By Peter Knegt | Indiewire December 2, 2008 at 12:10AM
Gus Van Sant's "Milk" scored a huge Thanksgiving opening, according to final numbers from Rentrak this afternoon. The Focus Features release, a biopic of gay rights activist Harvey Milk, grossed $1,453,844 on just 36 screens over the three-day weekend, for a $40,385 average. This ranks as the highest opening weekend for any film released in the range of 30-40 theaters (a record previously held by Focus' "Atonement"). Since opening last Wednesday, "Milk" has taken in an impressive $1,938,439.
The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT is available at indieWIRE.com.
"'Milk''s record-breaking opening numbers are of course cause for celebration, but in the midst of enjoying the astonishing grosses we can't forgot an even greater cause for joy - the film itself," Focus CEO James Schamus told indieWIRE. "Honestly, if it was just me and my kids in the theater this weekend, I'd still be just as proud to know that Focus had even a small role to play in the creation of Gus Van Sant's masterpiece."
Obviously, it wasn't just Schamus and his children in the theater. On only 36 screens, the film ranked in the overall box office top ten. It sold out shows at all of its showings, finding particularly massive numbers at San Francisco's Castro (where it grossed an estimated $154,848 since opening), New York's Chelsea Clearview ($104,109), and Los Angeles' Arclight Hollywood ($101,095). Perhaps tellingly, its lowest gross came from Miami's Aventura, where it totaled only an estimated $7,826 since Wednesday. In fact, three of its lowest four theaters were in Florida.
An obvious comparison for "Milk" is "Brokeback Mountain," which was released by Focus almost exactly three years ago. "Brokeback" grossed a record-breaking $574,425 on 5 screens, for a $109,485 average (at the time, it was the largest per-theater-average for a live action movie, a record now held by "Dreamgirls"). However, if "Milk" had opened on just five screens instead of 36, it's likely its numbers would not have been far off.
The film expands significantly this Friday, December 5 (to 60 theaters), and Focus has reason to believe more good news is on the way. "Exit polls are extraordinary and demonstrate not only terrific word of mouth, but also that the film is playing gay/straight, over and under 35 and male/female," Focus' Jack Foley told indieWIRE. "Lots of group sales around the country and lots of sell outs in all houses. 'Milk' is successfully and competitively prepared, after the success of the Thanksgiving holiday, for it upcoming roll outs into the daunting holiday marketplace."
Also notable this weekend was the expansion of Fox Searchlight's "Slumdog Millionaire." The Danny Boyle film, which like "Milk" should benefit from awards season, expanded from 32 to 49 screens and saw its gross rise 44%. "Slumdog" took in $1,346,039 over the three-day weekend, averaging a huge $27,470. That means its per-theater average dropped only 7% from last weekend, a fairly remarkable feat. "Slumdog"'s total now stands at $3,544,374 as it continues to expand every weekend in December.
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.