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iW BOT *UPDATE* | “Torino,” “Doubt” Lead Parade of Oscar Hopefuls, “Che”‘s “Roadshow” Plays To Sold

iW BOT *UPDATE* | "Torino," "Doubt" Lead Parade of Oscar Hopefuls, "Che"'s "Roadshow" Plays To Sold

The third-to-last weekend of 2008 saw three films open to per-theater-averages of over $30,000, and three more seeing strong holdover numbers. According to final numbers from Rentrak, leading the extremely competitive pack was Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino,” which on six screens averaged $45,287 (the year’s second best PTA behind last weekend’s “Frost/Nixon”), while John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt” averaged $33,815 from 15. Perhaps more impressive, though, was IFC’s “Roadshow” release of Steven Soderbergh’s “Che.” Obviously restrained by its four hour plus running, the film sold out nearly all its weekend screenings in New York and Los Angeles to find a $30,535 PTA. All three averages rank among the ten best specialty debuts of the year.

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

Warner Brothers’ “Torino” grossed $271,720 from six screens, and its $45,287 average topped Eastwood’s other 2008 releasing, “Changeling,” which was also among the year’s top limited debuts, averaging $32,601 from 15 screens. And while “Torino” also outdid the debuts of 2006’s “Letters From Iwo Jima” ($17,819 on 5 screens) and 2004’s “Million Dollar Baby” ($22,494 on 8), it just missed becoming Clint’s top directorial box office debut (in terms of per-theatre-average, at least), which remains 2003’s “Mystic River,” which opened on 13 screens and found a $49,293 average.

A pair of Golden Globe nominated films, Miramax’s “Doubt” and The Weinstein Company’s “The Reader,” also opened well. Though “Doubt,” which scored an impressive four acting nods at the Globes (for Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis), was obviously the winner between the two, grossing $507,226 on 15 screens. It’s $33,815 average, despite being on nearly twice the screens, far outreached “The Reader,” which averaged $21,006 from 8 screens. Though the Stephen Daldry directed film’s $168,051 gross remains promising in the crowded marketplace.

IFC Films saw very strong numbers for its special one-week “Roadshow” release of Steven Soderbergh’s “Che.” Screened as a four hour plus film, with an intermission, the roadshow edition of “Che” earned an estimated $61,070, for an estimated $30,535 average. The film was sold out nearly all weekend in L.A., according to IFC’s Mark Boxer, who added that pre-sales for this week are strong.

The movie drew a boisterous crowd on Friday night in New York at a sold out Ziegfeld Theater screening. Appearing near midnight for a post program Q & A, Soderbergh drew a standing ovation and then a raucous response during a lengthy conversation with the audience, staying until 1 a.m. to sign autographs and talk with the crowd.

“Bullshit!” yelled out a New York audience member when Soderbergh categorized Che as “a hard ass” early in the discussion. “He wasn’t a hard ass?” Soderbergh countered. “He was as murderer!” another audience member emphasized. “He was a revolutionary!” still another viewer yelled, as more people began talking back loudly. Soderbergh settled the crowd but drew numerous comments criticizing the U.S. government and President George W. Bush.

“I made a movie about ‘Che’, I didn’t make a movie about our government,” Soderbergh tried to say, above the noise of the crowd. He reiterated, at one point, “It doesn’t matter whether I agree with him or not — I was interested in Che as a warrior, Che as a guy who had an ideology, who picked up a gun and this was the result.”

“He died the way you would have him die,” Soderbergh noted, concluding the point, “He was executed the way you would say he executed other people.”

“The Che that is portrayed, that you saw tonight, is absolutely capable of the acts that people define him by,” Soderbergh explained on Friday night, later asking the crowd, “Is the Che that’s portrayed in this film incapable of the acts tha you would say he participated in? And I would say to you, as far as I am concerend, the the Che that is portrayed in this film tonight is absolutely capable of those acts and [he] would say they are necesary.”

The Roadshow screenings are set to conclude this Thursday in NYC and LA, but asked whether they could expand to other cities, IFC’s Mark Boxer told indieWIRE that the company will discuss the possibility of expanding it to other markets.” The company will re-open the films in theaters as two separate movies early next month, with a nearly VOD release on cable TV later in January.

Other openings in what has to be one of the most competitive specialty weekends in recent memory included Kelly Reichardt’s “Wendy and Lucy,” which grossed a decent $18,218 from two screens over the weekend. The Oscilloscope Laboratories release took its total to $25,443 since opening Wednesday, but very significant is that over $21,000 of that total came from New York’s Film Forum. It’s Los Angeles Laemmle Sunset 5 venue accounted for very little of its gross. The film expands to two more Laemmie screens in the LA area – Encino and Pasadena – this upcoming Friday, December 19.
A scene from Freestyle Releasing’s “Delgo,” which had the worst opening of any film playing over 2,000 screens. Ever. Image courtesy of Freesytle Releasing.

Though not a limited release, notable is the most disastrous opening of the weekend, Freestyle Releasing’s animated “Delgo.” Just one weekend after Freestyle’s “Nobel Son” opened on an inappropriate 893 screens and averaged just $374, final numbers show that “Delgo” 2,160 screens and averages just $237, about half of what was estimated Sunday. Its $511,920 gross makes it by far the worst opening ever for a film on more than 2,000 screens. Its closest competitor is Summit Entertainment’s 2007 horror film “P2,” which grossed nearly four times that in its opening, $2,083,398.

A trio of Oscar contenders, playing on a tiny fraction of “Delgo”‘s screens, found higher overall grosses. Gus Van Sant’s “Milk” jumped into the top ten in its third weekend out, adding 229 screens and grossing an impressive $2,598,638 and taking its total to $7,590,976. The Focus Features’ release’s $7,923 average rivaled the weekend’s overall topper (Keanu Reeves starrer “The Day The Earth Stood Still,” which averaged $8,562), and suggests promise as the film continues to expand through awards season.

Also expanding – but on a much a more graduated basis than “Milk” – was Fox Searchlight’s “Slumdog Millionaire.” After five weekends, Fox has slowly brought the film to 169 locations (with its 91 theater addition this weekend its most aggressive thus far). It seems like a smart move, as the film continues to draw crowds and word of mouth. This weekend it grossed $2,175,518 for a solid $12,873 average and a $8,048,764 cume.

Finally, also expanding was last weekend’s big opener – Ron Howard’s “Frost/Nixon.” Jumping from 36 to 39 screens, the Universal release, which last weekend broke 2008’s PTA record, grossed $626,377, seeing its average reasonably drop by nearly 75% to $16,061. “Nixon” expands significantly over Christmas.

Other notable box office news included yet another successful weekend for another “roadshow,” Bruce Campbell’s “My Name Is Bruce,” which Campbell has been traveling around with. On two screens the film grossed $18,238, taking its total to $173,066 after 46 days. Meanwhile, Magnet Releasing’s “Let The Right One In” joined a previous Bruce Campbell film, “Bubba Ho-Tep,” as one of the very few recent specialty horror films to cross the $1,000,000 mark, grossing $76,549 on 56 screens to bring its 8 week total to $1,132,898.

Likely not capable of reaching that mark was one of the weekend’s other openers Samuel Goldwyn’s “Dark Streets,” which grossed just $10,958 on 18 screens for a $609 average. At least that’s three times the average of “Delgo.”

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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