By Indiewire | Indiewire October 24, 2006 at 11:44AM
Miramax's "The Queen" maintained its first-place finish on the indieWIRE Box Office Table (iWBOT) of independent/specialty films for a fourth straight week with a per-location average of $15,253. But the drop-off was severe after that - Seventh Art Releasing's release of Stanley Nelson's documentary "Jonestown: The Life and Death of People's Temple" came in second with $7,482 from its opening at Manhattan's Quad. New Line Cinema's attempt to broaden its wrenching domestic drama "Little Children" to 32 from five locations brought fair results, finishing third with a $7,450 average compared to the previous weekend's $16,910. Despite raves for acting by Kate Winslet and Jackie Earle Haley in Todd Field's film, the public needs a lot of convincing that the feature - which includes a story line about a child molester - is a must-see release.
The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available here at indieWIRE.com
Meanwhile, Libero's Ali Selim-helmed period romantic drama "Sweet Land" - an immigrant love story set in turn-of-20th-Century rural America and filmed in southern Minnesota - broadened from two Minnesota theaters to nine in that state, and New York and saw its per-theater average drop to $6,079 from a heady $20,930. It finished fifth on the iWBOT, which is based on per-theater average and uses numbers provided by Rentrak Theatrical.
The only other iWBOT-charted films with a per-screen average above $5,000 were the fourth-place "Don" - an Indian action film from UTV Communications that opened at 113 locations - and Doug Block's "51 Birch Street," a documentary released through Truly Indie about the discovery of his late mother's diary and the secrets it reveals. It opened Wednesday at New York's Cinema Village; Friday at Los Angeles' Westside Pavilion and averaged $5,414 for the three-day weekend. That was good for sixth on the IWBOT.
"The Queen's" per-location average was amazing considering it's now on 99 screens in many of the top markets. Demand continues to be so great for Stephen Frears' film, starring Helen Mirren as indecisive Queen Elizabeth II confronting news of Princess Diana's death, that existing theaters are scrambling to make room to accommodate patrons.
It's now on three screens at Landmark's Embarcadero in San Francisco, for instance. Miramax won't accept new bookings at any place that can't put it on at least two screens. In some of the new markets where it opened last weekend - Denver, Detroit, Phoenix - it averaged above $25,000.
"It's incredible. "I've been with the (Weinstein) brothers for all of the films they released in the last 10 years, and nothing started this strong this fast," said Elliot Slutzky, Miramax's executive vice president of general sales. (The Weinsteins parted ways with Disney-owned Miramax last year.)
Slutzky said "The Queen" will increase to 123 theaters in the U.S. on Friday, of which some 30 will be commercial venues rather than arthouses. But it won't have a big expansion until Nov. 10, as Miramax continues to broaden the audience, seeking younger filmgoers attracted to the Princess Diana angle.
"We're still hand-selecting theaters and trying to make sure it's not perceived as just a picture for an older crowd," he said. "If it was out there on 3,000 screens, younger people would say, 'What is this? Maybe it's an older[-skewing] film' and not go. We want to create word-of-mouth so they know it's for them, too."
Really, first place would have gone to "Running with Scissors" had indieWIRE not disqualified its "specialty" status. The TriStar Pictures release opened at eight "upscale" locations in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Toronto and averaged $28,264. (indieWIRE considers it a studio release from Columbia Pictures that quickly is going into moderately wide release, some 584 locations, this Friday.)
Directed by Ryan Murphy from an edgy, best-selling memoir by Augusten Burroughs and starring Annette Bening, Jill Clayburgh, Brian Cox, Evan Rachel Wood and Alec Baldwin, 'Scissors" seeks the pedigree of a classy, literary-minded studio film. It performed well in Manhattan, where it did almost $40,000 at the Chelsea and just under $38,000 at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Landmark Sunshine Cinema.
In Los Angeles, where it played swank urban multiplexes, it grossed $29,000 at the Pacific Arclight in Hollywood, $23,400 at Pacific's The Grove in the Fairfax District and $19,000 at AMC's Century City. At the Century San Francisco Centre, it grossed $21,500; Toronto's Varsity pulled in $17,000.
"These are great word-of-mouth theaters to get a film established in," said Jeff Blake, Sony Pictures' chairman of worldwide marketing and distribution. "We had it in place to get the media going and get people noticing it. Those four cities are media centers and have enthusiastic moviegoers." Blake said he's unsure how far above 584 locations "Scissors" can cut it, but that he's confident it can go into a general commercial release.
Overall, the recent release of prestige adult films by Hollywood studios - including Touchstone's "The Prestige," Columbia Pictures' "Marie Antoinette," Paramount Pictures/DreamWorks' "Flags of Our Fathers" and Warner Bros.' "The Departed" - has been great for the overall box office. Last weekend's total three-day gross of $105 million was up just under 20% from the $89 million of a year ago.
But the above films, with their auteurist directors like Christopher Nolan, Sofia Coppola, Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese and/or heralded actors like Scarlett Johansson, Christian Bale, Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon, seem to be hurting the more traditional limited-release indies and art films.
The 70 titles on this week's iWBOT represent the smallest number since the 69 of Labor Day weekend. And their overall gross last weekend was $6.68 million, down $300,000 from the previous weekend and the lowest cumulative gross since the $5.77 million generated by 70 titles on the August 8th weekend.
For the same weekend a year ago, 73 iWBOT titles did $8.22 million in overall gross. So the indie market is down by somewhat less than 20% from this weekend a year ago - roughly the same amount by which overall box office is up. While reasons can be debated, one interpretation is that indie films do best as alternatives to Hollywood. When the studios release movies that get good reviews and play to well-educated adults, it cuts into rather than expands the overall "serious" audience.
The 70 films on this week's iWBOT averaged $2,386 at 2,800 theaters. The number of theaters showing iWBOT-charted films dropped dramatically from the previous weekend's 3,210. But that drop did improve the average, which was up from $2,168 per location.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles-based film writer and former movie critic at the Denver Post.
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 email@example.com