"This Film Is Not Yet Rated," Kirby Dick's scathing documentary about the ways the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings code victimizes art films, received an enthusiastic response from art-house audiences in New York and L.A. over the four-day Labor Day weekend. As a result, it finished first on this week's indieWire Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT). Another new film, Andrew Bujalski's naturalistically grungy and comically bittersweet "Mutual Appreciation," debuted in New York with a "Clerks"-like reception, finishing second on the iWBOT by a wide margin. Additionally, several of late summer's most promising independent/specialty releases, Neil Burger's "The Illusionist" from Yari Film Group and Ryan Fleck's "Half Nelson" from ThinkFilm, showed continued strength in their expansions, finishing third and fourth respectively. And Fox Searchlight's "Little Miss Sunshine" stayed in the iWBOT Top Ten - at sixth - for its sixth straight week, despite now being at 1,602 theaters. Since the iWBOT is based on per-location average, it heavily favors films that are in exclusive release.
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(The iWBOT is based on numbers provided by Rentrak Theatrical.)
Overall, the indie business is continuing to sprout several bona fide hits, reflected in the fact the 69 films tracked by the iWBOT had the highest cumulative weekend gross of the year - $21.09 million. Even given the fact it was a four-day weekend, that was a sizable increase of just under 80% from the previous weekend's $11.9 gross. Almost $18 million of the total came from "The Illusionist" and "Little Miss Sunshine."
Dick's documentary, distributed without a rating by IFC Films, is the latest in a series to question authority with a humorous sensibility involving the director as an on-screen protagonist - continuing in the tradition of Michael Moore's "Roger and Me." At the IFC Film Center in Greenwich Village, it grossed $22,591 over the holiday weekend. At Landmark's NuArt Theatre in West Los Angeles, it brought in $15,194.
"'This Film is Not Yet Rated' played to capacity crowds...," said Mark Boxer, IFC's vice president of sales and distribution, via e-mail. "We are thrilled by the strong opening numbers and will roll out the film to major markets throughout the month of September. Kirby Dick's probing and spirited investigation into the MPAA ratings system has elicited a very positive response from audiences across a variety of demographic segments."
The initial performance of Bujalski's "Mutual Appreciation," a black-and-white Brooklyn-set story of a young wannabe-rock-star's relationship with family and friends, had the phones ringing this week at L.A.'s Goodbye Cruel Releasing. He had set up that DIY distributor to handle his first movie, "Funny Ha Ha." "Mutual Appreciation" grossed $16,028 at Manhattan's Cinema Village, selling out many shows.
"We've gotten inquiries from other cities and I was up until 2:30 a.m. last night looking at print traffic and working up grids to move our five prints around and see if we need to have anymore," said Houston King of Goodbye Cruel Releasing. The film opens Friday at Laemmle's Sunset 5 in West Hollywood and Pasadena Playhouse as well as next Wednesday at Cambridge's Brattle Cinema.
Meanwhile, King said, there's hope the film's exposure will help the fortunes of star Justin Rice's band, Bishop Allen, since it provides Rice with a showcase to perform one of his songs. The band has been releasing a four-song EP monthly through its own website, bishopallen.com.
"The Illusionist," an unexpected hit with its cast, Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti and Jessica Biel, climbed to 971 locations last weekend from 144 and kept a strong per-site average of $8,362 - down from the previous weekend's $12,745. But it increased its overall gross more than fourfold -- $8.12 million from $1.8 million. In just three weeks, the film has earned $12.18 million and was the fifth best-grossing title in release over the four-day weekend, just behind "Little Miss Sunshine" while on fewer screens. Yari's David Dinerstein told the Los Angeles Times the subject matter is appealing to adults while Biel's presence is attracting a younger audience.
For its part, "Little Miss Sunshine" - directed by husband-wife team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris -- averaged just over $6,000 per location while adding 172 theaters to get to 1,602. That was good enough for a 30% increase in business from the previous (three-day) weekend and brought the film's overall gross to $35.73 million.
"Half Nelson," the third of the late-summer surprise hits - at least so far - successfully had a more modest expansion in its fourth weekend. It climbed to 36 theaters from 21, mostly expanding in existing U.S. markets New York, L.A., San Francisco and Washington, while seeing its per-site average decline by less than 20% -- to $8,268 from $10,036. (Of course, last weekend was a four-day one.)
"'Half Nelson' continues to do extremely well," said Mark Urman, ThinkFilm's U.S. head, via e-mail. "We are at $800K in box-office having only opened four U.S. markets, and have pulled in $300K of that at only two Manhattan houses, neither one of which shows signs of quitting."
"We take on additional runs this weekend, but the majority of new markets start as of the 15th. We intend to take the film very far and with so much fresh territory ahead of us, we certainly can. Besides that, we expect our awards campaign to extend the film's life even further!"
Overall, 69 films were tracked during the four-day weekend at 4,408 theaters, averaging $4,785 per site. The previous (three-day) weekend, 75 films at 3,131 theaters averaged $3,802 per site. Further evidence of strong business was that the number of theaters showing iWBOT-listed films was at 4,408 last weekend, up from the previous one's 3,130. But not every expansion worked. Sony Pictures Classics chose to increase Jamie Babbit's "The Quiet" to 366 theaters in its second weekend from the initial seven, and saw a four-day per-screen average of just $675 as a result.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles film write 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 email@example.com