New York," said Rialto's Bruce Goldstein, who also is director of repertory programming at Film Forum. "The theater has 150 seats and its still doing that kind of business." This coming Friday, the film opens in Chicago where Ebert has highly praised it.
It'll now be up to Al Gore to turn around the art/indie business. "An Inconvenient Truth," the Paramount Classics documentary directed by Davis Guggenheim about Gore's efforts to slow global warming, is opening today (May 24) in New York and L.A. It seeks major media coverage before "X-Men: The Last Stand" invades multiplexes on Friday.
Overall, art/indie business was down dramatically last weekend. The 83 films in the marketplace cumulatively grossed $3.23 million compared to the $5.26 million that 81 titles earned the previous weekend. That represents a 39% drop in business. The 83 films played 2,070 engagements, down from 2,809 the previous weekend. And the overall $1,559 per-screen average dipped 17% from the previous weekend's $1,873.
(Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles-based film writer and former Denver Post movie critic.)
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