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iW BOT | Crowds Put Railway Thriller “Transsiberian” On Track as Top Specialty Film

iW BOT | Crowds Put Railway Thriller "Transsiberian" On Track as Top Specialty Film

[EDITOR’S NOTE: indieWIRE is starting a weekly documentary-focused box office entry on its new blog, DocSider. The first edition was posted this evening.]

Thanks to record-setting earnings by the Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures Batman installment “The Dark Knight,” the overall domestic box office enjoyed its all-time best, three-day weekend. But the summer outlook for art house films remained subdued as specialty outfits continue to struggle to launch the season’s first cross-over hit; an earnings equal to last summer’s Michael Moore healthcare documentary “SiCKO.” First Look Studios achieved its second ranking atop the 2008 iWBOT with “Transsiberian,” director Brad Anderson‘s thriller set aboard the famous Russian railway. Starring Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer and Ben Kingsley, “Transsiberian” averaged $17,308 from two debut runs in New York. “Before I Forget,” French director and actor Jacques Nolot‘s drama for Strand Releasing, about an aging gay gigolo, ranked number two with $9,676 in weekend earnings from New York’s IFC Center. Rounding out the iWBOT top five, which ranks films by per-screen average, were “Tell No One,” French director Guillaume Canet‘s mystery for Music Box Films; filmmaker Jonathan Levine‘s ’90s nostalgia comedy for Sony Pictures Classics, “The Wackness;” and “Days and Clouds,” Italian director Silvio Soldini‘s estranged spouses drama for Film Movement.

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

First Look Studios topped the 2008 iWBOT for the second time with “Transsiberian,” filmmaker Brad Anderson’s Hitchcock-inspired thriller about an American couple facing unexpected dangers while traveling aboard the legendary Trans-Siberian Express railway. Featuring Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer as the couple in danger and Ben Kingsley as a menacing Russian cop, “Transsiberian” earned $34,615 in weekend earnings from New York’s Paris Theatre and Angelika Film Center for a rollicking $17,308 per-screen average. “Audiences are always hungry for a smart thriller and we felt given the cast and great reviews the film could really stand out and find an audience as quality specialized fare,” said Brooke Ford via e-mail, executive vice president, worldwide marketing, First Look Studios. “Director Brad Anderson has a strong following, so he along with our stellar cast were instrumental to the film’s success. We anticipate good reviews across the country as we expand, and because this is such an audience friendly film, we’ll do advance screenings to further generate positive, word of mouth.” Out of Anderson’s five releases, “Transsiberian” was his best per-screen debut after his 2004 horror thriller “The Machinist.”

“Before I Forget,” director Jacques Nolot’s drama about an aging gay gigolo struggling to cope with advancing age and life without his wealthy benefactor, earned the number two on the iWBOT with earnings of $9,676 for Strand Releasing from its exclusive run at New York’s IFC Center. For Nolot, who has worked with French masters Claire Denis, Francois Ozon and Andre Techine, “Before I Forget” helped introduce the veteran French actor and director to a wide New York audience. “We’re really proud that the critics and audiences are still up to supporting challenging and interesting cinema like “Before I Forget,”” said Marcus Hu, co-founder and co-president, Strand Releasing. “We worked hard to reach out to critics but launching the film at Film Comment Presents at Lincoln Center really helped raise the visibility of the film. We have high hopes for the critical response to the film. It ranked high on a lot of the on-line critic poll sites.” Hu confirmed an opening date in San Francisco in a few weeks but admitted that releasing a foreign-language, adult drama comes with challenges. “It’s increasingly sad to see specialty houses book studio blockbusters and it’s an indication that they need to do so to survive. Nonetheless, it’s frustrating when you’re fighting against multiple screens of “Dark Knight,” “Mamma Mia” and “Get Smart.”

Director Guillaume Canet’s French mystery “Tell No One” continued to be a top performer for Chicago-based Music Box Films. Starring Francois Cluzet as a widower, who eight years after the murder of his wife, receives an e-mail suggesting she may be alive, “Tell No One” averaged $7,290 from 55 locations. In its third week, “Tell No One” made $400,947; the top earner among all specialty releases and has reached an impressive $1,057,050 in cumulative box office; out-pacing the current French-language hits “Priceless” and “Roman de Gare” and on track to match the $6 million domestic total of Miramax‘s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” Ed Arentz, managing director and co-founder, Music Box Films, earlier spoke of an expansion goal of 100 runs by August; offering the film a chance at matching the $10.3 million domestic total for Picturehouse‘s 2007 French-language hit “La Vie en Rose.”

Expanding to 34 screens in its third week, “The Wackness,” director Jonathan Levine’s coming-of-age comedy for Sony Pictures Classics, collected $150,676 in weekend grosses as one of the top four specialty earners. The ’90s-set comedy, featuring former Nickelodeon star Josh Peck as a high school grad and Ben Kingsley as his psychiatrist, dropped a modest 30% from its second week per-screen average to $4,432. It cumulative earnings has reached $742,785.

Director Silvio Soldini’s drama “Days and Clouds,” about an Italian couple who separate after the husband loses his job, earned $16,135 for Film Movement from four runs; good enough for a spot on the IWBOT top five but a 50% drop from its previous weekend.

Debuting in the iWBOT top ten was “Lou Reed’s Berlin,” director Julian Schnabel‘s follow-up to “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” a documentary of Lou Reed‘s performance of his 1973 concept album “Berlin” at St. Anne’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, earned $8,280 for the Weinstein Company division Third Rail Releasing, from exclusive debuts at New York’s Film Forum and Los Angeles’ Nuart Theatre.

Also in the top ten were debuts “The Doorman,” writer/director Wayne Price‘s comedy about a documentary film crew making a movie about a New York City club doorman. “The Doorman” earned $3,380 at New York’s City Cinemas Village East for Gigantic Releasing. “A Man Named Pearl,” co-directors Scott Galloway and Brent Pierson‘s festival favorite about a self-taught topiary artist, earned $2,936 for Shadow Distribution at New York’s Angelika Film Center after a three-city, self-release effort last summer. “Mad Detective,” the Hong Kong police thriller from co-directors Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai, featuring Lau Ching-wan as an unbalanced police officer, earned $2,682 for IFC Films from an exclusive debut at New York’s IFC Center. Debuting outside the iWBOT top twenty were “Take,” director Charles Oliver‘s drama about a woman (Minnie Driver) on her way to witness an execution and the circumstances behind her death row visit. “Take” earned $1,264 for Liberation Entertainment from an exclusive debut at New York’s Sunshine Cinema. “Disfigured,” director Glenn Gers‘ documentary about the unlikely friendship between an overweight woman and a recovering anorexic, managed just $585 for Cinema Libre Studio at New York’s Two Boots Pioneer Theater.

In its sophomore weekend, “The Exiles,” late director Kent Mackenzie‘s 1961 drama about Native Americans living in Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill neighborhood, earned $2,470 for Milestone Films from its exclusive, big-screen premiere at New York’s IFC Center and surpassed $18,000 in cumulative box office.

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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