Penguin Power At The Box Office

By now you’ve all heard of the captivating film phenomenon, “March of the Penguins.” It’s a documentary about flightless birds in Antarctica that has turned into a commercial hit. So successful, in fact, that when it opened (in limited distribution) in late June in Los Angeles and New York, it grossed $36,000 a screen – more than twice the per-screen average for “War of the Worlds.” On Aug. 5, distribution expanded from 700 theaters to 1,300. There’s even unseasonably early Oscar buzz.

Locally, it has another week and half to go in its exclusive, 3-week engagement at the historic, single-screen, 1,446-seat Tampa Theatre. In its opening weekend “Penguins” did more than 4,000 admissions (in eight screenings), and that was without benefit of a Sunday matinee – pre-empted by the summer classic movie series. The first-weekend average, according to Tampa Theatre president and CEO John Bell, is typically between 1,000 and 1,500 admissions.

“We had seen how well it was playing nationally, so we are not surprised,” says Bell. “We were expecting this kind of business. We’ll be adding viewings.”

The last time Tampa Theatre did this kind of business was five years ago when the Internet-hyped “Blair Witch Project” brought in big numbers. This time it’s a lot more satisfying to explain the large crowds.

Narrated by Morgan Freeman, “March of the Penguins” is a totally engaging, even poetic, chronicle of a unique cycle of life played out in the brutally harsh, yet starkly aesthetic environment that is the ice-floe ambiance of the South Pole. The contrast is underscored by the indefatigable Emperor Penguins’ long, arduous survival treks in incongruous, lockstep Charlie Chaplin gaits – periodically interspersed with belly-flopping slides.

You’ll smile; you’ll laugh. You’ll “ooh;” you’ll “aah.” You’ll wince; you’ll mourn. You’ll feel empathy you didn’t think you could conjure for penguins.

It’s birth, death, intimacy, struggle and commitment — as you’ve never imagined it.

You couldn’t have.

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