Brokeback Mountain continues to rope in viewers in wider release

BY Matthew Van Atta

December 30 2005 12:00 AM ET

Who's afraid of a
couple of gay cowboys? Not moviegoers, who helped
Brokeback Mountain post the highest per-screen
average over the film-flush holiday weekend. The Ang Lee
film, which follows the 20-year forbidden romance
between two roughneck ranch hands, earned $13,599 per
theater, compared with $9,305 for weekend winner King
Kong
and $8,225 for The Chronicles of Narnia: The
Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
.

The big question
is whether Brokeback can maintain its momentum
as it moves from selected cities, where audiences are
receptive to the subject matter, to suburbs far and wide,
where that might not be the case. Early
numbers—and early awards buzz—establish the
picture's staying power, industry insiders say.
Brokeback earned a leading seven Golden Globe
nominations. "It delivered very strong growth in what is
truly a highly unforgiving, competitive, cruel market
at this Christmas period," said Jack Foley, president
of theatrical distribution for Focus Features. "It
showed it has breadth beyond the gay community."

Distributors
planned to roll out the film slowly. It opened in just six
theaters, where it earned an "unprecedented" $109,000 per
venue, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box
office tracker Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. The film
expanded to 69 theaters the following week, then to
217 over the holiday weekend, reaching suburban audiences in
Portland, Dallas, Denver, and Atlanta.

The gradual
release allows moviegoers to talk up the film's appeal,
Foley said. And it seems to be working. "This is a
film that builds through word of mouth and critical
acclaim," Dergarabedian said. "People want to see what
all the fuss is about."

Response has been
so robust that distributors are expanding the film's
rollout ahead of schedule. It will show on 269 screens this
Friday, and reach an additional 80 markets the
following week, Foley said.

Still, he
acknowledges that bringing a gay love story to the Bible
Belt presents its own set of challenges. Various
Christian groups voiced opposition to the film before
its release. Ted Baehr, who reviews films for the
Christian Film & Television Commission, called the film
"abhorrent" and "twisted, laughable, frustrating, and boring
neo-Marxist homosexual propaganda" in a review on the
Commission's MovieGuide Web site.

But based on the
film's reception in Atlanta and Dallas, Foley said he
expects it will be well-received in other markets. "We're
rolling it out ahead of schedule because the demand is
there," he said. Ever-building buzz can only help
Brokeback, Dergarabedian said. "This film has
so much buzz going for it and so much critical acclaim
going for it, it will transcend any limits the subject
matter has placed on it," he said. "If you want to be a
well-informed viewer on Oscar night, you should probably see
this movie." (Sandy Cohen, AP)

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