"Factory Girl," a film quickly dismissed by many insiders when the Weinstein Company/MGM opened it for a brief end-of-2006 Oscar-qualifying run, came roaring back last weekend and finished first on the indieWIRE Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT) chart of independent/specialty films. Its average of $29,159 from three theaters in New York and Los Angeles far and away was the best for an otherwise-slow Super Bowl Weekend that saw no other movie average above $10,000.
The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available here at indieWIRE.com
In other Top Ten highlights, IFC First Take's launch of Henriette Mantel/Steve Skrovan's "An Unreasonable Man," a documentary about Ralph Nader, came in a healthy second by earning $9,813 at the IFC Center in the Manhattan. Rialto Pictures' re-release of Alberto Lattuada's 1962 Italian black comedy "Mafiosa" continued strong while dipping from first to fifth on the iWBOT, while Picturehouse's "Pan's Labyrinth" - 10th on the iWBOT - passed "Like Water for Chocolate" to become the U.S.'s highest-grossing Spanish-language film with $21.7 million to date. On 1,082 screens over the weekend - its widest in six weeks of release - Guillermo del Toro's "Pan," nominated for six Oscars including Best Foreign-Language Film, grossed $300,000 less than the slowing "Dreamgirls" even though the latter was on almost 1,700 more screens. ("Pan's" weekend gross was $3.68 million; "Dreamgirls'" was $4 million.)
"We are proud that 'Factory Girl' opened so strongly and we plan to expand it over the next few weeks. Audiences clearly want to see this provocative, sexy and compelling film," said Harvey Weinstein in an email statement.
Weinstein had originally hoped "Factory Girl," the George Hickenlooper-directed biopic about the late Edie Sedgwick - an Andy Warhol "superstar" of the 1960s who also became friendly with Bob Dylan's camp and may have inspired "Just Like a Woman" - could net Sienna Miller an Oscar nomination. But because the film was finished and screened late, it never gained any traction. A negative Los Angeles Times review didn't help, either. And Miller, a star in Britain and well-known for being Jude Law's ex-paramour, wasn't a familiar name in the U.S.
However between then and last weekend Miller came to the U.S. to acquaint herself with the press and became a hit with gossip columnists/celebrity photographers at Sundance Film Festival (where she was in a different movie) and elsewhere. "Factory Girl" opened the Santa Barbara Film Festival. And last week, conveniently just before the film opened, New York Daily News gossiped that Miller's sex scenes with Hayden Christensen - who plays a folk-rock icon modeled on Dylan - could have been real. That rumor traveled fast on the internet.
But Warhol's drawing power may also have helped - Guy Pearce plays him quite effectively in "Factory Girl." "Andy Warhol would interest many New Yorkers in SoHo and this is where a lot of those people would want to see a movie featuring him," said John Cruz, manager of Angelika Film Center, on the SoHo/Greenwich Village border in Manhattan. "We sold out our shows and experienced long lines. Despite the weather, people came out." After doing approximately $36,000, the theater is increasing the number of daily screenings for the upcoming weekend.
Another figure closely identified with the 1960s - consumer advocate Ralph Nader - also found a receptive "downtown" New York audience last weekend when the documentary about him "An Unreasonable Man" opened well. But as fondly as Nader is remembered for his 1960s activism, he is criticized for taking crucial votes away from Al Gore by running as a leftist independent in the 2000 presidential election. The film addresses that, giving it a contemporary currency.
"We certainly were able to tap into contacts and very loyal people to Ralph Nader and his causes," said Mark Boxer, IFC's vice president of sales and distribution, via email. "'An Unreasonable Man' played to sold-out shows at the IFC Center in downtown New York City. The documentary will open in Los Angeles and Boston next weekend, then roll out to the top 20 markets."
Meanwhile, "Mafiosa's" per-screen average declined by 56% from the previous weekend's $14,983, to $6,490, as the movie added a fourth screen in Pasadena to its three in New York and L.A. But that average was deceiving as the Pasadena venue - Laemmle's One Colorado Plaza - is a comparatively slow one. It did only $2,175 over the weekend there; Laemmle's Royal in West Los Angeles did $6,424. In New York, the Angelika did $7,155 and the Lincoln Plaza did $10,207. The film's midweek numbers also were good in those three theaters, bringing its total gross to $117,025 in its second week. So overall, it's performing extremely well for a long-overlooked film that essentially is being rediscovered and reappraised four decades after its initial release.
"The strength of the midweek numbers for 'Mafioso' in both New York and Los Angeles is an indication of how good the word-of-mouth is on the film," said Eric Di Bernardo, Rialto's sales director, via Email. "We anticipated a drop on Super Sunday, as did everyone else. The picture is holding its own against the many Oscar-nominated films and each successive week's new openings."
Most of the Oscar-nominated films from studio-affiliated specialty divisions are in too wide a release to finish high on the per-screen-oriented iWBOT. But Miramax Films' slowly widening Roger Michell-directed "Venus," starring Peter O'Toole in an Oscar-nominated performance as an aging actor smitten with a much younger woman, finished eighth by averaging $3,594 at 96 theaters in its seventh week. The previous weekend, it averaged $5,830 at 59 locations. It was one of the few films to expand and gain in overall revenue over the previous (non-Super Bowl) weekend, grossing $374,736 compared to the earlier $344,000.
And "Pan's Labyrinth" finished 10th by averaging $3,404, down 48% from $5,801, as it climbed to 1,082 sites from the previous weekend's 823. But what's especially noteworthy, and what wasn't expected, is that the film is starting to give a run for the money to two other higher-profile arty films by other Mexican directors in the U.S. marketplace. And unlike "Pan's Labyrinth," both of those rushed into wide release.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Paramount Vantage-distributed "Babel," a multi-language film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, so far has grossed $29.7 million and is averaging just $1,561 at 1,090 theaters. And Alfonso Cuaron's Universal Pictures-released, English-language "Children of Men", is at $32.7 million.
Bob Berney, Picturehouse president, was pleased to see "Pan" pass "Like Water for Chocolate's" record. "It's a good milestone, not to take anything away from that picture," he said. "This shows the populist appeal of our film at this point."
Overall, the 55 titles on this week's iWBOT generated $14.14 million, down from $19.77 million, and averaged $2,023 from each of their 6,988 engagements. The previous weekend, the same number of titles averaged $3,026 from each of their total 6,533 bookings. It's too soon to know if the ongoing expansion of Oscar nominees isn't especially widening the market or if the Super Bowl just depressed this weekend and things will pick up. This weekend last year, 68 titles on the iWBOT did $19.21 million. So the iWBOT was off about 35% from 2006.
(Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles freelance film writer and former Denver Post movie critic.)