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May 12, 2004 2:00 AM
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"Super Size Me" Gobbles Up the Box Office; Miramax Debuts "Valentin"

"Super Size Me" Gobbles Up the Box Office; Miramax Debuts "Valentin"

by Brian Brooks

Morgan Spurlock's "Super Size Me" had a Big Mac of an opener over the weekend, serving up some life into a specialty box office that's been in need of a little resuscitation. The hotly anticipated doc debuted in limited Runs grossing more than a half million dollars, instantly becoming a shining star from the Sundance class of '04 (although "Games People Play" edged it out of the top spot on our chart based on per-screen average). "Valentin" charmed its way into the chart as well with a sweet opener in New York and Los Angeles. The Argentine film rounded out a slate of specialty releases from Miramax including "I'm Not Scared," which saw its grosses increase from last week in New York on its fifth week in theaters after spending two weeks at number one on the iW BOT in its debut. And, "Games People Play New York" was a winning ticket in Hotlanta, taking the top spot on iW's BOT.

"The Passion of the Christ" remained the largest grossing specialty film on the chart, but at $785,000 it represented its smallest chunk of the specialty box office since its release, grabbing just over 26 percent of the nearly $3 million weekend revenues. It was trailed closely by "Super Size Me" (at just shy of $517,000, or 17 percent of the total weekend take.)

Two self-distributed films hit landmarks in their total box-office takes this week: "Greendale," Neil Young's film, broke $200,000 after 12 weeks, and Greg Pak's "Robot Stories" broke $100,000 after 13 weeks. "Superstar in a Housedress" (at #7) and "Greendale" (at #13) also beat the industry per-screen average this week.

The big indie news this week was audiences shelling out McBucks at the box office over the weekend dining on a documentary feast on a film that captures the United States' ravenous appetite for fast food. The film, released by Roadside Attractions/Samuel Goldwyn Films, premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won Spurlock the documentary directing award. In its opening weekend, it played on 41 screens with a gross of $516,641, and a per-screen average of $12,601.

"It's a whopper of an opening, pun intended," said Michael Silberman, president of IDP Distribution (which is the group that is handling the project for the Roadside Attraction/Samuel Goldwyn release). "The film opened in eight markets with a [huge] awareness coming out of Sundance, South by Southwest (SXSW) and other festivals, so the audiences were primed to see 'Super Size Me.' The built in awareness was overwhelming." Silberman continued on to credit the "glorious" weather on the East Coast for the film's healthy opening. "The art market was so depressed lately, but this was a wonderful opening." Positive critical reaction to the film was also key in serving up tasty weekend grosses. "The reviews were stellar," said Silberman. "There was a young college audience [as well as] an older audience. People were bringing their kids, not in great droves, but we think that will come as well. Parents can teach their kids [about fast food] by letting them see for themselves, not just 'telling' [them]."

Silberman took notice of the film while researching his film schedule for Sundance earlier this year. "When I scanned the Sundance schedule, this is the one I circled and had to see. Fast food is ingrained in our culture, [and] their influence is pervasive everywhere. People from both sides of the fence are interested in seeing this movie and Morgan [Spurlock, star of the film and director], is a very likeable and engaging personality." Roadside Attractions/Samuel Goldwyn Films will serve up "Super Size Me" to 21 markets on May 14 and continue to roll it out throughout the summer.

Miramax's Argentine feature "Valentin" opened in New York and Los Angeles on two screens taking in $14,048 for a per-screen average of $7,024. Gary Faber, senior VP of marketing for Miramax, said he was especially impressed by the film's unusually strong exit polling. "The Paris Theater employee (in New York) said people were showing up throughout Saturday, [and] 98 percent of the audience was in approval. That pretty much falls in the stellar range."

Faber went on to hypothesize the film may have the same successful word of mouth effect that has been the case for Miramax's Italian thriller "I'm Not Scared." That film, directed by Gariele Salvatores, added 20 engagements over the weekend taking in $165,759 for a per-screen of $2,631 (a decline of $529 from one week ago) for a cume of $656,267 in its fifth weekend in theaters. The film topped the iW BOT for two weeks straight, and according to Faber, increased its box office in New York. "We're very happy with it. Anytime we can get a film to perform at Lincoln Plaza for five weeks in a row, we're happy. And [the film] even picked up this week." The film has continued to perform on its own momentum. "Word of mouth as been strong, and we can tell [word of mouth] is driving the film. L.A. picked up as well." The film is now in the top 20 markets after opening in the top 10 on April 23. "After the top 20, we'll pound the rest of the country," concluded Faber.

James Ronald Whitney's reality-show-esque film "Games People Play New York" went down on Atlanta over the weekend soliciting some serious cash. The racy feature debuted in Dixie taking in $14,388 on one screen, to top our chart. The film has cumed $97,112 in theaters since opening in New York in March.

Sony Classics will debut Hector Babenco's Brazilian prison tale "Carandiru" on Friday, while United Artists will serve up Jim Jarmusch's shorts collection "Coffee and Cigarettes." Lions Gate will roll out "A Slipping Down Life" and Wellspring hits theaters with "Strayed."

[Brian Clark and Wendy Mitchell contributed to this report.]

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