Maybe the 9/11 weekend - which on the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks became a day of national mourning - just isn't a good one for movies, especially independent/specialty ones serious in nature. While two exclusive releases about Asian-American experiences in New York had strong New York debuts last weekend and finished high on this week's indieWIRE Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT) - Emerging Pictures' "Red Doors" and Films Philos' "Man Push Cart" - overall box office was down substantially from the previous holiday weekend. And while the first of fall's upscale prestige films, Allen Coulter's Focus Features-distributed "Hollywoodland," opened too wide at 1,548 locations to be included on the iWBOT, its just-fair $3,828 per-site average would have only been good for seventh. However, word-of-mouth as well as Ben Affleck's Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival for his performance as doomed Superman actor George Reeves may improve its theatrical prospects.
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Ira Deutchman, president and CEO of Emerging Pictures, was excited about "Red Doors'" debut at Manhattan's Angelika Film Center and The ImaginAsian. It averaged $17,525 and grossed $35,050. Director Georgia Lee's "dramedy" about tensions among members of a Chinese-American family living in suburban New York had already won numerous awards on the festival circuit - best narrative feature in the "NY, NY" competition at the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival, Special Jury Award for Ensemble Acting at CineVegas, and two awards at Outfest.
"There was a pent-up demand from the word-of-mouth at all the festivals where it screened," Deutchman said. "It was at many Asian and gay festivals and that helped. It all pointed toward an opening like this, and it worked." It expands to Los Angeles, Pasadena and San Francisco on Sept. 27.
In second place on the iWBOT was Films Philos' release of Ramin Bahrani's "Man Push Cart." It finished second on iWBOT by grossing $13,694 at the Angelika in its debut weekend. Born in North Carolina to parents who emigrated from Iran, New York filmmaker Bahrani chose to make his feature about a Pakistani pushcart vendor in New York who once was a famous singer in his native land. The movie was well-received at this year's Sundance Film Festival and has been singled out for praise because of its cinematography. Michael Voon, Film Philos managing director, said he waited until fall to release the film because it was shot in late fall and winter. It got a strong review from The New York Times.
"We were happy to do well at the Angelika on a tough weekend with the number of independent films out there," Voon said. It opens Sept. 22 at three Laemmle Theatres location in Los Angeles, plus one screen in Irvine.
New movies also held third through fifth on this week's iWBOT, although all averaged less than $10,000 per screen. Xavier Beauvois' tough police story "Le Petit Lieutenant," distributed by Cinema Guild, averaged $8,436 at the Angelika and Lincoln Plaza in Manhattan to come in third.
IFC Films' five-theater release of "Sherrybaby" in New York and L.A. averaged $6,955 and finished fourth. The film, by Laurie Collyer and starring Maggie Gyllenhaal in her latest fine performance, expands to San Francisco/Berkeley this Friday while adding several sites in New York and L.A. "In light of the overall box office, the nearly $7,000 per-screen average was especially gratifying," said IFC's Cary Jones via E-mail.
And First Independent Pictures' limited-theatrical-release opening of Manu Boyer's documentary "I Trust You to Kill Me" brought in $5,888 at Landmark's Sunshine, good for fifth. Ostensibly about musician Rocco DeLuca's attempt to become known, it's really a revealing, candid portrait of Kiefer Sutherland, who has invested in DeLuca's career and goes on tour with him. That Hollywood luster may help it this weekend when it opens at Laemmle's Sunset 5 in West Hollywood.
On the previous iWBOT, reflecting the four-day Labor Day weekend as well as the hit status of Fox Searchlight's "Little Miss Sunshine" and Yari Film Group's "The Illusionist," the charted films had the highest cumulative weekend gross of the year -- $21.09 million. But little of any of that increase held over to last weekend, a three-day one, when the cumulative gross of the 73 films tracked by iWBOT fell to $10.51 million, roughly equal to August's last two weekends.
While the lion's share of that came from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' "Sunshine" ($4.27 million weekend gross) and Neil Burger's "Illusionist" ($4.51 million), their per-site averages did start to slow. "Illusionist" dropped to 10th from third on the iWBOT as its average fell to $3,314 from Labor Day weekend's $8,362. "Sunshine" dropped to 13th from sixth with a $2,739 average, down from the previous weekend's $6,009. "Illusionist" had increased its sites to 1,362 from 971; "Sunshine" actually shed a few to get down to 1,560 locations from 1,602.
However, both have had good runs. More troubling was the slowdown of the previous iWBOT bright lights, Andrew Bujalski's "Mutual Appreciation" from Goodbye Cruel Releasing and IFC Films' Kirby Dick-directed doc "This Film Is Not Yet Rated." "This Film," which finished first on the previous iWBOT by averaging $18,893 at New York's IFC Film Center and L.A.'s Landmark NuArt over the Labor Day weekend, didn't do well trying to expand to 11 screens in greater New York and L.A. It tumbled to 14th on the iWBOT with a $2,703 per-site average. It moves into other top domestic markets this Friday - San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Washington among them.
"Mutual Appreciation," set in Brooklyn and widely considered a quintessential New York indie, entered the L.A. market last weekend on two screens after its debut at New York's Cinema Village and saw its per-screen average dip from $16,028 (over four days) to $3,401. It fell to ninth from second on the iWBOT. It grossed $5,075 in its second weekend - a three-day one - at Cinema Village - but only $5,128 at its two L.A. locales, despite strong Los Angeles Times review. As has been pointed out here before, New York films don't always work in L.A.
Overall, the 73 films tracked during last weekend at 4,441 theaters averaged $2,368 per location. During the four-day Labor Day weekend, 69 films at 4,408 theaters averaged $4,785. This upcoming weekend sees such feisty, liberal-minded indie docs as Lionsgate's "The U.S. vs. John Lennon" and Balcony Releasing's "Al Franken: God Spoke" go up against two upscale wide releases, Universal's "The Black Dahlia" and Paramount's "The Last Kiss."
ABOUT THE WRITER: Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles film write and former Denver Post movie critic.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org