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September 1, 2004 2:00 AM
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"The Brown Bunny" Climaxes Atop the BOT; "Hero" Domestic B.O. Conqueror

"The Brown Bunny" Climaxes Atop the BOT; "Hero" Domestic B.O. Conqueror

by Brian Brooks

The last weekend in August provided two seeming anomalies to a specialty box office with a proud tradition of waywardness. Wellspring's "The Brown Bunny," which gained notoriety as the most scourged film in years (perhaps ever) at the 2003 Festival de Cannes, opened in New York and Los Angeles over the three-day period ending Sunday, August 29th at the pinnacle of the iW: BOT. Miramax's two-year-old Mandarin-language, "Hero," meanwhile, topped the overall domestic box office, beating expectations by a wide margin, and placing second on the chart. The addition of the epic film, along with the seven-figure grossing films "Garden State," "Napoleon Dynamite," and "Open Water" continued to skew the iW: BOT skyward, as other smaller titles debuted quietly with summer nearing its close.

"The Brown Bunny" hopped atop the iW: BOT as ranked on a per screen average basis apparently vindicating, at least initially, a film that was notoriously panned in Cannes of 2003, culminating in a now infamous exchange between its director Vincent Gallo and critic Roger Ebert. Fifteen months later, the two made up, while the feature won converts in pre-launch screenings, and grossed $50,601 on three screens ($16,867 per screen average) amid new controversy that garnered additional media interest after a sexually "explicit" billboard promoting the film went up on the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Crescent Heights in Los Angeles earlier this month.

"We were very happy. We had a lot going against us and our team worked pretty much around the clock for the last few months," commented Wellspring head of distribution, Ryan Werner to indieWIRE yesterday. "Vincent [Gallo] was involved every step of the way, and we were happy it paid off. The Sunshine (in New York) alone did $36,475 over the three-day weekend." Werner went on to say that "it's no secret we played up the controversy," but he commented that he was "happy" a number of critics ended up supporting the film. "Despite all the build-up, we knew in the end the film would have to speak for itself. We were really happy that Roger Ebert also reversed his opinion over the weekend giving the film 'Thumbs Up.'"

Werner also credited the film's performance to a large Gallo fan-base that has grown since the release of his acclaimed "Buffalo '66" in 1998, and what he described as "the real connection between Gallo and people that have shared the experiences he presented in his character" in "Buffalo." "A lot of people wrongly assume that it was just the hipsters that came... [but] it's a bigger array of people than [one] would expect." Gallo's appearance on Howard Stern, and his recent book-signing and two concerts (which he played with Sean Lennon) also raised the film's profile in New York. He will be in Los Angeles for events this week.

Wellspring will open "The Brown Bunny" in Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago this coming weekend, followed by a wider roll-out the following weekend. "We aren't going to open this too wide anywhere," concluded Werner, adding, "We want to keep it in the right theaters and make it an event." He also said he expected the film to be "pretty controversial" anywhere it opens.

Miramax opened its Chinese-produced epic, "Hero" on 2,031 screens, grossing a blockbuster $18 million ($8,865 average), the highest in the domestic box office for the weekend. As was the case on two other occasions in 2004 (along with releases of "The Passion of the Christ" and "Fahrenheit 9/11"), the figures for "Hero" were included in the iW: BOT despite its initial wide launch, in this case, because the film is an acquisition, and produced completely outside the studio system. "Hero" ranked second on the chart.

The inclusion of "Hero," naturally skews the overall specialty box office, representing nearly 59% of the overall weekend gross of approximately $30.7 million on 7,782 screens for an "indie-wide" average of $3,945, a 10% increase from the previous week. Minus "Hero," the iW: BOT would have been nearly $12.7 million, with a $2,208 per screen on 5,751 screens ($3,552 last week, a 38% decrease).

"Party Monster" led the iW: BOT at the same juncture last year with a $20,322 take on one screen. Sixty-eight films were ranked in the period of August 29 - 31, 2003 with a combined $11.8 million gross.

The previous weekend's big three grossers continued their seven-digit weekend runs. "Garden State" played 745 screens, taking in nearly $2.8 million ($3,747 average, a 19% decrease) with a five-week cume of almost $10.9 million. "Napoleon Dynamite" grossed over $2.08 million with 706 runs ($2,951 average, almost a 5% decline), with an 11-week total of $22.38 million, while $4.76 million flowed to "Open Water," averaging $1,757, a 58% drop, and a one-month total of nearly $23.3 million. Factoring out "State," "Napoleon" and "Water," the remaining iW: BOT's 63 films grossed just over $3.06 million on 1,591 screens, for a per screen of $1,924 a decrease of over 12% from last week using similar calculations.

In other weekend debuts, Artistic License's "Chooch" played three engagements, with $10,616 ($3,539 average), while Tartan Films' doc, "Bush's Brain" took in $16,101, for a per screen of $2,300 from seven sites. TLA Releasing's opened "My Wife Maurice," grossing $2,227 at one venue.

Also placing in the chart's top five were THINKFilm's "Bright Young Things," which added two playdates, taking in $40,155 in its second weekend ($8,031 average); Empire Pictures' "Almost Peaceful," which grossed $6,006 at one site; and last week's iW: BOT number one, "End of the Century" from Magnolia Films, taking in $20,097 from four screens ($5,024 average).

Debuts this week include Cédric Kahn's thriller "Red Lights," while Alison Maclean & Tobias Perse's doc "Persons of Interest" hits theaters in a limited run. Italian love drama "Remember Me, My Love" by Gabriele Muccino opens, along with Kang Je-gyu's "Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War," Luis Fernandez de la Reguera's doc "Rockets Redglare!," Deborah Kampmeier's "Virgin," He Ping's "Warriors of Heaven and Earth," and Richard Trank's doc "Unlikely Heroes," opens in New York.

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