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October 27, 2004 2:00 AM
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"Sideways" Sideswipes the Specialty Box office with Third Highest Average of the Year; "Machinist" i

"Sideways" Sideswipes the Specialty Box office with Third Highest Average of the Year; "Machinist" is Vibrant

by Brian Brooks

Fox Searchlight's '04 Midas touch seems to be continuing, with its weekend limited debut "Sideways" overtaking "I ♥ Huckabees," another Searchlight title, for the number one slot measured on a per screen basis. "Huckabees" itself remained in the top ten for the three-day period ending Sunday, October 24th, following a huge expansion. Paramount Classics' "The Machinist" motored its way to the second position with a hefty screen average, while "Vera Drake" and "Being Julia" also added screens, remaining in the top tier of the iW BOT. Also joining the fray was UA's "Undertow" along with three other new films, while the overall number of specialty offerings declined for the week.

Alexander Payne's "Sideways" juiced up the specialty box office with the year's fourth highest per screen debut. The feature had four engagements, grossing $207,042 for a spectacular $51,761 average. Only Fox Searchlight's "I ♥ Huckabees," released one month ago, self-distributed "Guiana 1838" and Focus' "The Motorcycle Diaries" have had larger per screen openings. By comparison, Bertolucci's "The Dreamers" (also a Fox Searchlight film), released in February, currently holds the year's fifth largest per site count at $27,554.

"'Sideways' is a great pleasure to be involved with, and [it is also a pleasure] to be involved with Alexander Payne and the talent," said Fox Searchlight president of distribution Stephen Gilula in a conversation with indieWIRE yesterday afternoon from Los Angeles. "[Payne] is a visionary in that he has a particular kind of film he wants to do, and it's one of the [most] critically acclaimed films we've opened." Gilula went on to describe the release as a "career highlight," and said positive reviews helped to launch the film. He also commented that he had been optimistic about its debut, but the final number was on the very higher end of expectations. "I thought we'd do over $40K, so being over $50K is a tremendous success."

"It's kind of an extraordinary year. We have to stop and pinch ourselves, [there have been] a lot of extraordinary films," reflected Gilula when asked about the many top earners the specialty division has released this year. "'Napoleon [Dynamite]' was the most extraordinary. I think it's the second most successful film, after 'Blair Witch,' to be acquired out of Sundance. [We've had] tremendous pride in building an audience for it."

Fox Searchlight will open "Sideways" in seven more cities with a total of sixteen screens, and will continue expanding slowly up to Thanksgiving. The film will have a national roll out on November 24.

Brad Anderson's thriller/drama "The Machinist" awoke on three screens, taking in $64,661 for an eye-wide $21,554 per screen tally. The film, according to a Paramount Classics spokesperson, did "huge" numbers at the Angelika in downtown Manhattan and had "very strong" showings in Los Angeles. The feature was Anderson's strongest debut, and also one of the specialty distributor's largest openings as well. The spokesperson added that the film had strong exit polls, and the company will add "a few markets each weekend" in the near term. Paramount Classics also plans to launch an awards campaign for Christian Bale.

Rohit Jagessar's self-distributed "Guiana 1838" climbed a notch on the BOT, although its average declined 18%. Still, the film managed an $8,729 per screen count in its fifth week of release, remaining on two screens with a $17,457 weekend gross. The film has cumed $165,166.

Fine Line added 43 sites for "Vera Drake," taking the fourth position on the BOT with $286,903 for a solid $6,237 average ($13,623 last week, a 54% drop). In three weeks, the film has cumed $380,432.

Sony Classics' "Being Julia" also expanded with 27 additional screens. The film took in $223,292 from 36 sites for a $6,203 per screen average ($13,579 last week, also a drop of about 54%). "Being Julia"'s two-week cume is $339,395.

In other weekend debuts, United Artist's "Undertow" opened ninth on the BOT with a $4,059 per screen average on grosses of $24,354 from six locations, while IFC Films' "Sex is Comedy" debuted on one screen with $3,370. Self-distributed "Short Cut to Nirvana: Kumbh Mela" by Maurizio Benazzo and Nick Day also played one location, with a $3,263 gross, while Sony Classics' "Lightning In a Bottle" opened on two screens with $5,300 (a $2,650 average).

Wellspring added 16 sites for its critically acclaimed "Tarnation," grossing $63,755 from 22 screens for a $2,898 average ($8,997 last week, a 67% decline) and a three-week total of $185,495. THINKFilm's Sundance 2004-winner "Primer" spent its third weekend on 29 screens, up by ten, taking in $60,981 for a $2,103 per screen count ($2,818 last week, a 25% decline).

Focus Features' "The Motorcycle Diaries" continued to expand by ten screens in its fifth weekend run, grossing over $1.43 million from 260 sites for a $5,503 per screen average and a sixth placement on the BOT ($7,025 average last week, a 21% decline). The film has cumed over $7.81 million, and is the second highest overall grossing film in the chart for the three-day period.

Fox Searchlight's "Huckabees" had the highest earnings for the weekend with over $2.9 million from 785 locations, a 720 screen increase from one week ago. "Huckabees" averaged $3,697 ($14,075 previously, a 74% decline). The film's four-week cume is over $5.8 million.

Both "Motorcycle Diaries" and "I ♥ Huckabees" along with Magnolia's "Woman Thou Art Loosed," which had $781,943 on 521 screens ($1,501 average) represented over 56% of the entire specialty box office for the week, and 1,566 screens. Overall, the iW: BOT included 83 films (88 last week) with a $9.05 million weekend gross on 4,222 screens and a $2,145 average. This compares to last week's $8.13 million tally from 88 titles on 4,121 screens and a $1,975 average, an 11% increase.

The top three BOT grossers, however, buoyed the overall results with their comparatively higher per screen averages. Without those titles, the per screen average for the remaining 80 films on the chart would have calculated to $1,485 on grosses of over $3.94 million on 2,656 screens.

Industry-wide, 35,691 screens had films, up from 33,892 last week, with a combined $106.13 million gross from 139 titles, eight fewer then one week ago, with an eight per cent revenue increase and a $2,974 overall screen average.

Last year, HBO Films' "Elephant" by Gus Van Sant topped the iW: BOT with a $15,559 per screen average from six sites for the period ending Sunday, October 26, 2003. During that period 61 titles grossed $3.23 million on 1,622 screens.

This weekend's offerings include Jonathan Glazer's "Birth" and Thomas Vintenberg's "It's All About Love." Also opening is Alex de la Inglesia's "800 Bullets," James Wan's "Saw," Roger Michell's "Enduring Love," and Federico Hidalgo's "A Silent Love."

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