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iW BOT | Slow and Steady, “Volver” and “The Queen” Solid; “Babel” Slows in Expansion

iW BOT | Slow and Steady, "Volver" and "The Queen" Solid; "Babel" Slows in Expansion

Sony Pictures Classics‘ decision to patiently hold Pedro Almodovar‘s red-hot “Volver” at five New York and Los Angeles theaters for a second weekend proved it’s no one-weekend-wonder, in case there was any doubt. Its per-theater-average dip on this week’s indieWIRE Box Office Tracking report (iWBOT) was slight – to $33,842 from $39,541 – and it finished far ahead of the number two film, Magnolia Pictures‘ new “Samoan Wedding.” The latter averaged $7,852 from two screens in Honolulu and Maui. Meanwhile, “Babel‘s” bold, risky jump in its third weekend to 1,251 theaters from just 35 saw the Paramount Vantage release of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s omnibus drama slip to ninth from second on the iWBOT, its per-screen average also falling to $4,443 from $26,264.

The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available here at indieWIRE.com

The wide release of “Banel” netted $5.59 million, propelling the overall gross on this week’s iWBOT to $10.83 million, the highest amount since Labor Day Weekend’s $21.09 million. And the film is positioned for Thanksgiving to try to build audiences based on strong reviews and awards buzz surrounding Brad Pitt‘s performance with Paramount planning to keep the movie at the same number of theaters in coming weeks, according to the company.

The number two film, director Chris Graham‘s “Samoan Wedding,” is a New Zealand romantic comedy about a rite of passage involving young-male Samoan emigres in Auckland. It was acquired by Magnolia Pictures just before it played at October’s Hawaiia International Film Festival. Magnolia had been tracking it since Cannes. In particular, the film’s fresh vision of Auckland as “the biggest Polynesian city in the world” has attracted press and praise in New Zealand and at festivals. In Honolulu, said Jeff Reichert, Magnolia’s head of publicity and marketing, it outperformed “Borat” and “Babel.”

“We chose to open it in Hawaii because there’s a strong Samoan population there with links to homeland communities where the film was extremely popular,” Reichert said via E-mail. “The film is about four friends with a reputation for ruining weddings who are banned from (a) wedding unless they are able to find girlfriends to bring with them.”

Curiously, Rentrak lists “Samoan Wedding” as being in U.S. distribution for 30 weeks. Reichert says he believes that’s because it successfully played in Samoa and other U.S. Pacific territories before Magnolia acquired it.

Magnolia next plans to bring the film to Los Angeles, opening in both an arthouse and a theater near the metropolis’ Samoan population. “Maybe one of each just to test it out,” Reichert said.

In third place on the iWBOT was Steve Shainberg‘s “Fur,” starring Nicole Kidman as the real-life photographer Diane Arbus and Robert Downey Jr. as a very hairy neighbor who intrigues and arouses her. The Picturehouse release averaged $7,204 from four locations in New York and L.A. — $12,029 at Angelika Film Center and $8,387 at the Lincoln Plaza in Manhattan; $4,682 at Laemmle’s Sunset Five and $3,718 at Laemmle’s Monica in greater L.A. It received harsh critical reviews for the way it used Arbus’ life as raw material for its imaginary story.

“It was a good number for a very specialized film that’s not a traditional biopic,” said Bob Berney, Picturehouse president. “I think we got pretty tough reviews, so we’ll see what the ‘field’ reviews are.” It goes to 32 theaters in the top ten U.S. and Canadian markets this Friday.

Stephen Frears‘ “The Queen,” now in its seventh week, continues to perform regally on the iWBOT. At a still-modest 484 theaters – up 97 from the previous weekend – it came in fifth with a $5,608 per-location average. Last week, it finished fourth with a $7,519 average.

Elliot Slutzky, Miramax’s executive vice president of general sales, said “The Queen” has been performing like a dream. It holds well Monday through Thursday and in fact this Monday’s business was up 17% from last Monday’s overall. And he champions Miramax’s decision to go slow with expansion, keeping it at arthouses and upscale urban and suburban locales, rather than quickly jump into wide release.

“As we expanded (early), we tried a few of what I would call middle-class as opposed to white-collar locations and the grosses weren’t good,” he said. “That would have dissipated the gross and we’d have nowhere to go. Now as we go into new towns, people are waiting to see it because they’ve heard so much about it.”

The film will add 100 theaters this weekend. Then Miramax will hope for awards-season honors for the film and its star, Helen Mirren, before going as wide as possible in early 2007.

Fueled by “Babel’s” expansion, the 71 films on the iWBOT averaged $3,300 at 3,282 locations. The previous weekend, 80 films averaged $3,063 at 2,567 locations.

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 studiogrosses@rentrak.com

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