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iW BOT | Audiences Getting “Married,” “Religulous” Sets 2008 Doc High

iW BOT | Audiences Getting "Married," "Religulous" Sets 2008 Doc High

Sony Pictures Classics‘ “Rachel Getting Married” set a high benchmark for fall’s awards season contenders this weekend. The Jonathan Demme-directed drama opened on 9 screens, grossing a stellar $293,369 for an iW BOT topping $32,597 average. On 502 screens, Lionsgate‘s Bill MaherLarry Charles collaboration, “Religulous,” found the highest doc opening of the year with $3,409,642. Meanwhile, Lance Hammer‘s independently released “Ballast” opened on a sole NYC screen and grossed a mild $8,518.

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

“Rachel” Making Money

Jonathan Demme’s acclaimed family drama “Rachel Getting Married,” featuring potential Oscar nominee Anne Hathaway as a recovering drug addict, grossed $293,369 on just 9 screens. Its $32,597 average outpaces the year’s previous specialty-release high (if one discounts “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl”‘s unique situation), “The Duchess,” which averaged $27,204 two weekends ago and expanded this weekend to 127 screens, finding a promising $7,049 average.

“Rachel” also sat nicely in the middle of Sony Pictures Classics’ two biggest hits. “Rachel” fell short of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon‘s $41,450 average (on 16 screens in 2001), but beat “Capote‘s $27,071 (on 12 screens in 2005). “The picture seems to be working with everyone, which is really fantastic,” Michael Barker, Co-President of Sony Pictures Classics, said in an interview with indieWIRE. “It got stellar reviews. It was very obvious going from theater to theater on Friday that we have a film that engages the audience. And it’s an audience of all ages. It even did a little better than I expected in New York. We’re off and running…”

Barker said the release strategy will follow awards-hopefuls like “Capote” and “Dragon.” “It will be platform and at some point will go wider,” he said. “This movie is going to rely a lot on word of mouth and the reviews and we think it’s really going to gather momentum as we go forward. We think it is that kind of a picture. We couldn’t be happier.”

Sony Pictures Classics has many prospects for continued happiness this fall, particularly “I’ve Loved You So Long” and “Synecdoche, New York, both out on October 24, and December’s Cannes-buzz duo, “The Class” and “Waltz With Bashir.”

“Religulous” vs. Kirk Cameron

Larry Charles’ doc “Religulous,” featuring comic and “antitheist” Bill Maher taking on the religions of the world, grossed an impressive $3,409,642 over the weekend on just 502 screens. Not only is that they highest opening for a doc this year, “Religulous” is already the third highest grossing doc of 2008 (behind its ideological opposite, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” as well as “Young@Heart“). Including its two day run on only two screens last week, the Lionsgate release has totaled $3,428,633.

“Religulous” averaged $6,792 per run. That puts the film below the average of last weekend’s Christian-marketed surprise, “Fireproof,” which opened to a $8,111 average 839 screens. However, it did far outpace this weekend’s newest right-wing option, Vivendi Entertainment release “An American Carol.” Directed by David Zucker (“Airplane!“, “Carol” is a spoof of left-wing popular culture, specifically doc filmmaker Michael Moore. It opened on over three times the screens of “Religulous” (1,639) but only grossed slightly more with $3,656,000. That amounted to a mild $2,230 average.

“Fireproof,” meanwhile, kept chugging along. Despite a near-record eight new wide releases this weekend, the IDP/Samuel Goldwyn release dropped a moderate 38% and grossed $3,987,509 on 852 screens. The film follows a firefighter (Kirk Cameron) whose father pleads with him not to leave his wife and instead take “The Love Dare,” a 40-day Christian plan to save a marriage. With a total now standing at $12,410,216, it is concievable that “Fireproof” could out gross IDP/Samuel Goldwyn’s highest grossing film ever, 1985’s “The Care Bears Movie,” which grossed $22,934,622.

“Ballast” Opens In NYC

Lance Hammer‘s acclaimed Sundance title, “Ballast,” which is being released independently after pulling out of its deal with IFC Films, opened this past Wednesday on a sole screen at NYC’s Film Forum. It grossed a good-but-not-great $8,518 over the weekend, taking its 5-day total to $12,111.

The film’s production entity, Alluvial Film Company, released the film along with Steven Raphael‘s Required Viewing. Raphael seemed optimistic when he spoke with indieWIRE about the film’s box office. “In general we are happy with the way the film is strongly resonating with audiences,” he said. “We predict the audiences will continue to grow as the positive quality word of mouth builds. We had sold out 8 o’clock shows on both Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday matinees and evenings were strong. Lance did Q&A’s at all screenings this weekend, which was a draw to the film forum audiences. 90% of the audience stayed for every single Q&A. They were interested and engrossed.”

Hammer will continue to do Q&A’s this coming weekend at the Film Forum. “Ballast” is currently booked to screen in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, Philadelphia and St. Louis before the end of October.

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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