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July 13, 2005 2:00 AM
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"Penguins" Nest at Number One, "Saraband" and "Murderball" Have Moderate Debuts

"Penguins" Nest at Number One, "Saraband" and "Murderball" Have Moderate Debuts

by Brian Brooks

Veteran iW BOT performers "March of the Penguins," and "Me and You and Everyone We Know" maintained momentum last weekend on the specialty chart, ranked on a per screen basis. Warner Independent Pictures' "Penguins" once again migrated to the apex of the chart with a brilliant screen average in its third week, while IFC Films' "Me and You" saw momentum in additional theaters, placing fourth on the chart. Sony Classics' "Saraband" took the second position in the list, while THINKFilm's anticipated doc, "Murderball" kicked off in over a half-dozen sites, placing a moderate third, while fellow newcomers, "Cronicas" and "The Beautiful Country" debuted with weaker numbers.

Luc Jacquet's doc "March of the Penguins" plunged into the specialty box office last weekend, once again perching itself at the lead of the flock, taking in a little over $1 million at 64 locations, an increase of 44. The film averaged $15,927, a decline of about 39%, while its three-week cume soared to nearly $2 million.

Sony Pictures Classics' "Saraband" opened its theatrical run on four screens, grossing $34,304. The feature averaged $8,576, the highest per site number of the weekend's newcomers.

Dana Adam Shapiro and Henry-Alex Rubin's Sundance 2005 award-winning doc, "Murderball" debuted on eight screens last weekend, grossing $57,286. The film, which took audience prizes at Sundance, Full Frame and other festivals over the past few months, averaged a moderate $7,161, giving it a third placement on the chart.

"Of course we could've had higher numbers, but we always knew we had a marketing challenge facing us, and as wonderful as the film is, it's still possible to see it as a documentary about handicapped people and their problems -- if you're someone who doesn't see beyond the surface," THINKFilm's U.S. chief, Mark Urman told indieWIRE via email Monday evening. "This is what the guys in the film face [and] this may be what the film faced this past weekend." Urman, however, remained optimistic as the film goes forward. "That said, we couldn't have [had] greater publicity-- and by this I mean tons of the right kind of exposure -- and we have 'tons' of amazing national exposure yet to come."

Urman said THINK released the film in "commercial theaters" initially, "based on support for the film from the exhibition community, and the media," opening on a greater number of screens "than customary." Going forward, THINKFilm will take a more traditional course for "Murderball"'s expansion. "We are now planning on moving forward with a more orthodox sell -- slow rollout at relatively exclusive engagements at pretty much the same number of prints." The company will maintain the limited showings through July 22, then open add about a dozen additional markets, and then "going wide" by the end of the month following planned additional media exposure.

"In the next two weeks, we will have tons of television publicity, including the 'Today Show,' '[Live with] Regis and Kelly,' Jay Leno [and more]," said Urman. "And there's MTV... [The network is partnering] in the release and will be an extremely effective and appealing campaign, but it doesn't really kick in until the last week of the month." Urman expects the film to evolve into a larger specialty title as the publicity momentum culminates. "We will be the classic brilliantly-reviewed specialized film on platform release for the next two to three weeks, and then we transform into a crossover commodity by July 29, courtesy of our friends at MTV, and elsewhere. I should also mention that our 'star,' Mark Zupan (featured in the film) will be the subject of Reebok's ongoing 'I Am What I Am' campaign-- lots of really big billboards here, and that too kicks in for August."

"Murderball" performed particularly well at the Sunshine Theater in Manhattan's Lower East Side as well as the Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles, according to Urman. "There was spontaneous applause at the end of the shows I attended, and that doesn't happen a lot in movie theaters. I was also happy to see significant jumps all weekend long in L.A."

Palm Pictures' "Cronicas" and Sony Classics' "The Beautiful Country," debuted over the weekend, taking the sixth and seventh positions on the iW BOT respectively. Crime/thriller "Cronicas" played nine locations, taking in $43,263, for a $4,807 average, while "The Beautiful Country" had six screens, grossing $25,900 ($4,317 average).

Sixty-two films reported grosses last weekend, 14 less than the previous count. The combined iW BOT average increased 4% to $2,716, compared to $2,601 last week, with a combined gross of just under $3.6 million taken from 1,324 screens. "March of the Penguins"'s weekend take alone represented about 28% of the weekend cume. Minus "Penguins," the 61 remaining films averaged $2,045, or 25% less than the iW BOT average.

This weekend's specialty openers include Lions Gate Films' "Happy Endings," and Kino International's "Or (My Treasure)." Also debuting are Strand Releasing's "The Reception," Shadow Distribution's "Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus," and Miramax's "The Warrrior."

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