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iW BOT | Summer Winners and Losers at the Specialty Box Office

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire September 2, 2008 at 12:54PM

The Summer season - at least by the finance-fueled standards of the film industry - is over. While this past final weekend may have been slow for the studios, Indiewood was relatively bustling. Despite "Hamlet 2"'s disastrous expansion, there was lots of hope elsewhere. First Look's "Sukiyaki Western Django," Sony Pictures Classics' "I Served The King of England," and TLA Releasing's "Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild" led the iW BOT on a handful (or less) screens each, and a burst of August specialty hits took full advantage of their numbered days. But with Labor Day a memory and TIFF just two days away, lets take a iW BOT detour and reflect back on Indiewood's summer.
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The Summer season - at least by the finance-fueled standards of the film industry - is over. While this past final weekend may have been slow for the studios, Indiewood was relatively bustling. Despite "Hamlet 2"'s disastrous expansion, there was lots of hope elsewhere. First Look's "Sukiyaki Western Django," Sony Pictures Classics' "I Served The King of England," and TLA Releasing's "Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild" led the iW BOT on a handful (or less) screens each, and a burst of August specialty hits took full advantage of their numbered days. But with Labor Day a memory and TIFF just two days away, lets take a iW BOT detour and reflect back on Indiewood's summer.

The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT is available at indieWIRE.com.

Summer Hot

Despite only three weekends in the marketplace, Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" leads all specialty films released between May 1st and Labor Day in terms of cumulative grosses. Adding $3,525,970 over this past four day weekend, "Barcelona"'s box office now stands at $13,309,881. Released by MGM/The Weinstein Company, "Barcelona" is already Allen's fifth highest grossing film of the past twenty years after "Match Point," "Crimes and Misdemeanors," "Small Time Crooks" and "Bullets Over Broadway." Given its remarkable staying power - its three-day gross this weekend dropped just 6% from the weekend before, despite adding no screens - it has a great shot at surpassing all of them. Largely responsible for its great word of mouth is Penelope Cruz's award-contender performance (she also had a role in the success of another late summer indie, Isabel Coixet's "Elegy," which has already grossed $1,719,321 despite just starting to expand beyond 100 screens).

"Barcelona" is not your average specialty film though. It opened on 692 screens, and had some serious star power both behind and in front of the camera (though that didn't help "Cassandra's Dream"). The more unexpected success stories of the summer specialty season comes in the form of two foreign-language releases. Sergei Bodrov's Mongolian-language "Mongol" and Guillaume Canet's French-language "Tell No One." Picturehouse's "Mongol," which recounts the early life of Genghis Khan, opened on 5 screens in June to a huge $27,065 average. Twelve weeks later, "Mongol" made it as wide as 253 theatres and totaled $5,686,505. "Tell No One," released by upstart distributor Music Box Films, was still doing great business this Labor Day weekend, 9 weeks after its release. Grossing another $474,159 over the four days on just 102 screens, the film now stands at a very impressive $4,383,900.

A batch of Sundance premieres successfully found their way into art houses this summer. World Cinema Documentary award winner James Marsh's "Man on Wire" was the highest grossing doc of the summer. The Magnolia Pictures release added another $302,336 over Labor Day to bring its still-rising total to $1,526,761. Another Sundance award winner, Courtney Hunt's "Frozen River," also continued to find a successful expansion over Labor Day. Adding 28 screens for a total of 69, the Sony Pictures Classics release grossed $319,974, taking its total to $812,557. And though it wasn't a festival award winner (or a critical favorite), Randall Miller's self-distributed Sundance alum "Bottle Shock" has certainly been effective financially. The film has totaled $2,619,905 in its four weeks out.


A scene from Andrew Fleming's "Hamlet 2." Image courtesy of Focus Features.

Summer Cold

Sundance wasn't a good luck charm all around. In fact, the summer season's two biggest specialty disappointments were Sundance's great hopes six months ago. This weekend cemented the grandest casualty, Focus Features $10 million purchase, "Hamlet 2." After an underwhelming debut on 103 screens last weekend, "Hamlet 2" proved even less successful in wide release, grossing $2,106,000 on 1,324 screens over the four-day weekend. Its per-theater average of $1,331 couldn't even challenge some studio disappointments playing on twice the screens ("Disaster Movie" is perhaps the most embarrassing). Its ten-day total of $3,132,000 is not likely to get much bigger, and Focus might now have to deal with the honor of joining the ranks of "Happy, Texas" and "Tadpole" as Sundance cautionary tales.

Another film joining those ranks - personally, more surprisingly so - is Paramount Vantage's ethusiastically (and expensively) marketed "American Teen." The Nanette Burstein directed doc was reportedly bought for $2.5 million at Sundance, and was last seen averaging $583 on 74 screens this weekend. And though its $861,817 cume is one of the higher doc grosses this summer, it is a far cry from the phenomenon Paramount Vantage likely expected.

While a phenomenon was surely not was Overture Films had in mind for "Henry Poole is Here," they must have envisioned more than a second weekend average of $620. Its total of $1,646,452 up to Labor Day fails in comparison to Overture's reported $3.5 million purchase, especially considering its aggressive opening on 527 screens. A different problem faced disappointments like "War, Inc." and "Mister Lonely," which actually debuted atop the iW BOT in May and then fizzled out as they tried to expand. First Look Studio's "War" averaged a fantastic $22,857 on 2 opening screens and then ended up with just $580,862, while IFC Films's "Lonely" debuted to a chart-high $16,769 and then finished with $167,396.

We shall see how the historically more competitive fall season compares as the first group of Oscar hopefuls debuts in the coming weeks. Joel and Ethan Coen's "Burn After Reading" is first up September 12th, with an seemingly endless parade to follow.

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 studiogrosses@rentrak.com by the end of the day each Monday.






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