By Indiewire | Indiewire November 13, 2007 at 2:48AM
An explosive weekend debut of $1.2 million from 28 locations made "No Country for Old Men," filmmaker sibs Joel and Ethan Coen's Western thriller for Miramax Films, the top release on the iWBOT. Joining "No Country" in the iWBOT Top Five, which ranks films by per-screen average, were new releases "Holly," a drama about child prostitution from Priority Films and Slowhand Cinema Releasing, the holocaust documentary "Steal a Pencil for Me" from Seventh Art Releasing and Argot Pictures' "Note By Note," about the making of a Steinway concert grand piano. Returning to the iWBOT Top Five was director Sidney Lumet's crime drama "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," which ThinkFilm continues to expand slowly, a bold contrast to the more aggressive release strategy planned for "No Country."
The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available at indieWIRE.com.
"No Country for Old Men" was Miramax Film's best per-screen debut in years as well as the top per-screen performer for filmmaking duo Joel and Ethan Coen with earnings of $1,226,333 from 28 runs for a blistering per-screen average of $43,797. With the established acclaim of Cormac McCarthy's novel about stolen drug money and acclaimed performances by Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem being heavily promoted for Oscar consideration, "No Country" flashed high potential for exceeding the box office grosses of the previous three Coen Brothers releases: "The Ladykillers" (2004), "Intolerable Cruelty" (2003) and "The Man Who Wasn't There" (2001). "We expected a good response but we exceeded expectations," said Miramax Films President Daniel Battsek. "Most encouraging is the fact that we did well in all markets, not just New York and LA, although each had a $100,000-plus venue. We earned $74,505 from a venue in Toronto and did extremely well in Dallas, which I guess one would expect since the film is set in Texas. We also bumped up from Friday to Saturday which means word of mouth is very good." Asked if the film's extreme violent content would negatively impact "No Country" as it expands by 100 more prints and thirty new markets Friday, Battsek repeated his belief that the film's critical praise will offset any concerns for the film's excessive bloodletting. "Whatever violence there is in the movie is entirely non-gratuitous and is part of the Coen brothers and Cormac McCarthy's fabric of the film. The film has so much to offer, as every critic has pointed out. I think the violence is an element of the movie but so is the incredible story of Tommy Lee Jones' fantastic character coming to terms with the passing of his time, if you like. I think that's an equally significant factor and something that people are connecting to as much as any other element and certainly as much as the violence in the film."
Weekend recipets of $11,180 made "Steal a Pencil for Me," director Michele Ohayon's documentary about a man sent to a Nazi concentration camp in 1943 with his wife and girlfriend, the top documentary on the iWBOT. "Note By Note," director Ben Niles' documentary about the people who make a Steinway grand piano, earned $5,895 in weekend earnings at New York's Film Forum and $9.810 since its Nov. 7 opening.
Right behind in per-screen average was the ThinkFilm documentary "War/ Dance" from husband and wife filmmakers Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine. A Sundance hit about children from a Ugandan refugee camp who make it to the war-torn African nation's national music and dance contest, "War/Dance" earned $15,471 from three venues for a per-screen average of $5,157. ThinkFilm plans limited expansion in early December with a wider roll out in early 2008 after Oscar nominations.
"Holly," a drama about child prostitution in Cambodia, was Priority Films and Slowhand Cinema Releasing's first release on the iWBOT. A series of special screenings and on-site appearances by director Guy Moshe helped earn $32,406 at New York's Clearview Cinemas 62nd & Broadway. Although the film's political content attracted plenty of press, Priority Films President Guy Jacobson, who's also the film's co-writer and producer, credited the extensive grassroots effort for the film's standout debut. "We have been reaching hundreds of thousands of people via social networks, email, Facebook and My Space that allows us to inform people of the film even with a tiny advertising budget," Jacobson said. "I can't compete with 'Lions for Lambs' in advertising. What we've done is focused on massive outreach to universities and high schools and groups. We have spent so much time and effort on the grassroots, more than any studio will ever contemplate doing. We have an entire army of interns and volunteers. We have students in universities who tell their friends about this great little film they're working on and to come and see it with them." Jacobson, who founded Priority Films in late 1999, tests his grassroots theories further when "Holly" expands to other markets Nov. 23.
"Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," veteran director Sidney Lumet's crime drama about two brothers who collaborate on a jewelry store robbery, expanded to 122 runs and continued to attract sizable crowds in its third week in release. "Devil" earned $660,828 for its distributor ThinkFilm; a $5,373 per-screen average. Its cume has reached $1,279,331. Think expands "Devil" to the top 35 markets Friday with a planned print count of 170. Of all the high-profile specialty films being discussed as Oscar runners, "Devil" remained the one, measured expansion amidst numerous wide specialty releases with screen counts similar to some studio films. After eight weeks in release, "Into the Wild," director Sean Penn's adaptation of Jon Krakauer's novel for Paramount Vantage, about a young living in the Alaskan wilderness, reached $12 million in cume and dropped to 590 runs. After seven weeks, the Wes Anderson comedy "The Darjeeling Limited" has reached $9.3 million in total box office for Fox Searchlight and has settled at 386 locations. The other high profile release for Miramax Films, director Ben Affleck's crime drama "Gone Baby Gone" averaged $1,509 from 957 screens for $17 million in total box office. The worst of the wide, specialty releases continued to be Warner Independent Pictures' "In the Valley of Elah," with less than $7 million in total box office after nine weeks.
Despite the mixed success of recent films like "Elah" and "Darjeeling," specialty films that reached beyond the art-house circuit but failed to sustain sizable audiences, Battsek has committed to an equally aggressive release schedule for "No Country." Yet, he has also remained a believer in slow, platform releases. "We will be releasing 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' at the end of the month and that will be a more traditional style of specialized film release in that it will be a slow roll out. "But that doesn't mean I don't believe it has significant potential. Every movie and every release is somewhat different. You learn from your own history and from what else is going on in the marketplace. I feel that the way we handle films is as a specialized studio and I would hope it stays that way."
Based on Battsek's outlook, the box office race between "Devil" and "No Country" is a race between the traditional platform release, slow and steady like the tortoise, and an aggressive, wide release supported by TV advertising, quick and flashy like the hare. Which film ultimately wins may determine the future business model for all art-house releases.
Steve Ramos is a Cincinnati based writer.
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 be included in the indieWIRE Box Office Chart, distributors must submit information about their films to Rentrak at firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of the day each Monday.