An update was made to this article on June 27, 2006.
“An Inconvenient Truth” started off marching bigger than the penguins, but now it’s looking more like “Bowling for Columbine.”
Paramount Vantage’s global-warming doc bowed Memorial Day weekend to a boffo $367,311 at just four theaters, giving it a three-day average of $70,333 per play, the highest ever for a documentary.
But after expanding successfully to the top 10 and 25 markets in its second and third frame, keeping its average take at $17,615 and $12,334, respectively, doc has slowed down significantly as it opened in smaller cities and suburban markets.
Pic was helped in its early days by a huge round of promotion by Al Gore. The former VP stirred significant media attention, which generated discussion about global warming and attention for the film. That buzz died down as the pic went into its fourth and fifth weekends.
Of course, a five-week cume of $9.6 million is better than most docs can dream of. Pic already is close to surpassing the $11.5 million final take of “Super Size Me,” which broke into the public consciousness and launched the career of director Morgan Spurlock.
Grossing more than even a couple million dollars with a documentary is a rare and difficult feat, which makes megahits like “March of the Penguins” and “Fahrenheit 9/11” so unusual. Miramax’s critically acclaimed “The Heart of the Game” hasn’t had much luck finding an audience this summer, while IFC and the Weinstein Co.’s “Wordplay” opened relatively strongly, with $32,847 at two theaters, but would do well to hit the $1.9 million “An Inconvenient Truth” made by its second weekend.
Assuming “Truth” continues to play at least in major markets throughout the summer, as Par Vantage is hoping, it seems to be on track to end up close to the tally of “Bowling for Columbine,” which cumed $21.6 million. That Michael Moore-helmed docu started off more slowly, taking in just $6.8 million after its fifth frame, but declined very modestly throughout a long 49-week run.
With no major expansions in the works, Par Vantage is hoping its doc will hold well and play underneath blockbusters throughout the summer, holding on in urban areas and sophisticated suburban theaters.
“It is finalizing its run in some suburbs, but it’s not losing any opportunities,” said Rob Schultz, Par Vantage’s executive VP of distribution. (Though the label has changed its name to Paramount Vantage, “Truth” went out under the old Classics imprimatur.)
“The ‘recommend’ levels have been exceptional in every market, and the film continues to work in traditionally sophisticated theaters. There will be ebbs and flows, but we will be hanging in throughout the summer,” Schultz said.
Studio has decided to hold off on its international release of “Truth” until the fall, with the first foreign launches via UIP coming Sept. 7 in Singapore, Spet. 8 in the U.K., South Korea, Norway and Sweden and Sept. 14 in Australia, New Zealand and Thailand. Key European openings include Oct. 11 in France, Oct. 19 in Germany, Nov. 3 in Spain and Nov. 24 in Italy.
UIP will go with independent-style release patterns — no opening will be wider than 100 playdates.
Par Vantage VP of international marketing Dee Poku said the fall release made more sense as a way to avoid going up against the World Cup and summer tentpole films. She noted that waiting until then also will enable UIP to build momentum via film fests such as Munich and Edinburgh. “Truth” was shown at Cannes, where it generated strong audience response, and at the Sydney Film Festival.
Other recent domestic doc hits have performed solidly in offshore markets. International grosses for Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” totaled $103 million, nearly matching its domestic take of $119 million; the international take for his “Bowling for Columbine” hit $36 million.
“Super Size Me” grossed $17 million overseas, significantly more than its $11.5 million domestic take.
As with fast-food consumption, global warming is a political issue that’s higher on the radar for many foreigners, especially Europeans, than Americans. That could help “An Inconvenient Truth” do even better overseas than in the U.S.