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by Indiewire
June 29, 2005 2:00 AM
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"Penguins" March to Box Office Heights

"Penguins" March to Box Office Heights

by Brian Brooks

Warner Independent Pictures and National Geographic Feature Films' "March of the Penguins" stomped the competition in the specialty box office last weekend, dominating the iW BOT summit, ranked on a per screen basis. Last week's first placer, "Me and You and Everyone We Know" remained strong in second place on the chart, following an L.A. expansion, while newcomer "Elevator to the Gallows" placed third at one showing. Self-distributed film "The Talent Given Us" remained solid at two locations, as the director announced an agreement with Landmark to screen the film at various locations around the country, and Lions Gate's "Rize" debuted in hundreds of screens, becoming the chart's largest grosser, although its overall average was mediocre.

French director Luc Jacquet's "March of the Penguins" debuted at four locations last weekend, easily flocking to the number one position on the chart with a bountiful $34,373 average on $132,492 in grosses. The film recently screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival ahead of its theatrical rollout.

The film's performance well exceeded our expectations, we could not be more thrilled," said Warner Independent Pictures EVP of marketing and publicity Laura Kim in a conversation with indieWIRE Tuesday. "A really nice range of people came out to see the film, [including] adults and families with children. [There were] a lot of kids leaving the theater waddling or trying to slide on their bellies, which doesn't really work," added Kim jokingly.

Kim said that National Geographic had been tracking the film for some time ahead of its Sundance '05 screenings, and that Warner Independent went into the initial showing with "the idea that working together on it might be a possibility." The film will open slowly, according to Kim adding, "We will be a bit more aggressive in the marketing than we had originally planned."

Last week's chart topper "Me and You and Everyone We Know" added four additional sites for its second weekend in theaters, opening in L.A. The IFC Films release took in $77,006 at five locations, averaging $15,401, a 50% decline in per screen average The film's two-week total is $126,064.

Rialto Pictures' "Elevator to the Gallows" placed third on the iW BOT for the weekend, ending Sunday June 26. The film opened at one location, grossing $7,354.

Self-distributed CineVegas and Sundance film "The Talent Given Us" played at two sites, grossing $13,773 for a $6,887 average. Director Andrew Wagner announced this week an agreement to screen the film in at least 20 Landmark Theaters locations in the coming months, and told iW he believed the film would find its audience. "In all honesty, I'm not surprised by the film's performance," said Wagner. "I felt there [would be] a connection between an audience and the film, and the opening in New York confirmed by intuition."

Wagner opened the film at the Angelika Film Center in Manhattan after directly approaching the theater first at the ticket counter, and eventually making his way to the theater's brass. The company connected him with Vitagraph Films' David Shultz who is steering the film's roll out, although Wagner remains the film's "distributor" and is paying for its theatrical release.

Wagner received good news recently that Landmark Theaters will screen his film in at least 20 of its outlets, a result of the film's performance so far. "[The deal] came about through our success in New York, and through David Schultz. The film did well [its] first weekend, and we were flooded with calls from other cities, and Landmark agreed to book it." Wagner credited a combination of positive reviews, Sundance and personal outreach for the film's initial success.

"During the twice per night Q&As [at the Angelika] I'd ask the audience what brought them to the film, and many said the reviews, while others heard from a friend, and some had met my sister on the street [passing out postcards]. It will be interesting to see how it will do in L.A. because it doesn't have the same foot traffic."

In addition to the Landmark engagements over the summer, "The Talent Given Us" will open at the Laemmle Sunset 5 July 4th weekend in Los Angeles, and will screen in over 40 cities throughout the summer. Wagner added that film reps Andrew Hurwitz and Stephen Raphael are currently representing the film for a DVD deal.

Last weekend saw several other films debut in theaters. Samuel Goldwyn opened "Lila Says" at two locations, taking in $12,599 ($6,300 average), while THINKFilm debuted doc "The Last Mogul" at one site, grossing $4,965. Sony Pictures Classics debuted "Yes" on seven screens, grossing $28,451 ($4,064 average), and Indican Pictures had "Drivers Wanted" at one venue ($3,657). Also at one site was Stand Releasing's "Tony Takitani," at $1,765.

Lions Gate Films' dance doc "Rize" by photographer/director David LaChapelle opened on 352 screens, easily assuming the specialty box office title of highest grosser with a weekend take of over $1.57 million, although the title only ranked eighth on the chart with a $4,474 per screen average.

"Rize" alone represented 41% of the entire iW BOT's weekend gross of over $3.82 million. Combined with second highest earner "Mad Hot Ballroom" ($512,119 on 192 screens), the two films netted nearly 55% of the total. Overall, the iW BOT's average was 33% higher over the prior week at $2,630, with 76 films showing at 1,454 screens (74 films on 1,147 screens last week). Last year, mega-doc "Fahrenheit 9/11" skewed the specialty box office with combined receipts totaling over $26 million. Factoring out "Fahrenheit 9/11" in the same weekend last year, the iW BOT averaged $1,564, with 1,413 screens devoted to "indie" content.

Industry-wide, 124 films screened at 35,344 screens last weekend, grossing over $144 million, for a $4,075 overall average. The box office in general has sustained a slump despite high profile summer blockbusters, with down for 18 weeks straight compared to last year.

Strand Releasing's "Tropical Malady," and Lions Gate Films' "Undead" are among next weekend's specialty release holiday debuts. Also opening are Tartan's "Vital," and Zeitgeist Films' "The World."

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