Boffo sales put doc in running for No. 1 spot

Buzz works.

After weeks of debate and media coverage, “Fahrenheit 9/11″ opened today far better than expected.

An estimate of just how well it could do is difficult to make, but as of 3 p.m. on the West Coast, it looks as if Michael Moore’s doc could sell between $6 million and $8 million worth of tickets on its first day.

Playing at 868 theaters, the pic would have an amazing one-day theater average of $6,912 at the low end of that range.

It is still too soon to tell where “Fahrenheit” will end up for the weekend, though the strong perf out of the gates makes the pic a contender for the No. 1 spot at the box office.

“Fahrenheit” is distribbed by the Bob and Harvey Weinstein’s Fellowship Adventure Group and by Lions Gate and IFC Films.

Distribs declined to give an estimate for the day, but Lions Gate prexy Tom Ortenberg said, “There are many, many theater that are selling out many shows. We are thrilled. Things are going great.”

“I don’t think anyone thought it would do this well,” said IFC topper Jonathan Sehring. “I know Lions Gate didn’t and I know we didn’t. And I wouldn’t say Harvey did, but he has always been very bullish on this film.”

By mid-afternoon, box office tracking service Rentrak, which is collecting ticket data from 406 locations, had recorded $2.9 million in sales.

How much higher that figure might go is difficult to say since many of those locations have likely already sold out all of their remaining evening shows. However, responding to strong demand, some theater managers may move the pic to bigger auditoriums, allowing them to sell more tickets for the day’s remaining shows.

A bigger complication, though, is estimating how much business the 462 theaters not tracked by Rentrak will do. Industry conventional wisdom is that the non-tracked theaters gross less than those that supply data.

“Fahrenheit” is crushing both expectations of those involved in the film as well as industry rivals.

Ortenberg said that while tracking data did not predict sales this strong, the trends had been encouraging.

“The most important thing in the tracking is the trend. Every day our numbers keep going up for awareness and interest,” he said.

Sehring added, “It would be great if it held for the weekend. It could break the documentary box office record in just one weekend.”

That record is, for the moment, is $21.6 million cume for Moore’s 2002 doc, “Bowling for Columbine.” But, that pic played for 25 weeks before it crossed $20 million.

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