By Indiewire | Indiewire January 5, 2006 at 4:10AM
The New Year has started off as a great one for Woody Allen, as "Match Point" shows signs of being the comeback film that has long eluded the veteran director.
In very limited release -- just eight theaters in New York and L.A. -- the well-reviewed London-set thriller about class, love, murder and ethics finished a commanding first on the initial indieWIRE Box Office Table of 2006. It had a (four-day) holiday-weekend per-screen gross of $66,179. The movie, which opened on Dec. 28, had a six-day average of $49,824 and a cumulative take of $731,383.
[View the indieWIRE:BOT Box Office Table for this week's films here.]
It wasn't that long ago that DreamWorks was accused of trying to hide Woody Allen's involvement in 2003's "Anything Else." That poorly received comedy followed a strong of similar ones seen as mediocre, like "Curse of the Jade Scorpion" and "Hollywood Ending." But "Match Point" seems to be ringing in a brand-new Woody.
"Woody Allen obviously has a huge fan base in New York, and he also has one in L.A., so we thought they would be a good place to give the film a start," said Jim Tharp, DreamWorks' distribution head. "Then people saw it was a really good movie and different from the movies he had made recently -- more of a thriller. So we drew the fan base in the initial days and then word-of-mouth took over. The movie turned out to be excellent, especially for adult audiences."
DreamWorks was so encouraged by the strong grosses it has moved up the film's release pattern. This Friday, it opens in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, San Francisco and San Jose. It will be on 300 screens. It wasn't supposed to go that wide until Jan. 20. DreamWorks is still holding the 20th for a major expansion but may change that, too. "We'll see how it plays on the 6th and see if we need to speed it up or slow it down," Tharp said.
But that wasn't the only new film to do well. Pierce Brosnan's attempt to show he has commercial life and indie credibility after James Bond started off promisingly as his offbeat hit-man comedy "The Matador" (from The Weinstein Company) debuted on four screens with a $23,078 average. It opened on Dec. 31 -- just in time to qualify him for Oscars.
Meanwhile Sony Pictures Classics' unsettling, tough-minded French-language political thriller "Cache" continued to hold well on five screens in New York and L.A. Trying to become a national art-house hit, Michael Haneke's film had a per-screen average of $19,481. That was a 19% increase from the previous weekend's $16,242 per-screen take.
And while "The New World's" press-shy auteur Terrence Malick has epic intentions for his 2+-hour tale of Pocahontas and John Smith, New Line Cinema's initial treatment of it as an art film is working. In its first full weekend of release in just three theaters, after opening on Christmas Day, its per-screen average was a robust $26,464.
Still the biggest story from a cultural perspective once again was "Brokeback Mountain." At 269 screens over the New Year's weekend -- its fourth week in release -- it averaged $18,020 per screen and let its total gross climb to $15.1 million. While adding only a modest 52 screens, its weekend gross jumped to $4.85 million from $2.95 million during the four-day Christmas take. And it played well in a mix of theaters - urban art-houses, upscale multiplexes, suburban theaters - and population centers.
The fears of it being limited by perceptions that it's a "gay-cowboy" movie just are not materializing. Instead it's being welcomed by audiences - especially educated Boomers - as something far broader. Director Ang Lee seems to have turned it from an Annie Proulx short story into something more like a Larry McMurty novel. (McMurty co-wrote "Brokeback's" screenplay.) It could become the true sequel to "Last Picture Show."
"It's a human drama about families, about husbands and wives, about lovers," said Jack Foley, distribution head for Focus Features. "People come out of it and say it's more than what they thought it would be and that others have to see it. They say it's like a novel."
Oddly enough, "Brokeback" had slowed down over the four-day Christmas weekend, despite adding 148 screens. Through Christmas Day, it had shown a 23.8% decline in its three-day weekend gross from the previous weekend. But on Dec. 26, it exploded -- taking in $1.39 million versus $699,000 on Christmas Day -- and it hasn't looked back. It did well in such new markets as Columbus, Nashville, San Antonio and Las Vegas.
Foley said the initial Christmas-weekend slowdown was due to the core audience of adults having holiday family obligations. "They're not kids going to see 'King Kong,'" he said.
As of now, Focus' marketing plan is unfolding like a chapter from Richard Florida's book "The Rise of the Creative Class", which holds that all cities have a growing, open-minded population interested in the arts and desirous of cultural opportunities. "Brokeback" has become one of those opportunities, Foley said.
The film gets a huge new test this weekend, when it expands to almost 500 North American screens and adds as many as 70 new markets. Those include smaller and/or conservative locales such as El Paso, Toledo, Colorado Springs, Cincinnati and Savannah.
Overall, the 53 movies on this week's indieWIRE: BOT chart earned approximately $9.1 million during the four-day New Year's weekend. All films in release earned roughly $236 million, which means indies controlled somewhat less than 4% of all revenue. Two indieWIRE: BOT films earned more than $1 million - "Brokeback" ($4.85 million) and the quietly-impressive-in-limited-release "Pride & Prejudice" ($1.37 million.) Both are released by Focus Features.
"Pride," which lost 149 screens between Christmas and New Year's weekends, increased its per-screen average by 62% to $3,357 from $2,074. It was on 407 screens over the New Year's weekend, its eighth in release. At its high of 1,335 screens in mid-December, its per-screen average was below $2,000 and plummeting. It seems to have found its comfort zone although it may be too late to hold onto screens.
The films on this week's indieWIRE: BOT have grossed $145 million to date, led by "Pride & Prejudice's" $34.1 million and "A History of Violence's" $31.2 million.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and former movie critic for the Denver Post.