By Indiewire | Indiewire December 5, 2006 at 7:07AM
This week's indieWIRE Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT) reflects lackluster business, with virtually no new independent/specialty movies debuting or dramatically expanding last weekend. Nevertheless, Sony Pictures Classics' release of Pedro Almodovar's "Volver" continued doing fabulous business in tightly maintained limited release by finishing first in its fifth week with a $12,675 per-theater average. It averaged $17,071 the previous weekend. And Fox Searchlight's "The History Boys" - Nicholas Hytner's quickly made adaptation of Alan Bennett's play - proved its ability to hold onto an audience by averaging $10,359 at eight screens. Such was the sluggishness on iWBOT that, although "History Boys'" per-screen average dropped from $14,400 at seven screens the previous weekend, it climbed to second from third. Only two other films averaged above $8,000: Yash Raj's third-place Bollywood entry, Sanjay Gadhvi's action comedy "Dhoom 2," and Rialto Pictures' re-release of Jean-Luc Godard's "Two or Three Things I Know About Her." Both averaged above $10,000 the previous weekend with "Dhoom" holding fairly well at 63 theaters last weekend and "Two or Three Things" doing solid business at Manhattan's Film Forum.
The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available here at indieWIRE.com
Overall, the 63 titles on this week's iWBOT grossed but $6.85 million, plunging more than 50% from the previous weekend's $14.41 million total. Not helping things was the fact that the Weinstein Company/MGM's bold strategy with Emilio Estevez's "Bobby," going wide fast, looks to have put the film way ahead of the initial audience for it. Last weekend, it averaged but $1,199 at 1670 theaters, down more than half from the previous weekend's $2,914 average at 1,667 sites.
Overall, this was the worst weekend for the iWBOT since Oct. 31, when 73 titles grossed only $6.83 million.
The story of fall still seems to be that the slow, steady expansion of a well-reviewed picture works better than a quick one - "The Queen" versus "Babel." But there's still the question of when (if ever) to expand. New Line Cinema's release of Todd Field's "Little Children" has been in the iWBOT Top Ten for nine weeks now, mostly holding at around 30 theaters. Its $3,479 average last weekend was good for sixth and it has quietly grossed $1.8 million to date as it benefits from word-of-mouth as the adult drama of choice. But it still hasn't played in much of the country.
Only two new titles made any kind of impact at all, and they were underwhelming. ThinkFilm's "10 Items or Less," Hollywood director Brad Silberling's "small picture" about an actor (Morgan Freeman) preparing for a role by observing a store clerk's work, opened on 15 screens and averaged $2,032. That made it ninth on the iWBOT. It opened in New York, Washington, St. Louis, Houston, Fort Worth, Detroit, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Pasadena, and San Francisco.
Magnolia Pictures' "The Architect," a well-reviewed drama by Matt Tauber about the architect of a housing project (Anthony LaPaglia) being confronted by a resident (Viola Davis), grossed an underwhelming $2,032 in its solitary booking at New York's IFC Center. That was good for 12th on the iWBOT.
Magnolia is releasing it to eight more theaters this week, many of them sites owned by its corporate sister, Landmark Theatres. It also is putting it out today (Dec. 5) on DVD. Amazon.com, interestingly, is offering a special on the Blu-Ray, high-definition optical disc of the film in tandem with - of all things - a Blu-Ray copy M. Night Shayamalan's flop "Lady in the Water."
It's worth pointing out that, away from the big cities where the newest titles open, elsewhere in the country older titles in limited release still are pulling in business. And according to Cincinnati-based Larry Thomas, who books four art-houses in Columbus, Indiana; Lexington and Paducah, Kentucky; and Atlanta, it's been a pretty good fall.
"'Little Miss Sunshine' played well through September," he said via E-mail. "October got by OK with titles like 'Keeping Mum,' 'Jesus Camp,' and 'Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont.' Then November opened up with 'The Queen' and 'Babel,' which would have done much better for the artsters if Paramount hadn't gone so wide. I had one smaller town (Paducah) that did sensational biz with 'Facing the Giants.'"
The 63 titles on this week's iWBOT represented a slight increase from the previous weekend's 60. The overall per-theater average from 4,771 screens was $1,436, reflecting the slow week.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles-based film writer and former movie critic at the Denver Post.
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 submit information about your film to Rentrak, please email firstname.lastname@example.org