Warner Independent Pictures Friday more than doubled the number of theaters playing its nature movie “March of the Penguins,” boosting the film’s chance at becoming the No. 2 documentary of all time at domestic box offices.
The move puts the Antarctic adventure “Penguins” in 1,867 theaters in the United States and Canada this weekend, up from 778 one week ago, according to boxofficemojo.com, which monitors box-office earnings.
The film, which follows a pack of Emperor Penguins during an arduous mating season, had grossed $18.4 million through Wednesday and was poised to surpass the $21.6 million for Michael Moore’s anti-gun documentary “Bowling For Columbine.”
Moore’s 2004 anti-Bush film “Fahrenheit 9/11” is the No. 1 box-office documentary with $119 million. “Bowling for Columbine” ranks No. 2, excluding box-office figures for large-format Imax films and concert movies.
Brandon Gray, president of boxofficemojo.com, said “Penguins” probably would pass “Bowling for Columbine” by Friday.
Gray said it is unusual for a documentary to play in more than 1,800 theaters. Generally, nature films like “Penguins” screen exclusively in art-house theaters, of which there are few.
But “Penguins” has crossed over to mainstream audiences to become one of the summer’s big hits for independent film fans and a bright spot amid lackluster performance for Hollywood’s big-budget movies.
In international markets, “Penguins” has performed equally well, bringing in another $15.5 million for a worldwide total to date of $33.9 million, according to boxofficemojo.com.
“Bowling for Columbine” has a worldwide box-office tally of $58 million, and “Fahrenheit” has brought in $222 million in global ticket sales.
“March of the Penguins,” directed by French filmmaker Luc Jacquet, charts the course of the emperor penguins as they leave their summer feeding ground, trek across the frozen continent to their winter breeding grounds and mate.
Jacquet and his crew filmed the penguins through the season as they protected their eggs, watched newborns hatch and kept them from hungry predators.
Warner Independent is part of the giant Warner Bros. studio, which is a unit of Time Warner Inc.