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iW BOT | Crowds Delight in Holiday Heartbreak: “Savages” Explodes in NY and LA; “Diving Bell” Lives

iW BOT | Crowds Delight in Holiday Heartbreak: "Savages" Explodes in NY and LA; "Diving Bell" Lives

Glowing reviews attracted large crowds to filmmaker Julian Schnabel‘s drama about a womanizer paralyzed by a massive stroke, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” The Miramax Films release earned $75,721 from three venues in New York and Los Angeles. “The Savages,” writer/ director Tamara Jenkins‘ highly praised comic drama about middle-age sibs forced to care for their father, bested “Diving Bell” with an explosive per-screen average of $37,964 from four NY and LA locations for Fox Searchlight Pictures. “Badland,” a drama about a wounded soldier returning home, continued the box office slump for movies addressing the Iraq War. “Badland,” from COPEX and ArcAngelo Entertainment, managed a weak $962 per-screen average from two runs in NY and LA. Rounding out the iWBOT Top Five were “Starting Out in the Evening,” “Margot at the Wedding” and “No Country for Old Men.”

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

Fox Searchlight Pictures scored a debut smash with “The Savages,” which earned $151,859 in weekend box office and a five-day cume of $184,507 for the top spot on the iWBOT. Writer/director Tamara Jenkins’ highly praised comic drama about middle age sibs forced to care for their father has already earned four Spirit Awards nominations and attracted additional year-end awards notice for cast members Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney and Philip Bosco. “What’s nice about it is we’re seeing that it’s playing well to a pretty broad demographic,” said Stephen Gilula, COO Fox Searchlight Pictures. “It’s playing very well uptown on the Westside of New York as well as downtown at the Angelika and likewise here in LA at the Landmark on the Westside and the Arclight in Hollywood. What’s very encouraging is it’s playing broadly to the informed moviegoers both the younger and the older traditional art house audiences.”

Despite its debut gross, positive audience responses and the familiarity of Jenkins’ story, Gilula remained committed to a slow roll out with 14 additional cities Dec. 21 and more on Christmas Day. “This strong start affirms the fact, now that we are out with the ticket buying public and not just film festivals and critics, that everyone likes this movie,” said Gilula. ‘We’re going to give it time so people can understand what it is.”

Directly behind “The Savages” with standout box office was Miramax Films’ French-language drama “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” Nominated for four Spirit Awards, director Julian Schnabel’s film about French magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby crafting his memoir despite paralysis from a massive stroke, earned $75,721 from the top- earning Angelika and Lincoln Plaza in NY and the Landmark in LA for a per-screen average of $25,240. While Miramax Films President Daniel Battsek was encouraged by the film’s strong word-of-mouth, he remained committed to a gradual expansion for “Diving Bell” of five additional markets Dec. 21; seven more Dec. 25 and a wider release in early January. “I think for the moment I want to let the movie really put down roots,” Battsek said. “It just has the most extraordinary word of mouth. It’s different from other movies that I have handled in my time. With people, it’s not just a case of waiting to be asked in order to tell someone how much they love the movie. They want to go out and sort of preach the good word and tell people about this movie. It’s always great when you have a movie that gets the reviews that we got and then still live up to peoples’ expectations.”

The top documentary on the IWBOT was “65 Revisited,” a new version of D.A. Pennebaker‘s 1965 Bob Dylan documentary. “65 Revisited” earned $4,689 in weekend box office at New York’s IFC Center for Pennebaker Hegedus Films and $6,040 since Wednesday. “Protagonist,” director Jessica Yu‘s artful documentary about four men facing tragedy. “Protagonist” also earned $4,495 at New York’s IFC Center for IFC Films and Red Envelope Entertainment. “Badland”, about an injured and mentally shaken Iraq War soldier returning home, earned $1,924 from Laemmle’s Sunset 5 in West Hollywood and the AMC Empire 25 in New York. For distributors COPEX and ArcAngelo Entertainment, “Badland” was the latest Iraq War film to fail with audiences.

“Starting Out in the Evening,” Andrew Wagner‘s drama about an elderly New York author and an inquisitive college student, earned $48,613 from eight runs for a per-screen average of $6,076, a 33% drop from its debut weekend. Paramount Vantage held filmmaker Noah Baumbach‘s battling sisters comedy “Margot at the Wedding” at 35 runs and earned $193,003. Its $5,514 per-screen average was a 50% drop from the previous week but good enough for the fourth spot on the iWBOT.

ThinkFilm added 42 runs to director Sidney Lumet‘s critically acclaimed crime drama “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” earning $767,087 from 302 screens. In its sixth frame, “Devil” reached a per- screen average of $2,540 slightly less than a 25% decline from its previous week. Its cume has reached $4,453,971 making “Devil” ThinkFilm’s top earner for 2007 and the widest release in the company’s history.

Warrior Poets Releasing expanded “What Would Jesus Buy?” director Rob Van Alkemade‘s comic documentary about Rev. Billy Tanen and his attempts to exorcise the commercialization of Christmas to 14 runs for weekend earnings of $26,035. While in perfect sync with the holiday shopping season, “Jesus” dropped 60% in per-screen average to $1,860, a sign that moviegoers aren’t willing to give up holiday shopping just yet.

“No Country for Old Men” continued to distinguish itself as the standout year-end specialty release for Miramax Films. With weekend earnings of $4,444,798 from 995 runs and a fourth week per-screen average of $4,407, “No Country” broke into the overall box office top ten for the second week in a row. “I think the movie is doing extremely well,” said Battsek. “It’s still on less than a thousand screens. It’s the second week it’s been in the top ten against every other movie that’s on at least 2000 screens. It’s now playing north, south, east and west of the country, big towns, small towns, college towns, suburbs and performing very well. I think people are finding the film incredibly entertaining and that’s why the business on the existing screens are doing so well.”

“No Country” has displayed great success at drawing younger audiences; a welcome sign for Gilula as Fox Searchlight prepares for the Wednesday release of its much-praised, coming-of-age comedy “Juno.” To be successful, “Juno,” a comedy about a young teen facing pregnancy, has to draw young adults away from heavily hyped, holiday blockbusters. “It’s very exciting and nervous,” admitted Gilula. “People have done a tremendous amount of work on the film and pulled it together very fast. The film was just delivered in the summertime. It was not originally anticipated that we would release it now but it was so good and director Jason Reitman delivered it so well and so fast we said what the heck, we should go for it.”

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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