By Indiewire | Indiewire August 19, 2003 at 2:00AM
Nevermind the Blackout, Here's the "American Splendor" Cha-ching!!
by Brian Brooks
Blackouts in parts of the Northeast and other cities threatened to become a box office spoiler, but "American Splendor" managed to pack theaters after the lights went on, laughing all the way to the box office bank with one of the biggest openings of the summer for specialty releases. Last week's indieWIRE: BOT topper, "Step into Liquid," continued to hang ten in added venues with a second place showing on the chart as measured by per screen average, while Miramax expanded "The Magdalene Sisters" and re-opened "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" for more of its own box office splendor.
A third world-style blackout plunged most theaters, and everything else for that matter, in New York State, Ohio, and major cities in Michigan and Ontario into total darkness Thursday evening no doubt panicking distributors always sensitive to any would-be box office cataclysm that threatens a film's opening or expansion. Terry Alvarez of City Cinemas, which runs the Angelika Film Center as well as the Village East, The Sutton, and other Manhattan venues, told indieWIRE that the Angelika was knocked out of commission for more than 24 hours. Power was restored to the downtown building at around 6 p.m. on Friday, while the Village East was not able to open until Saturday.
Meanwhile, at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema in the East Village, the theater was finally able to get back up and running on Friday, but suffered a serious drop in grosses. Five films, one of them "American Splendor" which was debuting, reported a total of only about $500 for the night, while Saturday's grosses jumped back up to a more normal total of more than $30,000. Landmark was also hit hard at its two theaters in Detroit. "Camp" at the Main Art and "Le Divorce" at the Maple Art were unable to screen on their opening nights in the Motor City. Marina Bailey of Landmark told indieWIRE that the theaters were up and running again on Saturday.
Yet, despite what must have been some sleepless nights for some working on the HBO Films/Fine Line opening of their inaugural joint release, "American Splendor" at the start of the weekend, eager audiences arrived en masse as electricity was restored. The film directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini is based on the life of comic book author Harvey Pekar. In fact, the Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning film had the second largest per screen average opening for a specialty release this summer at $26,618 on six screens, just under last week's opening average for "Step into Liquid" at $27,197 on five screens. In all, "American Splendor" grossed $159,705, easily snagging the peak spot of the indieWIRE: BOT.
"The opening is fantastic, especially when you factor in that three out of four cities [where the film opened] had a blackout," said HBO Films' new head of domestic theatrical releasing, Dennis O'Connor. "Had we had a normal weekend, we may have had a $30,000 to $32,000 per screen average just based on the business we had on Sunday." Steven Friedlander, executive vice president of distribution at Fine Line acknowledged the power failure had an affect on the numbers, but that a theater in Cleveland managed to gross $13,000 although the city's papers were unable to print, and therefore, no ads or reviews were able to promote the film in the immediate run-up to its release. Still, Friedlander called the film's opening, "spectacular," and said it will be screening in 28 theaters next weekend with "a couple of hundred prints" out by September 12th.
Artisan's "Step into Liquid" continued its strong high tide at the box office, opening an additional 11 sites taking in $201,387 on 16 screens for a per screener of $12,587 in its second weekend. The doc has cumed $418,856 and will add 21 screens next weekend.
Miramax continued its advance of "The Magdalene Sisters" taking the film by Peter Mullan to 26 venues, up from last week's nine. The feature grossed $189,586 for an average of $7,292 and a third spot on the chart. In three weeks, the film has totaled $814,361.
Meanwhile, Miramax rolled out "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" into two theaters after a hiatus, taking in $12,537 (ranked 4th on the BOT) or a $6,269 average. The film has screened in theaters 12 weeks and has made over $15.96 million.
Dan Ireland's "Passionada" bowed on 74 screens grossing $123,568. The per screen average was a semi-flaccid $1,670.
Manhattan Pictures International's release, "The Secret Lives of Dentists" added 40 runs for weekend number three, placing sixth on the chart with a per screen of $5,269 on a $331,952 gross. "Dentists" has cumed $814,361.
Fox Searchlight added 146 screens to its harem of theaters showing "Le Divorce" for the feature's second weekend out. The James Ivory directed film screened at 180 sites taking in $942,594 ($5,237 average) and a total just under $1.69 million.
Several films managed box office milestones over the weekend including Stephen Frears' "Dirty Pretty Things" with a cume just under $2 million in its fifth weekend on a gross of $557,263 ($3,924 average) in 142 theaters. Ozon's "Swimming Pool" leaped over $7.5 million on a $596,938 gross on 257 screens ($2,323 average), while Newmarket's "Whale Rider" breached the $14 million mark in 348 sites and a gross of $717,744 ($2,062 average). And, Sony Classics' "Winged Migration" flew passed the $8 million threshold on weekend grosses of $260,332 on 144 screens ($1,808 average).
This week, Helen Stickler's skateboard doc "Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator" opens as well as Hany abu-Asad's "Rana's Wedding." Also debuting is Catherine Hardwicke's "Thirteen" and Gabriel Bauer's "Venus Boyz."
[Additional reporting by Eugene Hernandez]