"Maria Full of Grace" Gets Box office Blessing; Focus' "The Door in the Floor" Opens up Well
by Brian Brooks
Joshua Marston's "Maria Full of Grace" reigned at the specialty box office last weekend, grossing the highest weekend pre-screen average for a non-documentary release since March, while Focus Features debuted "The Door in the Floor" in many major markets in the U.S., handily taking residence in the second position of the iW: BOT ranked by per screen average. Zeitgeist's "The Corporation," meanwhile, entrenched itself as the weekend's third highest per screen grosser, while last week's box office topper "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster" along with Warner Independent Pictures' "Before Sunset" remained in the top tier. "Fahrenheit 9/11" zeros in on a b.o. milestone, while "Touch of Pink" and "Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme," debuted in theaters modestly, reflecting continued softness in the specialty market this summer.
The general specialty gross for the weekend ending Sunday, July 18th continued to decline reflecting the maturation of this summer's mega-specialty release, "Fahrenheit 9/11." Fifty-seven films were tracked in the iW: BOT, a decrease of two from the previous week, with an overall take of $11.74 million on 3,518 screens, an increase of 251. The overall indie per screen average was calculated at $3,337, a decline of about 25% from last week, while the industry average stood at $4,047, an increase of just over 1%. Factoring out "Fahrenheit," which itself represented 61% of the entire weekend indie take, and Fox Searchlight's "The Clearing" (almost $1.3 million on 449 screens for a $2,883 average), the entire indie gross equaled $3.27 million, with a $3,070 per screen average from 1,065 sites. Still, the weekend indie, gross minus "Fahrenheit" and "Clearing," increased from about $2.27 million last week.
HBO Films/Fine Line's weekend opener "Maria Full of Grace" was atop the specialty box office, giving the Sundance 2004 award-winning film the highest per screen average for a non-doc release since Jean-Paul Rappeneau's debut of "Bon Voyage" in late March (that film had a $27,480 per screen average on one screen), narrowingly surpassing "Coffee & Cigarettes" ($19,832 on five screens) and "Napoleon Dynamite" ($19,444 on six screens) when they opened in May and June respectively. "Maria Full of Grace" consumed a $19,867 per screen average from seven engagements, grossing $139,066.
"We're ecstatic," commented HBO Films' head of domestic theatrical distribution, Dennis O'Connor, in a call from Los Angeles yesterday. "The grosses went up all weekend long [and] Sunday was the highest grossing day. That is the first time I've seen that happen for a non-holiday weekend release." O'Connor also said that the numbers at the Jackson Heights 3 in the New York borough of Queens were the "highest ever" for a New Line or Fine Line release, including "all three 'Lord of the Rings' films." HBO Films and Fine Line decided to include the theater in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens because the film was partially shot there and because it factored into their strategy of grass roots marketing in the Hispanic community. "The film is playing beyond an art house audience," said O'Connor who cited the significant number of Hispanic moviegoers as a significant factor in the film's weekend success. In Pasadena, the manager of the Sunset 5 theaters told O'Connor over the weekend that moviegoers attending the film were "the most diverse audience they've ever seen."
Additionally O'Connor credited good reviews film critics and the film's lead actress for attracting crowds. "There was a lot of support from critics for the film, as well as interest in Catalina [Sandino Moreno] as a rising star." Despite the success of the film, O'Connor echoed previous comments from fellow distributors that the marketplace has been a challenging one lately. "We were fortunate in that we trailered 'Fahrenheit' [with] a lot of time between our opening and theirs. The market is now recovering from the life being sucked out of it for a few weeks. Hopefully you'll see [over] the rest of summer, things will come back to life, especially with films opening later this [season]." HBO Films and Fine Line will take "Maria" to the top 20 markets July 30th, with further expansion also in the suburbs of New York and Los Angeles.
Focus Features debuted Tod Williams' "The Door in the Floor" at 47 locations, reaping $456,876 for a solid $9,721 per screen average. Since release one week ago, the film has cumed $584,171.
"'The Door in the Floor' opened with outstanding results this weekend where it received positive reviews," Focus Features distribution chief Jack Foley commented via email. "In fact, [the film] competed quite aggressively in those markets (with good reviews) and achieved top rankings in every complex in which it played." Foley indicated the weekend results in New York and L.A. were "excellent" and said that exit surveys polled very favorably with viewers.
"Door"'s weakness, however, surfaced in locations where the film received poor marks from critics. "Where the film received negative reviews, results were soft, [which is] a frustrating reality." Foley continued by saying "smart film patrons" are being "satisfied" by the feature fueled by its positive reviews. "Yet, smart film moviegoers, in for instance Chicago, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, are missing that opportunity to enjoy a film which would be a winning summer alternative film experience. Hopefully [the film's] good word of mouth will travel and correct that unfortunate situation." Focus will release the film "aggressively" over the rest of summer, according to Foley, with expansion "into at least the top 50 markets in the U.S."
In other iW: BOT films tracked over the weekend, Zeitgeist's "The Corporation" was the highest grossing doc per screen, with a spreadsheet of strong numbers since its release seven weeks ago. The film averaged $6,665, an increase of nearly 11% on 16 screens (up from 11). "The Corporation" took in 106,639, ranking third on the chart, and has cumed $594,274.
Last week's box office topper, "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster" added 20 sites, taking in $133,566. The film averaged $5,807 (down from the opening of $15,453) and has totaled $204,149 in two weeks. "Metallica" ranked fourth on the chart. Last week's number two, "Before Sunset," added 59 playdates, with a $581,261 weekend take ($4,764 average, down around 39%). The film has cumed over $1.7 million in three weeks and ranked seventh.
In addition to "Maria" and "Door," two films debuted over the weekend, albeit comparatively softly despite ranking in the iW: BOT top ten. "Touch of Pink" opened on 16 screens grossing $79,883 (a $4,993 average), while "Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme" played at one site, taking in only $4,842. "Zhou Yu's Train" also drew small grosses, with a $22,933 weekend opener (a $3,822 average) on six screens.
The jury is still out on whether Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" will ultimately influence a politically polarized U.S. electorate in handing George W. the pink slip in November, but one month since its debut, the documentary has surpassed its wildest box office expectations, even considering the hype of its May Palme d'Or win in Cannes. In a late May box office column interview following the release of Jehane Noujaim's doc "Control Room," Magnolia Pictures chief Eamonn Bowles went out on a limb to predict what is now a forgone conclusion. "I think 'Fahrenheit 9/11' will be the first $100 million grossing documentary," Bowles told indieWIRE on May 25th, adding, "[And] no, I'm not insane." Currently, the tally stands at over $93.98 million, including last weekend's gross of over nearly $7.18 million. The film's average, however, did drop by about 35% to $3,581 where it remained on 2004 screens. It will likely hit $100 million in the next week.
Takeshi Kitano's "The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi" and Barbara Albert's "Free Radicals" are among the openers this week. Also debuting are Michael Mayer's "A Home at the End of the World," Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller's "Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train," Takashi Shimizu's "Ju-On," and Robert Kane Pappas' doc, "Orwell Rolls in His Grave."