Precious Is Just That

The No. 1 movie at the box office last weekend was the new, animated A Christmas Carol, but the number-one movie story last weekend was how well Precious connected with audiences.

It seems that, every year, one little indie film goes mainstream and turns into a big financial and critical success. In the past, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, and Slumdog Millionaire all broke through in that way. This year, that film is undoubtedly Precious—excuse me, Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire, an official title so long and cumbersome that I assume it’s some kind of contractual obligation, and it’s best if we never refer to it that way again because it somehow portrays the movie as being more haughty and portentous than it really is.

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In any case, no matter how un-marquee-friendly the official title is, Precious certainly drew a huge audience at its limited release this weekend. Out on only 18 screens, the film made $585,000. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s actually huge. According to Variety, that’s the highest gross ever for a film opening on less than 100 screens. Highest ever!

I made a point of finding one of those 100 screens this weekend—sadly, I had to trek all the way to Manhattan to do so—and saw first-hand how much appetite there is for this film. I walked into the theater at 6 pm on Friday, and showings were booked up until midnight. I bought a ticket for the next afternoon, and, when I returned, it was the same situation, with round-the-clock sold-out shows. Director Lee Daniels made a visit to the Jacob Burns Film Center yesterday, and I’m told the showing sold out very quickly there, too.

Of course, this could be because media powerhouses like Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry have thrown their support behind this film, and it’s only a matter of type before backlash sets in (the way it did with Halloween indie success Paranormal Activity). I prefer to take an optimistic look and say that audiences were just hungering for an interesting story told through powerful acting performances—which is just what Precious is. It’s not a special-effects extravaganza, and it’s not an “event” movie or a fun night out at the cinema. Unless the praise becomes more fawning and hyperbolic, it’d be hard to make the argument that the film is overrated.

Also adding to the “little-film-that-could” feeling of Precious is the fact that it’s a Lionsgate film. I know most people don’t really pay attention to movie studios. I’ll let you all in on a secret: most of the breakthrough indie movies come from studios practiced in this kind of film. Fox Searchlight is the best example. It released Slumdog Millionaire, The Wrestler, Juno, AND Little Miss Sunshine—it obviously know how to sell this type of film. Lionsgate, on the other hand, released all of the Saw movies. It has some arthouse movies to its credit, but it’s just as likely to put out low-budget horror and action movies. (I’m also happy to see success coming to something so female-driven; women haven’t had much good luck at the box office recently.)

Thankfully, the movie is making it onto more than just 18 screens this upcoming weekend. If you’re looking to catch a screening, though Daniels is long gone, the Jacob Burns Film Center still has some showings that miraculously haven’t sold out yet—or you can find other theaters at

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Photo credit: Anne Marie Fox. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

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