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Box Office: “Dagenham” Doesn’t Quite Have It Made; “White Material” Is Denis’ Best U.S. Debut

Box Office: "Dagenham" Doesn't Quite Have It Made; "White Material" Is Denis' Best U.S. Debut

While “Harry Potter” was clearly the story at the studio box office, a very different British import – Nigel Cole’s “Made In Dagenham” – was the major debut in the specialty market.

A dramatized account of the 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham assembly plant, where female workers walked out in protest against sexual discrimination, “Dagenham” stars Sally Hawkins, Miranda Richardson, Rosamund Pike and Bob Hoskins. According to estimates provided by Rentrak earlier today, the Sony Pictures Classics release film took in a rather unimpressive $41,112, averaging $13,704 along the way. It’s not a disastrous number for the film by any means, and the film’s crowd pleasing nature could easily propel it to strong legs as it expands over the next few weeks, but for a screen count that low a higher per-theater-average should have been in the cards.

Director Cole – known for similarly female-oriented crowd pleasers – saw his last film, 2003’s Helen Mirren starrer “Calendar Girls,” gross $31 million after averaging only $6,308 from a 24 screen debut. Before that, 2000’s “Saving Grace” – starring Brenda Blethyn as a small-town English widow who stars selling pot – debuted to a $9,581 average from 30 screens en route to a $12 million final gross. Considering the screen counts, both those films had more impressive debuts than “Dagenham,” but they also give hope that the kind of film Nigel Cole tends to make is the kind of film you can’t judge by its opening average.

Also opening on three screens this weekend was Claire Denis’ “White Material,” which IFC Films debuted in both New York and Chicago. The result was a $36,300 gross, averaging $12,100 – which nearly topped “Dagenham”‘s average on the same amount of screens despite being a foreign language film with a tough subject matter. The film – which premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival – stars Isabelle Huppert as a failing coffee plantation owner in an African country increasingly torn apart by escalating civil war violence. It was the best recorded Stateside debut for a Claire Denis film. Her last, 2009’s “35 Shots of Rum,” averaged $9,576 from 1 screen when it opened in the U.S. via Cinema Guild. In 2005, “The Intruder” averaged $3,527 from 3 screens, while in 2003, “Friday Night” averaged a similar $3,127 from the same count. Both those films were released through Wellspring.

IFC Films will open “Material” in the top 20 markets next month.

Two less high-profile films also debuted this weekend. Oscilloscope released Yony Leyser’s doc “William S. Burroughs: A Man Within” on a single New York screen to a decent $7,054 gross, adding on to the $4,102 it had made since opening on Wednesday to total $11,156. Alerion/Vitagraph, meanwhile, put David Kaplan’s comedy “Today’s Special” on a much more aggressive 50 screens, and saw a gross of $91,000, for a $1,820 per-theater-average.

Last weekend’s top debut, Lena Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture” (which is also being released through IFC), held on to its sole engagement at New York’s IFC Center before its expansion next weekend. It managed to hold on to its opening weekend numbers quite substantially, taking in $15,200, which was only a 27% weekend-to-weekend drop.

Twice nominated at this year’s Gotham Awards, “Furniture” is a self-portrait of sorts, in which Dunham plays a version of herself wandering around New York City in post-graduate limbo. Its gross is now $47,240, an impressive number for a micro-budget indie playing on only one screen.

A not-so-micro-budget indie, Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours,” also continued to impress in a much grander way. Expanding from 22 to 108 theaters, distributor Fox Searchlight saw “Hours” gross $915,206, good enough to nearly crack the overall top 10 despite playing on just a fraction of the screens of its competitors. Based on the true story of Aron Ralston (James Franco), a mountain climber who becomes trapped under a boulder and is forced to amputate his own arm, “Hours” averaged a respectable $8,474 and took its total to $1,901,009 going into Thanksgiving weekend, where it will expand to 46 markets on approximately 270-300 prints.

Notable is that “Hours” is lagging behind some of the films it was tracking ahead of in its scorching debut weekend three weeks ago. “Slumdog Millionaire,” for example, experienced a much stronger hold than “Hours” back in 2008, averaging $27,470 from 49 screens in its third weekend. By the time it hit 169 screens in its fifth weekend, that film was still averaging $12,873. Mind you, “Millionaire” had inevitable-best-picture-winner buzz going for it that “Hours” doesn’t quite have (though it still seems like a very likely nominee). Essentially this suggests the $100 million+ mainstream breakout glory that “Millionaire” eventually reached is very unlikely for “127 Hours,” though a final gross could still end up being quite strong for the reportedly $18 million budgeted film. The next few weekends of expansion should really make that more clear.

Other holdovers included Doug Liman’s “Fair Game,” a fictionalized account of the 2003 outing of former CIA agent Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) and the impact it had on her marriage to United States Foreign Service diplomat Joe Wilson (Sean Penn). On a more aggressive 386 screens (up from 175 last weekend), distributor Summit Entertainment saw fair numbers for “Game” – it grossed an estimated $1,500,000, averaging $3,808 and taking its cume to $3,700,000. That was enough for the film to crack the top ten, and suggests a $10 million+ final gross is quite possible.

Finally, three docs that were all shortlisted for this year’s Academy Awards each continued their runs this weekend.

Lucy Walker’s “Waste Land,” which follows renowned artist Vik Muniz as he journeys from his home base in Brooklyn to his native Brazil and the world’s largest garbage dump, expanded from 5 to 8 screens in its third weekend. Distributor Arthouse Films reported the film grossed $14,603, averaging $1,825 and taking its total to $57,176.

In its seventh weekend, Charles Ferguson’s economic crisis doc “Inside Job” dropped from an assumed high of 250 screens to 185, but saw its per-theater-average actually slightly rise from $1,915 to $2,005. Grossing $370,932, the film also impressively crossed the $2 million mark, finding a new cume of $2,171,387.

Davis Guggenheim’s “Waiting For ‘Superman'” also receded its screen count. The film – which takes on the U.S. public school system – dropped down from 204 to 118 screens in its ninth weekend and took in $108,000. That gave “Superman” an impressive new total of $6,129,000, making it the 20th highest grossing doc of all time.

Peter Knegt is indieWIRE’s Associate Editor. Follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

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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