"Little Miss Sunshine" and "Quinceanera," two features about unusual families that came out of this year's Sundance Film Festival, were one and two on this week's indieWire Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT) of independent/specialty films. Meanwhile, two much-praised Sundance documentaries about environmentalism - "An Inconvenient Truth" and "Who Killed the Electric Car?" - showed continued long-running strength. And the raunchy comedy "Another Gay Movie" had a strong yet strange second weekend.
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The iWBOT is based on per-location average, which is often but not always the same as per-screen. Numbers are supplied by Rentrak Theatrical.
Fox Searchlight's cautious expansion last weekend of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' "Little Miss Sunshine" to 58 theaters in ten cities from its first weekend's seven in New York and L.A. proved a rousing success. It averaged $25,521 per location and grossed $1.48 million. It already has earned $2.22 million without even reaching most of North America yet. The studio-affiliated specialty division had acquired the film at Sundance for $10 million.
Stephen Gilula, Fox Searchlight's chief operating officer, said the film did not have a bad run at any of its theaters. "It's outperforming our other summer platform releases, running ahead of 'Garden State,' 'Napoleon Dynamite' or, going back, 'The Full Monty.'"
To give some indication of its strength, Fox Searchlight was able to book a third screen at Manhattan's Regal Union Square 14 last weekend and saw gross there climb 56% to $90,232 as a result.
This weekend, it goes into some 150 more theaters as it enters Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, San Diego, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Sacramento, St. Louis, Austin, Milwaukee, Portland, Rochester and Hartford-New Haven, Ann Arbor and Montreal.
Sony Pictures Classics' release of Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's edgy yet heartwarming "Quinceanera" - winner of a Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at this year's Sundance - debuted strongly at eight theaters in New York and Los Angeles. Filmed in L.A.'s Echo Park neighborhood, the movie shows the complicated life of a Latino family and its neighbors as a girl approaches her 15th birthday.
Its five Los Angeles playdates all were strong, the best at Pacific's Arclight 15 in Hollywood where it grossed $24,852, according to Nielsen EDI. And it did in the $11,000 range at each of its Manhattan locations - Landmark Sunshine, Clearview's Chelsea and the Lincoln Plaza 6.
Michael Barker, Sony Classics' co-president, said the film continued to be the highest grosses at the Chelsea and Sunshine into Monday. And that's a telling sign. "I think in New York in August, people go away on the weekends," he said. "So if your weekdays are strong, it means you're in good shape."
The film is selling tickets among women, gays and Latinos, he said, and generating good word of mouth. "It's really going to grow. It's a real crowd pleaser."
Barker said he's always found late-July and August to be a good time to open quality specialty films, and has advocated that policy since releasing Eric Rohmer's "Pauline at the Beach" for Orion Pictures back in 1983. "People are in the movie-going habit and they're willing to see something different," he said. "It's a good time for alternatives."
Meanwhile Sony Classics' Chris Paine-directed "Who Killed the Electric Car?" which also premiered at Sundance, quietly is heading toward a $1 million gross after six weeks in release. Last week, it averaged $1,643 per site, good for 30th on the iWBOT. "It's hanging on in 74 screens," Barker said. "And the attention it's getting is a good foreshadowing of great business on DVD and television. It has made people aware of an issue that was kept from the public for years."
Another big Sundance environmental documentary, Paramount Classics' "An Inconvenient Truth," is now close to passing "Bowling for Columbine" to become the third biggest documentary ever. Director Davis Guggenheim's compelling staging of an Al Gore lecture on global warming ranked 28th on the iWBOT, earning $555,431 at 302 screens last weekend.
It has grossed a total of $21.2 million and needs to break $21.6 to pass "Bowling." Paramount Vantage - Paramount Classics' parent - is donating 5% of the film's gross to the Alliance for Climate Protection. "For an indie arm, that's a fair amount of money," said Megan Colligan, executive vice president of publicity for Paramount Vantage.
This week's third-place title on the iWBOT, Todd Stephens' "Another Gay Movie" from TLA Releasing, expanded to five theaters from two and saw its per-screen average drop to $10,014 from $16,658.
Oddly, the film held up quite well at Manhattan's Quad Cinema - down just 27% -- but dropped 46% at Laemmle's Sunset 5 in West Hollywood. It did very well in its opening weekend at San Francisco's Castro Theatre, grossing $18,729, but did just $2,172 at Philadelphia's 170-seat Roxy and $1,694 at Laemmle's Pasadena One Colorado 8, a late booking.
Lewis Tice, TLA's national press liaison, said the variance in the New York and L.A. second-weekend declines represented a cultural difference that's problematic for small independent distributors. In L.A., where people spend so much time in their cars, person-to-person word-of-mouth has a tough time competing with other media, especially the studio-sponsored billboards and other car-oriented outdoor advertising always promoting upcoming releases.
"New York is so much more concentrated in how word-of-mouth is spread," Tice said. "When you're walking around, you'll bump into friends and they'll ask what you did last weekend. You'll say, 'I saw 'Another Gay Movie' and they'll go, 'Oh!'"
He also pointed out that a lot of higher-profile movies out right now contain gay subject matter - "Little Miss Sunshine," "Quinceanera," "The Night Listener" and even "Talladega Nights" - so competition is tough.
There were 70 indie/specialty titles in the marketplace last weekend, down from the previous weekend's 74. They collectively grossed $5.77 million, down from $6.25 million. There was also a decline in locations, to 2,143 from 2,238. The per-site average was $2,692, down from $2,793.
[Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles-based film writer 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