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March 23, 2005 2:00 AM
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"Melinda and Melinda" & Money and Money; Allen Film Pounces Specialty Average Record

"Melinda and Melinda" & Money and Money; Allen Film Pounces Specialty Average Record

by Brian Brooks

Woody Allen's latest feature "Melinda and Melinda" easily snatched the specialty box office number one position with a record-setting screen average in what was a clear best 2005 opener of the year for the limited debut pic, a Fox Searchlight release. The company's other recent opener, "Millions" scored hundreds of thousands in its second weekend in theaters, while Miramax's "Best of Youth" added to its average, also in its second theatrical weekend run. The Picture This! release of "Schizo" debuted solidly, while Newmarket's "Downfall" remained an "indie" stalwart after another expansion. Also showing steam was self-distributed "Short Cut to Nirvana: Kumbh Mela." The presence of "major" specialty releases on the chart, however, continued their decline after dominating the overall figures in terms of revenue on the iW BOT for most of the year, with only one film showing a seven-figure take for the three-day period ending Sunday, March 21.

Fox Searchlight brought hometown director Woody Allen's "Melinda and Melinda" to one Manhattan theater over the weekend, screening the U.S. theatrical debut of the film at the Lincoln Center Theaters on the Upper West Side. The film played to sold-out screenings throughout the weekend, bringing the gross to $74,238. The average is the highest since "I (Heart) Huckabees," another Fox Searchlight title, opened on fours screens last October with a $73,044 average.

"It's fantastic, it set a record for Woody and a new [Fox] Searchlight record," commented Stepehen Gilula, president of distribution at the L.A.-based distributor in a conversation with indieWIRE Tuesday afternoon. "He's made a great movie, [and it] had tremendous reaction at Lincoln Center [Theaters]." Gilula also reflected on Fox Searchlight's decision to take on the new film. "[Allen] had an interesting concept that intrigued us. It was [also] possible to do a worldwide deal, and the film opened in Europe very well. Everything worked extremely well." Twelve cities will be added in the upcoming weekend, and additional runs will open in New York.

Danny Boyle's Fox Searchlight release "Millions" expanded into 14 additional sites in its second weekend, grossing $202,715 from 19 engagements. The film averaged $10,669, a drop of only 24% from last week's $14,045 average based on a $70,224 gross on five screens. "Millions" was the number one specialty release last week based on a per screen basis, but did not appear on the iW BOT due to a regrettable internal error in compiling the data last week.

Gilula praised "Millions"'s run so far as "fantastic," and added that the film has opened well in Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Fox Searchlight will proceed with a "long, slow roll out" with the film, allowing word-of-mouth to advance momentum.

Miramax's "Best of Youth," meanwhile, placed second on the chart with $17,756 from one engagement. Last week, the film debuted at one site with $10,325. "Youth" grew up by 42% in its second weeekend.

In other specialty debuts, Picture This! opened "Schizo" on one screen, taking in $7,834, placing fourth on the chart, while Wellspring's "Milk + Honey" ranked eighth with a softer $4,315 from one engagement. Tartan Films' "Sixteen Years of Alcohol" also played one site with $2,863, and Kino International's "The Rider Named Death" came in with $2,438.

Newmarket's "Downfall" continued its charge into the top tier of the iW BOT, ranking fifth in its fourth week in theaters, grossing $590,498 at 87 sites for a $6,787 average ($7,164 average last week on 46 screens, a drop of only 5%). Self-distributed film, "Short Cut to Nirvana: Kumbh Mela," meanwhile, scored a sixth place showing on the chart with $5,015 from one engagement. In 16 weeks, the film has cumed $162,257. THINKFilm's Oscar-winning doc "Born into Brothels" managed a box office milestone, passing the $2 million cumulative gross. "Brothels" took in $330,194 from 127 sites for a $2,600 average over the weekend.

Lions Gate's "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" was the only title to break a seven-figure gross over the weekend, taking in over $2.4 million on 1,279 screens for a $1,879 per site tally. Last week, the film averaged $3,038 from 1,605 sites, a 38% decline. "Diary" itself represented about 29% of the entire weekend specialty box office gross of over $8.25 million from 64 'indie' titles playing 5,276 screens. Fox Searchlight's "Sideways," a consistently high grosser for many weeks, took in $928,147 from 590 engagements for a $1,573 average ($1,650 last week from 804 screen previously, a 5% decline).

The week's third highest absolute grosser, "The Aviator" took in almost $900,000 from 718 sites for a $1,252 average, an 8% drop. The film passed the $100 million mark in its 13th weekend of release. Fellow Miramax release "Bride and Prejudice" was the fourth highest film in terms of revenue, grossing $637,836 from 288 screens ($2,215 average, a 24% decline, although the film picked up six additional sites this week).

Together, the top four grossers represented almost 60% of the iW BOT, significantly below what the films were calculating weeks ago. The 60 other titles took in almost $3.39 million on 2,401 screens, averaging $1,411, or 10% below the overall iW BOT average of $1,565. Industry-wide, 104 films grossed nearly $122.2 million on about 41,430 screens for an overall average of about $2,949, or about 47% greater then the iW BOT average.

The upcoming weekend's specialty debuts include IFC Films' "The Ballad of Jack and Rose," "D.E.B.S." from IDP, THINKFilm's "Mondovino," Tartan Films' "Oldboy," and Wellspring's "Nina's Tragedies."

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