Niche pics lost in a big crowd

'Spidey,' '9/11' dominate market

Surveying the sudden crowd of limited releases over the July 4 frame, Warner Independent Pictures distrib head Steven Friedlander said, “To quote Yogi Berra, nobody goes to that restaurant anymore because it’s too crowded.”

Looking to counterprogram the behemoth of “Spider-Man 2,” a number of distribs thought the upcoming weekend would be perfect for their limited fare. But when distributors of “Fahrenheit 9/11” announced that it was moving into the corridor in early June (it expands to 1,725 today), distribs became nervous that their movies would be forgotten — or crushed — between the two films.

Limited fare bowing into the holiday weekend includes Warner Independent’s “Before Sunset,” Fox Searchlight’s “The Clearing,” MGM’s Cole Porter biopic “De-Lovely” and Disney patriotic doc “America’s Heart and Soul.”

Taken together, the weekend “is hard,” Friedlander said, “because all this counterprogramming is happening at the same time.”

The tough weekend caused some distribs to move out. “Fahrenheit” was the clincher in Focus Features’ decision to move “The Door in the Floor” off of June 25, said distrib chief Jack Foley.

Rock and a hard place

“It was like bookends that turned into a vise. You have ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ that’s captured the imagination of high-end moviegoers, and you have ‘Spider-Man’ that’s captured the imagination of the entire nation.

“History comes into play. When we opened ‘Lost in Translation’ in September, the film played very powerfully in the smart market. It had a crippling effect on those in the high-end market that opened in August and after it in September.”

With the hot film in someone else’s hands, Foley said he had to get out of the way. “In recognition of the fragility of the high-end market, you have to respect these powerful films when they come along.”

Similarly, Sony Pictures Classics moved its pic “Zhou Yu’s Train” from today to July 16. Originally it planned an exclusive booking at Lincoln Plaza in Gotham. But that theater was one of the venues where “Fahrenheit 9/11” first opened June 23.

Overshadowed debut

“Before Sunset,” helmed by Richard Linklater and starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, is bowing on 20 screens. Pic, produced by Castle Rock, is the first to be distribbed by Warners’ new art label. Despite the crowded market, WIP decided to stick with today’s date. But it also doesn’t have anywhere to put it later in the summer without crowding one of its own releases. “A Home at the End of the World” bows July 23, “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” Aug. 13.

Fox Searchlight is opening “The Clearing,” which stars Robert Redford and Willem Dafoe, in 56 theaters. Searchlight is also expanding “Napoleon Dynamite,” now in its fourth week, to 142 screens today. Pic needs to continue to play strong (cume stands at $1.2 million) if it’s going to make it to July 23, when it’s skedded to go wide.

Still feeling heat

“De-Lovely,” which stars Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd, was skedded for June 25 but moved to this week after “Fahrenheit” was added to the calendar.

Pic, which is half musical, half biopic, bows on 16 screens in 10 cities. MGM distrib prexy Erik Lomis said an expansion to the top 40 or 50 markets is planned for July 16.

“What we’re hoping to do is to cultivate word of mouth,” he said. “We feel like it plays well to an older aud, but when people see these musicians perform their numbers, I think they’re going to get noticed.”

Major releases also are feeling the squeeze. To make room for the 4,152 “Spider-Man” locations, numerous exhibs are taking screens away from the studio’s lackluster performers.

“The Stepford Wives” and “The Chronicles of Riddick” — both in their fourth week of release — are losing a significant chunk of real estate. “Stepford” is shedding 990 theaters to 1,447; “Riddick” is losing 964 to 1,479.

Losing the most space is Disney’s “Around the World in 80 Days,” which has grossed $19.7 million in its first two weeks. Its theater count will drop 2,801 to 1,271 today.

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