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iW BOT | Solid Opening For “Frozen River” As Sony Classics Hopes For Another Late Summer Hit

iW BOT | Solid Opening For "Frozen River" As Sony Classics Hopes For Another Late Summer Hit

Six months after receiving the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, Courtney Hunt‘s “Frozen River” found winning box office numbers in its first weekend of theatrical release. Opening on seven screens in New York and Los Angeles, the Sony Pictures Classics release grossed $73,322 for a per-theater-average of $10,476. The film’s patient expansion schedule should hope to follow the promise of two recent films, this weekend’s iW BOT leader, Brad Anderson‘s “Transsiberian,” and Guillaume Canet‘s “Tell No One,” which just crossed the $2 million mark. “River” is certainly off to a better start than the rest of the weekend’s openers, which included the paltry $337 average Ryuhei Kitamura‘s “Midnight Meat Train” found on 102 screens.

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

Strong “River” For Sony Classics

“Frozen River,” the story of a working-class mom (Melissa Leo) who begins smuggling illegal immigrants across the St. Lawrence River after her husband leaves her, grossed $70,237 over the first weekend of August. In seven locations, “River”‘s $10,033 average places it among Sony Pictures Classics’ most successful openings of 2008, behind only “The Wackness,” “The Counterfeiters” and “Redbelt.” “It’s a solid independent film opening,” said Michael Barker, Co-President of Sony Pictures Classics, said in an interview with indieWIRE. “We think the word of mouth is really strong. And we’ll keep growing the film. There is incredible press on Melissa Leo and Courtney Hunt and they have been touring the country doing press and I think it’s looking good.”

It’s actually looking a lot like one of SPC’s other late-summer success stories, Phil Morrison‘s “Junebug.” Released on the exact same day in August of 2005, in seven locations, “Junebug” grossed $74,739. “Its not purely coincidence in any way, shape or form,” said Barker. “Over the years we have been very successful with opening an independent film towards the end of the summer, gaining traction over a long period of time. ‘Junebug’ was certainly one. ‘In The Company of Men‘ was one. There have been several over the years. We always like to open what we think is a potential independent success in the last half of the summer. In this case, we waited until two weeks after Batman opened because it was very obvious that was a film our audience was going to go see. I think we were smart in doing that.”

Things in general are looking at least relatively good for SPC. After a bad string of financial failures in 2007 (“My Kid Could Paint That,” “Youth Without Youth,” “Sleuth“), the distributor has enjoyed two of the highest grossing foreign films of 2008 in “The Band’s Visit” and “The Counterfeiters,” and has seen decent numbers so far this summer from “The Wackness,” which fell just 4% this weekend despite losing 22 screens, and “Brick Lane,” which Barker expects to hit $1 million in the coming weeks. Though the company’s had less success with “Baghead,” which doubled its screens to 14 this weekend and grossed just $16,400, bringing its disappointing total to $72,770.

The company also has an anticipated fall slate including Jonathan Demme‘s “Rachel Getting Married” and Charlie Kaufman‘s “Synecdoche, New York.” But these hopeful developments don’t mean the company will be overconfident with “River”‘s expansion. “Were taking it a little slowly,” said Barker. “Our next group of cities will occur on August 15th.”

“Tell,” “Trans” Continue Impressive Runs

Two holdovers that Barker and the folks at Sony might look to for inspiration continued to find high spots on the iW BOT this weekend. Brad Anderson‘s “Transsiberian” jumped back into the top spot after falling behind the opening of James Marsh‘s “Man on Wire” last weekend (for more on “Wire” and other documentary box office news, check out our new Dox Office column on our DocSider blog). “Transsiberian” remained on just 2 screens, but saw its box office actually grow by 15%, taking in $30,174. While it remains to be seen how the railway thriller will fare as it exits its comfort zone, $121,601 after 3 weekends on 2 New York screens is an impressive feat for the little-hyped First Look Studios release. “Transsiberian”‘s first significant expansion comes August 8th in Los Angeles, followed by many additional markets on August 15th and 22nd.

A scene from e Canet’s “Tell No One.” Image courtesy of Music Box Films.

Perhaps more impressive was the fifth weekend of Guillaume Canet‘s “Tell No One.” Adding 18 screens to bring its total to 95, the Music Box Films release grossed $460,366, averaging $4,897. This takes its total to $2,305,569. Its also just a slight drop from last weekend’s average, and its gross now stands nearly ten times fledging distributor Music Box’s second-highest grossing film, May’s “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies.” But one wonders if Music Box will continue expanding the film to the point that it might come within reach of other recent French-language hits, most notably “La Vie En Rose,” which grossed over $10 million. “Tell No One”‘s expansion is currently only scheduled to continue through this weekend (to Atlanta, Boise and Gainsville).

Rotten “Meat” Among Other Openers

“Frozen River” outpaced a slew of other indie openers this weekend, the widest being another train-set thriller (though one very different from “Transsiberian”), Lionsgate‘s “Midnight Meat Train,” which landed in 102 locations. The Bradley CooperBrooke Sields starrer’s $34,394 resulting gross found itself in “The Hottie and the Nottie” territory, averaging just $337, placing it a virtual tie with the 13th weekend average of “Speed Racer.” While indie genre films in general have been having trouble in theatrical release as of late, even this May’s “Stuck” managed a $4,422 opening average.

Faring much, much better were the openings of IFC Films‘ “In Search of a Midnight Kiss” and First Independent Pictures‘ “Sixty-Six,” which debuted on two screens each. L.A. youth pic “Kiss,” directed by Alex Holdridge, grossed $13,385 for a $6,692 average. 1960s coming-of-age drama “Six,” directed by Paul Weiland,” grossed $9,369 for a $4,952 average. Two patriotically titled documentaries also opened, Dorothy Fadiman‘s “Stealing America: Vote By Vote,” and Darryl Roberts‘ “America The Beautiful.” Though no “Meat Train,” “Stealing” took in a tepid $3,000 on its sole screen for Direct Cinema, while “Beautiful” grossed just $2,500 on one screen for First Independent Pictures.

Next weekend sees notable indie releases in Ben KingsleyPenelope Cruz starrer “Elegy” from IDP/Samuel Goldwyn and “Sideways“‘ wine-genre successor “Bottle Shock,” from Freestyle Releasing.”

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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