"Bully," the Weinstein Co. documentary that sparked controversy after the MPAA rated it "R" — and refused to change the rating even after nearly a half-million people signed a petition asking for the movie to be rated PG-13 — opened to remarkable $115,000 at five locations over the weekend.
That works out to $23,000 per location — the strongest opening of any documentary in 2012.
The Weinstein Co. released the movie without a rating, rather than with the R that the MPAA gave it. Even as an unrated movie, it generated significant interest.
"We're going to expand April 13 into the top 50 markets — at least 100 theaters, maybe more," Erik Lomis, the Weinstein Co.'s head of distribution, told TheWrap Sunday. "We're going to focus on a lot of group sales — we got calls from churches and school groups and the Boy Scouts. You name the groups, we've got them all over the country calling us and requesting information."
He also acknowledged that the company remains in talks with the MPAA.
"We're always in contact with the MPAA," he said.
Lomis said that the Weinstein Co.'s lawyer for this matter is David Boies, one of two attorneys who argued the case that successfully overturned California's Proposition 8.
He said that "Bully" "is a hard watch, but it's a very moving film — and we only had 10 percent of the audience under 18. Maybe that was because of the ratings issue, I don't know, but it leads me to be very optimistic about the potential of this film."
He said he is especially optimistic because exit polls showed that the movie played best among teens.
The other big indie box office item of note is "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen," which cracked the top 10 in North America in its fourth week of release.
CBS Films' PG-13 rated movie, directed by Lasse Hallstrom, increased from 124 to 359 locations and took $1.3 million — about 81 percent more than last week.
Steven Friedlander, CBS Films' executive VP for distribution, told TheWrap that the movie's audience tends to be people older than 50, and that he expects the movie to play for quite some time.
"We're reaping the benefit of the fact that there's been nothing in the market for this demographic in the past few weeks," he said.
Friedlander said that the movie's audience is driven by word-of-mouth — and actual word-of-mouth rather than social media buzz.
CBS acquired the movie for about $5 million, and because it is a family-friendly PG film, it stands to have a long life on television and other ancillaries.
"I still have theaters that opened on the initial weekend that are going up from their opening weekend," Friedlander said. "Being No. 7 and being on less than 500 runs is thrilling for us. What I enjoy about a film like this is, when you see the numbers in the smaller markets tipping up you realize that word of mouth is so strong that people who normally wouldn't have gone, are going."
The movie is about a scientist who goes to Yemen at the request of a sheik to help introduce salmon fishing to the landlocked nation.