By Peter Knegt | Indiewire November 24, 2008 at 7:29AM
It all sounds very familiar. Fresh from hugely favorable screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival, a Fox Searchlight release rides a wave of word-of-mouth that leads to scores of accolades and even more box office. This is the story of 2004's "Sideways," 2007's "Juno," and potentially, this year's "Slumdog Millionaire." As Searchlight continues to slowly expand Danny Boyle's Oscar hopeful, it becomes more and more clear that it might have 2008's specialty powerhouse on its hands.
The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT is available at indieWIRE.com.
"Slumdog"'s $36,002 per-theater-average opening last weekend might have been good enough to lead all of the 2008 fall specialty releases thus far, but it still stood in the shadow of its distributor Fox Searchlight's biggest hits. In 2004, Alexander Payne's "Sideways" averaged $51,760 on four screens in its first weekend, while last year Jason Reitman's "Juno" managed a unbelievable $59,124 on seven. Those films ended up with $71 million and $143 million cumulative grosses, and Searchlight must be looking to them now with aspiration.
In its favor is the fact that in this past weekend, "Slumdog"'s second round, the numbers started to narrow. The film expanded from 10 to 32 screens and grossed $948,606, a $29,644 average. That marks just a 16% drop in per-theater-average. "Sideways" and "Juno" both expanded similarly in their second weekends, jumping from 4 to 16 screens and 7 to 40 screens, respectively. Except they dropped much more significantly. "Sideways"'s averaged tumbled 52% while "Juno"'s fell 40%. Perhaps most interesting in "Slumdog"'s case is that the original 10 theatres in which it opened last week were up 16% on average.
Facing no recognizable actors and a somewhat less marketable storyline than its Searchlight predecessors, this is very good news for "Slumdog." indieWIRE spoke to Searchlight's Sheila DeLoach, who was obviously quite thrilled. "It's spectacular," she said. "It was sold out in every theatre playing the film from coast to coast. It's the perfect word of mouth film that is on everyone's must see list."
Like "Juno" and "Sideways," Searchlight is being extra careful rolling out the film, trying to mount or at least sustain buzz before year-end lists and nominations begin rolling out. "For the Thanksgiving weekend we will add approximately 19 theatres in expansion runs," DeLoach said. "We will not open any additional cities until December 5th. We are continuing to roll the film out every week through the Christmas holiday. I think it's too soon to compare it to 'Juno' or some of our other breakout films. Let's wait until after the holiday weekend."
Its true that topping "Juno"'s $143 million, and thus becoming Searchlight's all-time highest grosser, still seems like a bit of a stretch for "Slumdog." But it does looks all but assured to become Danny Boyle's big hit. That title currently stands with Searchlight's 2003 release "28 Days Later," which grossed $45 million. Twenty-eight days from now, it will be Christmas Eve, and "Slumdog" will likely be nearing a wide expansion, basking in the glow of some Golden Globe nominations, and nearing "Later"'s title.
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.