Storm rains on pix debuts

Irene blows in bad numbers at the box office

Whenever a distributor blames bad weather for a poor box office performance, it often seems like a murky excuse. But in the case of Hurricane Irene, bizzers were right — at least, in part — in blaming the storm, especially concerning specialty films.

Sony Pictures Classics launched the ironically titled “Higher Ground” on Aug. 26 at just three locations, two of them in Manhattan, for a fine (all things considered) per-screen average of $7,165.

Problem is: The film’s New York locations were closed on Saturday and Sunday because of the storm, which left the film with a $21,495 weekend gross. (Sony Classics estimated “Higher Ground” would have made an additional $20,000 had it not been for Irene.)

The same thing happened to Roadside Attraction’s Iranian gay-themed drama “Circumstance,” which earned $43,318 from seven Stateside engagements.

“Circumstance” had booked three theaters in Gotham — the Eleanor Bunin, the Sunshine and the Squire in Great Neck, grossing a sluggish per-screen average of $1,995 from those locations, with Great Neck, which has a significant Iranian population, accounting for most of that biz.

Sony Classics is expanding “Higher Ground” to 17 locations, while Roadside plans to stay in New York and L.A. with “Circumstance,” adding a total four engagements between the two markets.

They’ll hope weather conditions are sunny.

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