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iW BOT | It’s A Hit: “Juno” Delivers Big Crowd For Searchlight; Audiences Swoon for “Atonement,” “Bi

iW BOT | It's A Hit: "Juno" Delivers Big Crowd For Searchlight; Audiences Swoon for "Atonement," "Bi

Offering belly laughs in place of serious drama paid off for director Jason Reitman‘s teen pregnancy comedy “Juno.” The Fox Searchlight release earned $413,869 from seven venues in New York and Los Angeles for the lead spot on the iWBOT. “Atonement,” director Joe Wright‘s epic love story set in World War II era Britain, earned $796,836 from 32 runs for Focus Features. Both films far out-performed Weinstein Company‘s “Grace is Gone,” the latest Iraq War drama to fail with audiences. Rounding out the iWBOT Top Five were holdovers “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” “The Savages” and new release “Billy the Kid,” the debut doc from newish NY-based production company/boutique distributor Elephant Eye.

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

For the second week in a row, Fox Searchlight Pictures notched the top spot on the iWBOT, this time with “Juno,” which earned $413,869 in weekend box office and a per-screen average of $58,124. The five-day cume for director Jason Reitman‘s pregnancy comedy featuring Ellen Page and Michael Cera hit $525,155; besting the debut figures of Fox Searchlight’s 2006 hit comedy “Little Miss Sunshine.”

“The film has tremendous word of mouth and we’re hearing anecdotally that people have gone back a second and third time already since it opened,” said Stephen Gilula, COO Fox Searchlight Pictures. “One of the reasons we decided to release it now, when we looked at the slate of films this fall there was so much that was heavy. We’re a fabulous alternative but in spite of its humor “Juno” has great resonance. People are really moved by the film but they come out feeling very good.”

With across-the-board positive reviews and four Spirit Awards nominations, Fox Searchlight plans to expand “Juno” to 13 more cities Friday with 800-plus runs by Christmas Day and a national release by Jan. 4.

Behind “Juno” with stellar debut box office was Focus Features’ World War II love story “Atonement.” Director Joe Wright’s epic adaptation of Ian McEwan‘s novel, featuring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy as young lovers, earned $796,836 from 32 runs for a per-screen average of $24,901. Jack Foley, President Theatrical Distribution for Focus Features, singled out the film’s significant jumps in Friday-to-Saturday box office and the audiences’ diversity in age as reasons for optimism regarding the film’s cumulative potential. Yet, he remained committed to a steady release of the film with an expansion to 100 theaters Friday and the top fifty markets by Dec. 21.

“Hopefully the Golden Globe nominations will bring more visibility and validation to the film along with what should be good word of mouth after this weekend,” Foley said. “The film is an old fashioned film like those epic love stories of the past. But director Joe Wright tells the story so well and with modern energy. It’s captivating, just like what he did with “Pride and Prejudice. It’s a modern sort of storytelling.”

Directly back of “Atonement” with standout box office was Miramax Films‘ French-language drama “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” In its second frame, director Julian Schnabel’s film about French magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby crafting his memoir despite paralysis from a massive stroke, earned $57,600 from its three repeating runs for a per-screen average of $19,200, a slight 25% dip from its debut location average.

“The Savages,” writer/director Tamara Jenkins‘ comic drama about middle age sibs caring for their elderly father, earned $142,449 in weekend box office for Fox Searchlight and reached a second-frame cume of $383,147.

More modest crowds responded to writer/director Paul Schrader‘s “The Walker,” a featuring Woody Harrelson as a gay companion to Washington DC’s female socialites. The THINKFilm drama earned $16,525 in debut weekend box office from three screens in New York and Los Angeles for a per-screen mark of $5,508. THINKFilm rolls out “The Walker” to top ten markets Friday.

“Revolver,” the latest caper film from British filmmaker Guy Ritchie, failed to ignite the box office for Samuel Goldwyn Films and Destination Films with a lackluster debut of $41,820 in debut earnings from 18 screens. One bright spot: its $2,323 per-screen average bettered the per-screen debut of Ritchie’s much-maligned 2002 drama “Swept Away.”

The Weinstein Company’s “Grace is Gone” became the latest Iraq War drama to fail with audiences. Writer/director James C. Strouse’s drama, featuring John Cusack as an Iraq War widow, earned a tepid $13,880 in opening-weekend box office from four runs.

THINKFilm added 19 runs to director Sidney Lumet‘s acclaimed crime drama “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” earning an estimated $645,010 (767,087) from 321 screens. In its seventh frame, “Devil” reached a per-screen average of $2009 (2,540) a modest 20% decline from its previous week. “Devil” has reached $5,357,258 ($4,453,971) in cume, cementing its position as THINKFilm’s top earner for 2007 and the widest release in the company’s history.

No Country for Old Men,” boasting four major awards from the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, continued to perform well for Miramax Films. With weekend earnings of $4,116,888 from 1324 runs and a fifth week per-screen average of $3,109, “No Country” broke into the overall box office top ten for the third week in a row.

On a much smaller scale, Emerging Pictures enjoyed success with exclusive showings of the La Scala Opera production of “Aida.” The classic Verdi opera earned $1,882 per screen from one-night showings at 52 locations, for a total of $97,874.

The top documentary on the IWBOT was “Billy the Kid,” filmmaker Jennifer Venditti‘s look at the everyday life of Billy Baker, a high school student in rural Maine. “Billy” earned $7,932 in weekend box office at New York’s IFC Center and $11,792 in cume since its Dec. 5 opening. For Vicky Wight, a founding partner in Elephant Eye Films, the successful launch of “Billy the Kid” showed that small, independent films still have a fighting chance thanks to grassroots marketing.

“It’s virtually impossible to open a movie like “Billy the Kid” because there’s so much competition and this month has been insane. The coverage that other films get is largely based on their P & A budgets but at Elephant Eye we try not to base everything on advertising or things we can buy. We basically go crazy with outreach. Our specialty is reaching out to the specific audience for the film and getting people to get out of their homes and away from their offices and come down and see the film.”

Already confirmed for a second week at the IFC Center, Wight and her partners at nine-month-old Elephant Eye Films are working towards a six-city release for “Billy the Kid” by January.

“We don’t have a huge P & A budget,” Wight said. “For us, it’s about connecting with the core audience and building personal relationships. I think that’s the only way independent film is going to survive. As a distributor, you have to build word of mouth yourself.”

UPDATE: Grosses for Emerging Pictures’ release of “Aida” were corrected. indieWIRE had noted the per screen average, but not the total weekend gross. We apologize for the error.

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