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iW BOT | “Devil” Catches Fire in NY; Autonomous Films Continues to Attract Attention with “Wristcutt

iW BOT | "Devil" Catches Fire in NY; Autonomous Films Continues to Attract Attention with "Wristcutt

A blasting weekend debut of $73,837 at New York’s Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Angelika Film Center made veteran director Sidney Lumet‘s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” the top release on the iWBOT and ThinkFilm‘s best per-screen debut since 2005’s “The Aristocrats.” “Before the Devil,” a crime drama featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke and Marisa Tomei and receiving plenty of pre-Oscar buzz, showed strong potential for out-earning Think’s 2006 Oscar contender “Half Nelson.” Rounding out the iWBOT Top Five were newcomers “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song,” “Lagerfeld Confidential” and “Bella.” Returning to the iWBOT Top Five was the edgy romance “Wristcutters: A Love Story.” For Autonomous Films, the fledgling film company behind “Wristcutters,” their quick success has attracted plenty of notice.

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

Veteran filmmaker Sidney Lumet’s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” the story of two brothers collaborating on a robbery, earned $73,837 for ThinkFilm from exclusive runs at New York’s Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Angelika Film Center. Its per-screen average of $36,919 was top of the iWBOT, which ranks films by per-screen average. “It’s the kind of weekend that makes you feel lucky,” said Mark Urman, head of U.S. Theatrical for ThinkFilm. “We did brisk business from the morning of opening day. All the tickets were sold. People were turned away. It was fun to go the theaters Friday night.”

ThinkFilm expands “Before the Devil” Friday to six urban markets Friday as well as a further roll out in Greater New York. “It’s a great old-fashioned crime movie as opposed to some existential drama and we need to make the film more available and less precious” said Urman, who compared the “Before the Devil” release strategies to recent specialty hits “Capote,” “Notes on a Scandal” and “In the Bedroom.” “We’ll be at 100 theaters by week three.”

A rousing weekend gross of $11,945 at New York’s Film IFC Center made “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song” the top documentary on the iWBOT. The Weinstein Company opens “Pete Seeger,” a biography of the influential folk musician, in Los Angeles Nov. 16 as part of its Oscar-qualifying campaign. Close behind was Koch Lorber‘s documentary “Lagerfeld Confidential,” about fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. Director Rodolphe Marconi‘s film earned $11,477 at New York’s Film Forum. Director Alejandro Monteverde‘s romance “Bella,” the Audience Award winner at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, earned $1,238,448 from 165 locations for Roadside Attractions. Its $8,051 per-screen average was good enogh for the fifth spot on the iWBOT.

Far less successful was director Jonathan Demme‘s documentary for Sony Pictures Classics, “Jimmy Carter Man From Plains,” which failed to crack the iWBOT top twenty on earnings of $10,413 from seven locations. Billed as “the movie that will have everyone talking,” Demme’s film about Carter’s 2006 book tour, failed to match the per- screen debuts of recent political docs “Giuliani Time,” “Bush’s Brain” the Ralph Nader film “An Unreasonable Man” as well as previous Sony Classics docs “Why We Fight” and “The Fog of War.” Further behind in per-screen average was Anthony Hopkins‘ experimental film “Slipstream,” from Strand Releasing. “Slipstream” earned $6,273 from six locations; easily the smallest debut for any Anthony Hopkins movie.

Croatian director Goran Dukic‘s dark comedy “Wristcutters: A Love Story” continued to be a successful specialty film debut for After Dark Films, which released the 2006 Sundance drama via its recently formed Autonomous Films division. “Wristcutters,” featuring Patrick Fugit as a recent suicide victim searching for his ex-girlfriend in a quirky afterlife, earned $42,025 from four screens. Its $10,506 per-screen average reached the iWBOT top five for the second week in a row.

For Courtney Solomon, filmmaker and founding partner of After Dark and Autonomous Films, the fast success with “Wristcutters” helped confirm the larger vision for his fledgling film company. “We started with the genre label with my film ‘An American Haunting‘ and stayed with the genre label and it took us awhile to get around to moving to other genres but that’s what I intended from day one,” said Solomon. Initially formed as a means to release his horror film “An American Haunting” in 2006, Solomon quickly formed a partnership with Lionsgate and established the horror festival “8 Films To Die For.” Solomon said plans for releasing a variety of genre films under the After Dark label existed since day one. It’s just that the horror properties took off first, granting them the revenue to create Autonomous Films and try alternative fare like “Wristcutters” and the drama “Fierce People,” released in September as part of the Lionsgate partnership.

“I love the indie film world so I love to be able to contribute to it,” Solomon said. “If I pick a film like “Wristcutters” it’s because I love the film. It’s such a unique and interesting film. While it didn’t seem appropriate that a romantic film like “Wristcutters” would come from us, Autonomous is not just for specialty films. We’re also looking to produce half of our slate next year and we’re looking at broader comedies and broader action movies under the Autonomous Films label.”

A clever, if somewhat controversial ad campaign featuring a slit wrist, intensive marketing on college campuses and an aggressive marketing campaign that includes buying blocks of tickets and handing them out to New York University students were just some of the creative ideas Solomon brought to the specialty film world to help promote and break out “Wristcutters” for its Oct. 22 debut. Since then, he’s learned that some of his specialty film peers do not approve of his guerrilla tactics.

Solomon credited the criticisms to the ticket buys to being the new guy in the specialty film world. “The biggest problem we’ve had so far is nobody wants a new player like us on the block. The ticket give away is such a small blip. It doesn’t really count. Everybody has done this a certain way and to have a new player come on the block who incorporates new and innovative ways of doing things, nobody likes that. It eats up market share and makes people look bad. So the natural thing to do is to criticize but they should stay true to their indie roots and embrace us. Besides, we are entitled to do whatever we want with our P&A money.”

Steve Ramos is a Cincinnati based writer.

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 be included in the indieWIRE Box Office Chart, distributors must submit information about their films to Rentrak at studiogrosses@rentrak.com by the end of the day each Monday.

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