By Indiewire | Indiewire January 31, 2007 at 2:19AM
While such Oscar-nominated independent/specialty films as Picturehouse's "Pan's Labyrinth," Fox Searchlight's "Notes on a Scandal" and Miramax Films' "Venus" all expanded relatively healthily and finished in the Top Ten on this week's indieWIRE Box Office Tracking Report (iW BOT), the top performer was a re-release of an obscure Italian dark comedy from 1962 -- Alberto Lattuada's "Mafioso" starring Alberto Sordi. Playing on three theaters in New York and Los Angeles last weekend, it averaged $14,983 per location. Its success is the latest proof that niche distributor Rialto Pictures, which has long known how to successfully re-release classics like Fellini's "Nights of Cabiria" and several Godard New Wave titles, is having growing luck making art-house hits out of old non-classics, too.
Rialto's 2006 release of Jean-Pierre Melville's 1969 "Army of Shadows," a thriller about the French Resistance never originally distributed in the U.S., so far has grossed $707,000 and is still going strong, opening the Cincinnati World Cinema's new venue at Cincinnati Art Museum this week.
The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available here at indieWIRE.com
"Mafioso," which some critics have called an early-modernist precursor to "The Godfather," did $12,241 at New York's Angelika Film Center and $11,432 at the Lincoln Plaza, both in their second week of showing it. At West Los Angeles' Laemmle Royal, it did $9,680 and increased business from Saturday to Sunday, a sign of great word-of-mouth. Unlike "Army of Shadows," "Mafioso" was originally released in the U.S. in 1964 but quickly faded into obscurity. Lattuada is not regarded as one of cinema's major auteurs, either.
"This is what we'd like to do more of," said Bruce Goldstein, Rialto Pictures president. "We'd like to find more great films that people don't know about. They were critically appreciated in their day but didn't get the attention they deserved."
One thing going for such films is that--since they aren't part of the recognized canon--they are new discoveries to many critics who give strong reviews and treat their opening as major cultural events. And that excites discerning viewers looking for something new yet old. "I think maybe people want a break from the trends of new movies," Goldstein said.
This weekend, "Mafiosa" will expand to Laemmle's One Colorado in Pasadena's Old Town section. Future expansions will follow. And Goldstein already is working on future Rialto rediscoveries of forgotten movies, such as a planned 2008 release of Vittorio De Sica's 1954 feature "The Gold of Naples," one of Sophia Loren's first major films. A multipart tribute to Naples, it was released in the U.S. with just four of its six segments, said Goldstein, who is restoring the missing parts. Meanwhile, Rialto will continue to re-release acknowledged classics--Alain Resnais' 1961 "Last Year at Marienbad" comes out this year.
New York's Film Forum--where Goldstein programs repertory cinema--did $7,912 with a Slowhand Cinema Releasing's re-release of 1964's "Becket," directed by Peter Glenville and featuring two great performances by Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton. It finished fourth on this week's iWBOT, behind Eros Entertainment's latest Bollywood hit, Nikil Advani's "Salaam-E-Ishq," which averaged $11,035 at 86 theaters, and The Weinstein Company's reintroduction into the market of Anthony Minghella's "Breaking and Entering," which played a short and unsuccessful Oscar-qualifying run in late 2006. It averaged $10,580 at two screens.
Right behind "Becket" is O'Toole's latest movie, Roger Michell's "Venus," which Miramax expanded to 59 screens in its fifth weekend from the previous 14, after the veteran thespian received a Best Actor Oscar nomination. It averaged $5,830 per run.
"Our feeling is this is now hot. He's been making a lot of appearances and we're trying to get as large an art-film release as we can," said Elliot Slutzky, Miramax's executive vice president of general sales. "It had a nice solid average and our ability to hold the film (in theaters where it had opened earlier) is testimony to its strength." It will go to 95 playdates this weekend as Miramax carefully gauges its performance.
In sixth place on the iWBOT is Guillermo del Toro's hybrid political thriller/adventure fantasy "Pan's Labyrinth," which took advantage of its surprise six Oscar nominations to jump to 823 runs from the previous weekend's 609. While its per-screen average understandably dropped--to $5,801 from $7,393--it grossed a powerful $4.77 million in its fifth weekend as it tries to surpass "Like Water For Chocolate"'s $21.67 million revenue to become the U.S.' highest grossing Spanish-language film. It has already collected $16.52 million.
"We'll add almost 200 (screens) this week," said Bob Berney, Picturehouse president. "The six nominations really surprised people and made those who had heard about it want to see it. There were a certain amount of people who had read the reviews but weren't fantasy fans or thought it was too violent."
"Notes on a Scandal," Fox Searchlight's Oscar-nominated (for Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett) drama directed by Richard Eyre, expanded to 641 screens from 200 and finished seventh on the iWBOT with a $4,062 per-screen average. Its weekend gross of $2.60 million was just ahead of the $2.56 million generated by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Best Picture nominee "Babel," which Paramount Vantage increased to 1,090 runs from the previous weekend's 889. It averaged $2,350 per site and ranked 20th on the iWBOT.
Another major beneficiary of Oscar nominations, Miramax's Stephen Frears-directed "The Queen" starring Helen Mirren, climbed to 1,830 runs from 1,586 and finished just under "Babel" with a $2,193 per-site average. That represents its widest release in 18 weeks on the iWBOT. It took in $4.01 million--just behind "Pan's Labyrinth"--and has earned $41.25 million total.
Miramax's Slutzky believes the film did 30-50% more business in its new locations than it would have had it opened earlier. "Our whole strategy was planned around it getting nominations and it did," Slutzky said. "If it hadn't, we would have been second-guessed for not taking all those runs earlier."
Overall the 55 titles on this week's iWBOT generated $19.77 million and averaged a very healthy $3,026 from each of their total 6,533 engagements. That's the best weekend since the four-day Labor Day iWBOT, when 69 titles did $21 million, buoyed by "Little Miss Sunshine" and "The Illusionist." Even better, it's higher than any of the Oscar-influenced weekends of early 2006.
Further, while the iWBOT is not including Clint Eastwood's Oscar-nominated "Letters from Iwo Jima," Warner Bros. is releasing it like an indie/specialty film. So far it's just on 415 screens in its sixth week of release. Had it been included, it would have added an additional $1.87 million to the iWBOT chart.
(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