Sony Classics' political documentary "Why We Fight" debuted at number one on the Jan. 20-22nd weekend indieWIRE Box Office Tracker (iWBOT), while Focus Features' "Brokeback Mountain" continued to prove a veritable Mount Everest among platform-released art/specialty films. Films are ranked on iWBOT according to per-screen gross.
Overall, indie and semi-indie films had a lot of clout in the overall market last weekend, fueled by expansions of "Brokeback," "Match Point," and "The New World." Although New Line's Terrence Malick-helmed "New World" got lost, grossing but $4,969 on 811 screens and finishing 13th on iWBOT, the other two did well.
[View the indieWIRE:BOT Box Office Table for this week's films here.]
And another winner - the Golden Globe Awards. They showed they're far more than just a televised celebrity party with little credibility among "high-end" filmgoers. They can actually turn people out for films like "Brokeback" and The Weinstein Company's "Transamerica." ("Brokeback" won four Globes; Felicity Huffman for her acting turn as a transgender person in "Transamerica.")
The indie-film crowd's willingness to pay money for tougher, more serious and politically relevant films also is continuing. Eugene Jarecki's "Why We Fight," which is about America's military-industrial complex and which won the Grand Jury Prize for American documentaries at last year's Sundance, debuted on just six screens and grossed $53,571 for a per-screen average of $8,928.
"There's never been a film so urgent about America's political situation today, and the response to it has been one of urgency," said Michael Barker, Sony Classics' co-president. "And there's no harder-working director than Eugene. He's been doing Q&As at the screenings."
At the same time, another political-minded Sony Classics film - Austrian director Michael Haneke's French-language thriller "Cache (Hidden)" - continued to do well as it increased from 10 to 22 screens. It slipped from first to fourth on the iWBOT as its per-screen average dipped by a bit more than 30% to $8,065 from $11,732 during the previous (three-day) weekend. But it maintained momentum by jumping its overall gross to $718,406 from $478,000.
"Boy, that 'Cache' is hanging in there. That's really something," Barker said. "Just think, we're going to be over $1 million on just five cities and we have the whole country to go. The film is going to do great." Last weekend it was in New York, L.A., Chicago, Boston and Montreal; it expands to Atlanta, Buffalo-Ithaca, Cleveland, Dallas, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington this weekend.
ThinkFilm's Hungarian Holocaust drama "Fateless" held at second on the iWBOT for its third straight week of exclusive play at New York's Film Forum. Its gross dropped slightly more than 20% $8,605 from $10,805. On Friday, the Lajos Koltai-directed film opens at the Royal on Los Angeles' art-friendly west side.
The Weinstein Co., which so far has not replied to iWBOT requests for comment, increased "Transamerica" to 38 screens from nine to take advantage of Huffman's Globe. The per-screen gross dipped 17% to $8,332 from $10,108, although it now has earned $876,859 - within striking distance of $1 million - while still having much room for expansion.
Focus' head of distribution Jack Foley was eager to talk about the Globes' impact on "Brokeback." "This year the impact is very clear and very important," he said. "What it did is poignant because it has established a new economic opportunity. It lifted the gross last weekend."
Actually, the Globes lifted the gross almost immediately after the Jan. 16 telecast. Focus had been planning to increase Ang Lee's "Brokeback" by just 200 screens last weekend to a total of 883. But after the film began tracking at Number One in total gross in mid-week, Focus jumped the number to 1,196 screens for an overall increase of 513. It went deep into suburbs and into very conservative markets like Peoria, Ill., and Mobile, Ala.
And, yes, a romantic drama about gay cowboys played in Peoria, grossing $15,000 at a multiplex. And it did $6,000 in Mobile, "a difficult market for high-end movies," Foley said.
Indeed, the question asked seven weeks ago, when "Brokeback" cautiously debuted in major urban markets, has been answered. People do want to see this much-praised film. "Forty-two million dollars later, they're really going," Foley said.
The film slipped on iWBOT to ninth from fourth, as its per-screen gross dropped 27% to $6,213 from $8,499. It will add another 428 screens this weekend and is prepared to hit a total of 2,000 on Feb. 3rd, the Friday after Oscar nominations. "We're exploiting the hell out of it. This is the cultural zeitgeist," Foley said.
While not yet the cultural zeitgeist, a number of small releases did reasonably well last weekend, considering their fight for attention in a crowded marketplace. Two self-distributed documentaries about the pre-AIDS era of gay liberation, Joseph Lovett's "Gay Sex in the 70s" and Jim Tushinksi's "That Man: Peter Berlin," finished a lucky seventh and 11th on the iWBOT respectively with per-screen averages of $6,526 and $5,895.
While "Gay Sex" is on just three screens and "Peter Berlin" on one, both had far better per-screen averages than poor Albert Brooks' Warner Independent-distributed release "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World." It ranked 23rd on iWBOT, grossing just $2,666 per-screen at 161 locations.
Overall, the 57 films on this week's iWBOT grossed $18.41 million on 4,050 screens last weekend, compared with the previous weekend's $10.89 gross by 45 films on 2,284 screens. The per-screen average increased, too, to $4,768 from $4,546.
[Note: Although the indieWIRE:BOT lists "Gay Sex in the 70's" as playing on three screens since the film screened in New York on the 20th, Cleveland on 21st, and all weekend in San Francisco, Rentrak Theatrical lists the number of screens as two since there are two prints being used and the film did not screen for the full weekend in New York and Cleveland.]
[Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles film writer and former movie critic at The Denver Post.]