"Kung Fu Hustle" Tramples an Underweight Specialty Box Office Over the Weekend
by Brian Brooks
Stephen Chow's "Kung Fu Hustle" belted its way to the height of the specialty box office over the weekend, adding some much needed zeal to an iW BOT still experiencing rather banal returns from theaters. Kino International's "Happily Ever After" debuted with solid numbers, while other openers over the three-day period ending Sunday, April 10 ranged from the blah to the downright abysmal in terms of audience draw. Two self-distributed films, however, took their seats in the chart's top five, providing some more pizzazz to the iW BOT, ranked on a per screen basis, which saw an overall decrease in the number of films, screens and gross over the weekend generally.
Sony Pictures Classics substituted last week's iW BOT number one "Look at Me" for its latest roll out, "Kung Fu Hustle," easily taking the premiere position on the chart, with a kick-ass $38,461 per screen average on seven screens. "Kung Fu Hustle" took in $269,225, the fourth highest overall gross on the iW BOT, which included 71 titles over the weekend.
"It was certainly what we had hoped for, and when one takes into account the beautiful weather on the East Coast, it's even better," Sony Classics co-president Michael Barker told indieWIRE Tuesday afternoon, in reference to the unseasonably warm temperatures in New York Saturday and Sunday. "The word-of-mouth is terrific, and the audience covered a broad base, equally [represented with] males and females and an across the board age range over 17" (the film is rated R).
Sony Classics will take the film to 2,000 screens nationwide on April 22nd. The company's other recent release, "Look at Me" by Agnes Jaoui, meanwhile, placed third on the chart, after adding ten engagements. "Look" grossed $114,602 on 16 screens, averaging $7,163. Last week, the feature was number one on the chart with an $11,598 average (a 38% decline) from six screens. The film's second week performance provided an affirmation of hope by Barker about the viability of European work outside the mainstream.
"'Look at Me' is proof that there's still an audience for a sophisticated European film," Barker said, adding he continues to believe that this time of year is a strategically good one to release specialty films, echoing comments he made last year in this column. "It's a great time because you're between the major Christmas and summer season," said Barker. "Being right in the middle of it, you have a longer play time because the competition isn't as brutal."
Kino International's "Happily Ever After" debuted on one screen, placing second on the chart with $9,695. Other openers did not fare as well, however, with Warner Independent Pictures' "Eros" placing seventh on iW BOT after grossing $53,666 on 12 screens ($4,472 average) and Paramount Classics' "Winter Solstice" following at number eight with a $4,079 average from five locales ($20,393 gross). First Look Media's "Chrystal" took in $12,814 from four screens ($3,204 average), while Strand Releasing's "Primo Amore" played its first weekend, grossing $1,943. Newmarket's "A Hole in My Heart" also opened on one screen, taking in just $1,720.
Two films reported to the iW BOT as self-distributed once again joined the upper echelons of the chart. "Guiana 1838" opened in Schenectady, New York on one screen, grossing $7,110 (placing fourth), while "Short Cut to Nirvana: Kumbh Mela" by Maurizio Benazzo and Nick Day ranked fifth, grossing $5,938. The films have cumed $227,241 and $195,063 respectively in the life of their engagements in various cities.
Fox Searchlight had the iW BOT's two biggest individual grossers last weekend, with "Melinda and Melinda" again being the chart's preeminent earner with $520,502 over the weekend from 294 locations ($1,770 average, a 38% decline, although the film played 97 more screens). The chart's second biggest overall moneymaker, "Millions," meanwhile played 176 sites, taking in $435,011 for a $2,472 per screen average. Last week, the film played 48 less screens, averaging $3,780 or 35% more than the current b.o. period.
Newmarket's "Downfall" showed some resilience in its seventh weekend in theaters, grossing $371,125 on 174 screens (six additional sites over last week) averaging $2,133, a 33% drop. Added together, "Melinda," "Millions," "Downfall," and newcomer "Kung Fu Hustle" represented 44% of the iW BOT's weekend gross of just under $3.6 million. Seventy-one titles were included on the chart, playing 2,527 screens. The previous weekend, 75 films took in $4.26 million from 2,892 locations.
The iW BOT's average fell 3% from the previous week to $1,423, 38% below the industry-wide average of about $2,289 (117 films grossing around $86.83 million on 37,927 screens). Factoring out the specialty chart's top four grossers, the remaining 67 films grossed just over $2 million on 1,876 screens, averaging $1,067, or 28% below the overall iW BOT's per screen tally.
Wellspring's "Palindromes" and Lions Gate's "House of D" are among this weekend's openers. Also debuting is Lions Gate's "State Property 2," First Run's "Torremolinos '73," THINKFilm's "Tell Them Who You Are," Indican Pictures' "A Wake in Providence," and Fine Line's "The Year of the Yao."