'Fruitvale' starts strong, may benefit from Zimmerman acquittal

'Fruitvale' starts strong, may benefit from Zimmerman acquittal
Michael B. Jordan and Melonie Diaz star in "Fruitvale Station," which got off to a strong start at the box office in limited release this weekend. (Weinstein Co.)

In the hours after the acquittal of George Zimmerman late Saturday, the tweets began pouring out.

"This might be in bad taste," wrote Questlove Jenkins of the Roots, "but in light of this verdict? i really INSIST you people see Fruitvale Station not now but RIGHT NOW."


The musician was referring to "Fruitvale Station," Weinstein Co.'s drama about Oscar Grant III, an unarmed African American who was shot by a white BART police officer in 2009. The movie was released in seven theaters this weekend just as Zimmerman's trial in the death of Trayvon Martin wrapped up in Florida. Many have drawn parallels between Grant and Martin.

As early as Friday, it was clear "Fruitvale Station" was resonating with moviegoers. On Sunday, Weinstein Co. estimated that the movie would collect $377,285 by weekend's end. That would amount to a $53,898 per-theater average -- the third-highest of the year for a film in limited release, behind only "Spring Breakers" and "The Place Beyond the Pines."

Erik Lomis, the independent studio's head of theatrical distribution, said he did not know the Zimmerman case would be concluding this weekend when he selected the release date for "Fruitvale."
“It just so happens that the timing is right and maybe it’s in the public zeitgeist now,” Lomis said of the picture, which stars Michael B. Jordan as Grant. “It’s not going to hurt us -- but we’re not saying ‘If you’re upset about the Zimmerman case, go see this.’ ”
The movie played in three Northern California locations, including Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater, where a special Bay Area premiere for Grant’s friends and family was held in June. On Sunday, Lomis said the Oakland cinema had sold more tickets to the movie than theaters in New York or Los Angeles had.

A manager at the Grand Lake who declined to give his name said the theater seats 550 patrons and nearly every one of the movie’s six daily showings was sold out.

“We had a very nice crowd -- everybody behaved and there was no problem with anybody,” he said, referring to nearby violence in Oakland on Saturday after Zimmerman’s acquittal.

The movie appealed to a wide swath of filmgoers this weekend; 43% of the crowd was white and 29% was black. About 32% of the opening weekend crowd was 25 to 34 years old; 18% was over the age of 55. The movie has received overwhelmingly positive reviews and earned an average grade of A from audiences, according to market research firm CinemaScore.

"Fruitvale Station" is one of the few films released so far this year that pundits have described as a serious Oscar contender. Last year, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" was one of the few Academy Award nominees to open in the summer. It launched with a per-theater average of $42,426 and went on to gross $12.8 million.
Next weekend, "Fruitvale" will expand to six additional markets and will be playing nationwide by July 26.