The Indie Month That Was: Part II
By Michael Lynderey
May 15, 2009
As someone who's aware of just how many low-budget B movies littered certain theaters up until the late 1980s (probably over a hundred a year), I always look out for the genre films that still pop up on the limited release schedule from time to time. Their box office is almost always disastrous - but it's a nice feeling, almost of nostalgia, to see that they're not completely extinct. In fact, there's been a slight uptick in those throughout the 2000s (after the dead zone of the 1990s).
Alien Trespass fits the bill - an homage to '50s sci-fi, directed by X-Files veteran R. W. Goodwin. It's all about aliens, astronomers, beautiful blondes and bug eyed monsters in Eisenhower-era California, and it's a comedy, I guess. I don't know what the expectations for this film's 40-screen release were, but without some kind of strong base support from genre fans, such movies almost never get anywhere, even with good reviews (which this didn't have, scoring 36% on the TomatoMeter). And with the biggest star in the cast being Eric McCormack, of Will & Grace, this was never going to be anything other than a curiosity. The average gross out of those 40 theaters? $1,086.
The Mutant Chronicles was another film I'd hoped would jump into the fray. Based on pre-release information, I thought the studio, Magnolia, was going for at least a decent-sized release. The cast includes Thomas Jane, Ron Perlman, and John Malkovich (what?!?), the movie is based on a once-popular role-playing game from the '80s - and if it happens to be bad - well, that's never stopped a good exploitation film before. In fact, I'd give you the RottenTomatoes score, but I think you can pretty much guess. Ultimately though, this one opened in only two lonely theaters - one in LA and one in NY - pulling in somewhere around $2,000+ each. It's hard out there for a genre movie.
Every season has its little gems - low-budget movies with unknown actors and little pedigree that nevertheless come out of nowhere and win some regional recognition, mostly through gushy reviews and word-of-mouth. There were a couple such films gaining some steam this month, and oddly all of them focused on the oft-divisive topic of immigration.
Sin Nombre was one to watch. A Spanish-language film executive produced by actors Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, it focuses on Mexican gangs and a Honduran family traveling north. Nombre has had sterling reviews across the board (88% on Tomatoes), helping its expansion. Though it initially opened in March, the movie's nationwide path was blazed mostly in April - it went from 24 theaters on April 3rd to 83 on April 24th. Though it's now dipped from its opening per-screen-average (which was in the teen thousands) to between $2-3,000, the movie's already grossed $1.5 million, and will likely reach the $2 million dollar mark before it's through.
Another film from the same mold is Sugar. Directed and written by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (previously responsible for the acclaimed Half Nelson (2006), Sugar follows a Dominican baseball player's experiences in the American minor leagues. Like Sin Nombre, it's been propelled by terrific reviews (91% on the TomatoMeter) and some low-key buzz, going from 11 theaters in early April to 51, and grossing roughly half a million dollars.