Two of the biggest names - some might say rivals - of the independent-film business in the 1990s find themselves strange bedfellows at the top of this week's indieWIRE Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT) of independent/specialty films, as a result of the opening-weekend success of newcomers "Bobby" and "Flannel Pajamas." Also doing well were holdover "Volver" and the debuting "For Your Consideration" and "Two or Three Things I Know About Her."
The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available here at indieWIRE.com
Emilio Estevez's "Bobby," which depicts the lives of imaginary characters staying at Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel when Robert Kennedy was assassinated there in 1968, finished first with a $34,519 average at two theaters in New York and L.A. It is being released by The Weinstein Company, whose head, Harvey Weinstein, co-founded Miramax Films with his brother, Bob.
Meanwhile, the fifth-place finisher on the iWBOT was Gigantic Pictures' "Flannel Pajamas," which grossed $11,069 over the weekend at New York's Angelika Film Center. It is written and directed by Jeff Lipksy, a long-time indie-film distributor whose October Films - started in 1990 with partner Bingham Ray - at one time was one of Miramax's feistiest competitors. (By opening on Wednesday rather than Friday, "Flannel Pajamas" grossed $14,483 over five days.)
In a prepared statement released by his company, Harvey Weinstein said of "Bobby": "We are off to a great start. The exit polls are tremendous. They are some of the highest in our history. 'Bobby' seems to have struck a chord with the public." The film opened at Pacific Arclight in Hollywood and Lincoln Square in New York. It goes into wide released on Thanksgiving.
Meanwhile, Sony Classics' release of Pedro Almodovar's "Volver" stayed strong in its third week of very limited release, slipping to second from first on the iWBOT by averaging $23,825 at six theaters in New York and L.A. The previous weekend at five theaters, it averaged $33,842. It finally expands to new markets starting Wednesday, adding San Diego, Boston, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and Seattle. On Friday, it adds Toronto and Vancouver and will be on a total 30 screens.
And Christopher Guest's latest spoof, Warner Independent Pictures' "For Your Consideration," finished third on the iWBOT by averaging $16,174 at 23 theaters in 12 cities. "That's in line with 'Best in Show' and 'A Mighty Wind,'" said a satisfied Steve Friedlander, WIP's executive vice president of distribution. It jumps to 600 runs this week.
Alas, the overall gross of the 70 films on this week's iWBOT lost everything gained last week and then some - falling to $7.66 million from $10.83 million. The week before, that gross (from 71 titles) had jumped to $10.83 million from the previous weekend $7.89.
The culprit is Paramount Vantage's release of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's difficult drama "Babel," which appears to have expanded into wide release too early despite Brad Pitt's presence. In its fourth weekend it held at 1,251 screens but saw overall gross plummet to $2.9 million from $5.59 million. Its per-theater average also dropped to $2,322 from $4,443 as it slipped to 17th from 9th on the iWBOT. Though it has grossed $12 million to date it'll definitely need awards nominations - and soon - to hold ground during the holiday season.
Also not helping things gross-wise was Richard Linklater's "Fast Food Nation," a dramatic adaptation of Eric Schlosser's muckraking expose of the fast-food industry. A hopeful Fox Searchlight released it to 321 theaters on the weekend before Thanksgiving and it got some good reviews, but this is apparently a subject better served by documentaries like "Super Size Me." It averaged just $1,280 per screen and finished 30th on the iWBOT. Cincinnati's Mariemont Theatre, for one, is already dropping it this week.
"Flannel Pajamas" had several things going for it in its New York debut, explained Paul Jarrett, a producer with New York's Gigantic Pictures. First, Lipsky's involvement drew patrons. "In the film community, especially in New York, his name draws a lot of interest." But it also earned some strong reviews for its wrenching depiction of a strong romance leading to a collapsed marriage, being compared to Ingmar Bergman's "Scenes from a Marriage," Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives" and John Cassavetes' "Faces." (Roger Ebert especially praised it after its debut this year at Sundance Film Festival.)
"People were talking about those films in relation to this and that's terrific," Jarrett said. The company will continue to try to slowly take the film nationwide, moving into Los Angeles and Irvine, Calif., on Friday.
Rialto Pictures' latest film-classic revival project, Jean-Luc Godard's 1967 "Two or Three Things I Know About Her," got a nice start at New York's Film Forum with a $11,214 gross. That was good for fourth on the iWBOT. Rialto's rediscovery of Jean-Pierre Melville's "Army of Shadows" was the revival success story of the year. It debuted in first place on the May 1st iWBOT with a $12,620 Film Forum gross and is still on the chart, having earned $636,000 to date.
"It's not as strong as 'Army of Shadows,' of course - that was a phenomenon," said Bruce Goldstein, Rialto's president, via E-mail. "But opening weekend pretty much equaled or came close to our earlier Godard reissues like 'Masculine, Feminine' and 'Band of Outsiders' and beat 'A Woman Is a Woman.' The picture is creating a lot of buzz on blogs and attracting a very young audience. I guess Godard is still very hot."
Magnolia Pictures' "Samoan Wedding," a romantic comedy by Chris Graham set among Auckland, New Zealand's Samoan community, held acceptably at two theaters in Hawaii. Its per-screen average dropped to $4,885 from $7,852 and it fell to sixth from second on the iWBOT. Now expansion looms. "We've slotted it in Guam and Saipan but nothing on the mainland just yet," said Jeff Reichert, Magnolia spokesman. "It's (too) crowded out there."
Who knows? If this strategy works, more indies may bypass New York and L.A. to open in the Pacific islands.
The 70 films on this week's iWBOT averaged $2,270 at 3,377 locations, down almost one-third - thanks to "Babel" and "Fast Food Nation" - from the previous week's average of $3,300 at 3,282 sites. But with expansions of "Bobby," "Volver" and "For Your Consideration" on slate, that could reverse next week.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles-based film writer and former movie critic at the Denver Post.
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