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by Brian Brooks
August 22, 2006 5:30 AM
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"Nelson" is Head of the Class Again; "Sunshine" a Box Office Ray of Light

ThinkFilm's "Half Nelson" maintained its valedictorian status atop the specialty box office for a second weekend, though the Sundance '06 film remained in only a few locations. Newcomer, "The Illusionist" from Yari Film Group Releasing gave "Nelson" a run for the money, placing second in the indieWIRE box office chart as ranked on a per screen average, and came in second overall in terms of absolute gross last weekend. Fox Searchlight's "Little Miss Sunshine" continued its reign as biggest specialty breadwinner, scoring a strong seven-figure gross amid a sizeable expansion. And IFC Films' "Factotum" placed fifth on the chart in a weekend that many had expected to be snake-charmed by a certain blockbuster, though the few new specialty offerings were generally quiet.

[CHECK OUT THIS WEEK'S COMPLETE indieWIRE BOX OFFICE CHART at indieWIRE.com]

Director Ryan Fleck's "Half Nelson," starring Ryan Gosling added one location in its second weekend, grossing $56,264 on three screens, averaging $18,755, or 30% lower than its premiere $26,992 per site take. The film has now cumed $147,246. ThinkFilm's U.S. head, Mark Urman, credited timing and critical praise among the reasons for the film's initial success.

"First of all, I believe our timing couldn't have been better, and that we picked the perfect moment to introduce a film of this sort to metropolitan audiences. Also the praise from the media was so over-the-top that fans of quality cinema just had to take notice. Most importantly, the emphasis in our campaign, which is being validated by the press, is that Ryan Gosling is being catapulted into major stardom with this performance. I think people really like to get in on the ground floor of a big career, and 'Half Nelson' provides that thrill in spades."

Going forward, ThinkFilm will continue with its go steady approach. "Our strategy proved to be a sound one, so we are sticking with it. We still want the majority of America to see this as a fall film and as the first major entry in the Oscar sweepstakes, so we are going slowly..." ThinkFilm will expand the film into suburban New York this Friday in addition to opening it in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. "These will be relatively exclusive openings," adds Urman. "[We] will expand slowly [there] as New York did. Most other markets can look forward to the film after Labor Day."

Neil Burger's "The Illusionist" with Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti and Jessica Biel made a solid initial showing at 51 locations. The film grossed $927,956, the second highest overall weekend gross and a second placement on the iW BOT with an $18,195 per screen average.

In other weekend openers, IFC Films' "Factotum" ranked fifth with a $9,869 average from six locations ($59,212 gross); Fox Searchlight's "Trust the Man" took in $180,271 ($4,744 average) from 38 screens; Truly Indie's "Varja Sky Over Tibet" took in $4,471 from one site; ThinkFilm's "10th & Wolf" grossed $20,774 on six screens ($3,462 average); Aloha Releasing's "King Leopold's Ghost" collected $3,078 from one location; Indican Pictures' "My First Wedding" opened five on five screens, taking in $10,120 ($2,024 average); Magnolia Pictures' "The Pusher Trilogy" grossed $1,792 on one screen, while First Run/Icarus Films' "Rocky Road to Dublin" also played one screen with $1,232.

Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' "Little Miss Sunshine" again ruled the weekend at number one in terms of overall gross for a specialty release. Fox Searchlight added 538 locations, grossing almost $5.611 million from 691 total screens. The film placed seventh on the iW BOT with an $8,120 average, a 52% drop from last week's figure on many less screens, and has cumed almost $12.7 million in one month of release.

"Little Miss Sunshine" represented about 55% of the iW BOT's overall nearly $10.11 million gross last weekend. Excluding "Sunshine"'s contribution to the iW BOT, the remaining 83 films grossed just under $4.5 million on 2,339 screens, for a more dismal $1,923 average.

Eighty-four films were tracked last week on 3,030 screens, averaging $3,336. The previous weekend, 68 films grossed $7.09 million on 2,096 screens, averaging just 2% better than this week's figure at $3,382.

ABOUT THE WRITER: Brian Brooks is indieWIRE's Associate Editor.

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 studiogrosses@rentrak.com

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