'Pride and Prejudice' Impresses in Limited Bow

Focus Features' Pride and Prejudice enjoyed arguably the most impressive debut of an overall soft weekend. The $28 million adaptation of the Jane Austen novel attracted $2.9 million from 215 theaters, ranking 10th place and averaging a potent $13,325 per site.

"After [the recent exhibitors convention] ShoEast, they were saying this is an art film," said Focus' president of distribution, Jack Foley. "Come Monday, they'll be saying it's a commercial film. Half of theaters are ranking the movie No. 1 in the complex. Some are arthouses—and it better be No. 1 there—but also in Omaha, Tulsa, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Salt Lake City—these lesser urban markets. They're breaking $10,000 this weekend."

In the realm of specialized or art house releases, Jane Austen has been a consistently strong draw. Among the most recent adaptations of her novels, two translated to mainstream success—Sense and Sensibility's $43.2 million and Emma's $22.2 million—while the other two were solid in limited release—Persuasion's $5.3 million and Mansfield Park's $4.8 million.

"Jane Austen's a brand to begin with," Foley said, explaining Pride and Prejudice's appeal. "Secondly, the boomer market likes culture, and this film fulfills a sense of culture. The third thing, on a more commercial basis, is that you can go in and have a good time." Foley cited the 1998 example of Elizabeth and Shakespeare in Love, two acclaimed British period pieces. The latter was a romantic comedy and did far more business than the former, a drama.

Pride and Prejudice was produced by United Kingdom-based Working Title Films, which is a Universal corporate cousin to Focus. Focus' release strategy is similar to Working Title's recent November romantic comedies, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason from last year and Love Actually from 2003. Each started with a bang in limited release and then expanded nationwide—to mixed results.

Focus plans no significant expansion next weekend, but is targeting 1,200 to 1,500 theaters on Nov. 23. Foley said that nearly 1,000 theaters were already booked.

Pride and Prejudice features Keira Knightley and marks her first successful launch as the primary star of a picture after three disappointments in a row—King Arthur, The Jacket and Domino.

Like many Working Title pictures before it, Pride and Prejudice is a smash in the U.K., earning $26 million since its Sept. 16 release there. Factoring in the seven other countries it has opened in, the overall foreign total stands at $40 million.


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Weekend Box Office Results

NOTE: This report was originally published on Sunday, Nov. 13 and was updated on Monday, Nov. 14 with actual grosses.