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Specialty Box Office: ‘American Sniper’ and ‘Selma’ Help Give Limited Releases a Major Christmas Jolt

Specialty Box Office: 'American Sniper' and 'Selma' Help Give Limited Releases a Major Christmas Jolt

It was a wild final weekend of 2014 when it came to the movies.  The obvious reason for that was of course "The Interview," which after a week of intense coverage surrounding whether it would or wouldn’t end up being released was sent out to 331 independent theaters (as well as VOD) at the last minute. While its likely potent VOD numbers were not available, theatrically the Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy didn’t find particularly stellar numbers. The fact that it was also on VOD and that many of its theaters were on the smaller side should be kept in mind, but its $1,811,000 weekend gross was on the lower end of expectations. That made for a $5,471 average, roughly the same as middle-of-the-road performers "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb" and "Annie" averaged in ten times the theaters. "The Interview" has totaled $2,851,000 since Christmas Day, and is unlikely to top out about $10 million from theaters.

Much more impressive were the limited debuts of two of 2014’s remaining Oscar hopefuls, Clint Eastwood’s "American Sniper" and Ava DuVernay’s "Selma." The former managed downright stunning numbers in just 4 theaters, finding one of the best per-theater-averages of all-time.  It grossed $610,000 for a whopping $152,500 average. The only live action film to do better was another 2014 release, "The Grand Budapest Hotel."

"Sniper" — which stars Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller —  goes wide on January 16th.  Its limited numbers and the fact that it received a rare A+ from Cinemascore certainly bodes well for that. Since Christmas Day, the film has grossed $850,000.

Opening relatively wide was "Selma," which notably had its world premiere on the exact same night as "Sniper" last month at AFI FEST. Clearly that was a good luck charm for both as the historical drama about the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches grossed $590,000 from 19 theaters, averaging $31,053.  The film’s total since opening on December 25th is $912,000.

While certainly respectable, the first weekend numbers for "Selma" fell behind very similar release strategies for both "Precious" (which opened in 18 theaters in 2009 and averaged a massive $104,025), and "12 Years a Slave" (which averaged $48,617 from 19 theaters last year).  But neither of those films faced the Christmas competition that "Selma" did.

Also opening this weekend were two of 2014’s most well-received foreign language offerings. IFC sent the Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne’s Marion Cotillard-led "Two Days, One Night" to two theaters and saw a strong $30,600 gross a result, which gave it a $15,300 average. Sony Pictures Classics, meanwhile, released Andrey Zvyagintsev’s "Leviathan" in two theaters of its own to the tune of a $15,156 gross and a $7,578.

Both films were selected to represent their countries — Belgium and Russia, respectively — at this year’s Oscars, though only "Leviathan" made the recently announced shortlist.

Speaking of Oscars, there was no shortage of other hopefuls trying to make some Christmas cash.  Mike Leigh’s "Mr. Turner" went from 5 theaters to 24 theaters and took in $251,948 — averaging a strong $10,498. The film — a biopic of painter J.M.W. Turner, has now grossed $493,576 after 10 days of release.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s "Inherent Vice"  — which stars everyone from Joaquin Phoenix to Josh Brolin to Reese Witherspoon to Owen Wilson to Martin Short — expanded from 5 to 16 theaters in its third weekend. It jumped 38%, grossing $200,000 for a potent $12,500 per-theater-average. That gave "Vice" a very nice $964,000 gross from 17 days in just a handful of screens.

Reese Witherspoon actually had two films in the top ten specialty averages of the weekend, with her starring role in Jean-Marc Vallée’s "Wild" jumping from 1,061 to 1,285 theaters in its fourth frame to gross $5,415,000. That made for an impressive $4,214 average (actually up from last weekend despite the wider release) and placed it #10 at the overall box office against films mostly playing on two or three times the screens.
The film — which stars Witherspoon in a performance that will
surely nab her a Best Actress nomination (she already has a SAG and Globe nod) — has now totaled $16,364,000
 
The film will expand to over 1,300 theaters for New Years weekend.

While "Wild" is definitely turning into a hit, the most impressive holdover numbers of the weekend came with The Weinstein Company’s stellar fifth frame from "The Imitation Game." The Morten Tyldum-directed Alan Turing biopic expanded from34 to 747 theaters, and the Weinsteins slow-and-steady plan continued to pay off in spades.   The film was up 824%, grossing $7,930,000 for a very strong $10,616per-theater-average.

"Game" has now grossed $14,631,000, and its pacing well ahead of the Weinsteins’ major 2010 hit "The King’s Speech." With a very similar release strategy, "Speech" hit 700 theaters for Christmas and averaging a considerably slighter $6,406. Of course, it then went on to gross $135 million and win Best Picture. Clearly those are goals "Game" aspires to as well.

Three films featuring performances Cumberbatch is up against at both the Golden Globes and the SAGs all had notable weekends in their own right.  "Foxcatcher" jumped from 307 to 315 theaters in its seventh frame. Starring Channing Tatum, Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo, the
Bennett Miller-directed, Sony Pictures Classics-released film grossed
$947,000 this weekend, dropping less than 1% and averaging $3,006. The film’s total now stands at $6,147,000.

Focus Features’ release of James Marsh’s "Theory of Everything" dropped from 1,011 to 736 theaters in its eighth weekend.  It took in $1,205,000 as a result, averaging $1,637 per theater and taking its total to $22,369,000. It now joins "The Grand Budapest Hotel," "St. Vincent," "Boyhood" and "Birdman" as the 5th 2014 specialty release to gross over $20,000,000. Though expect "Wild" and "Imitation Game" to do the same within the next week or so.

"Theory"
stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and his first wife
Jane, and is based on Jane’s memoirs of her marriage to Stephen.

Meanwhile,
Fox Searchlight took Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Oscar hopeful
"Birdman" from 452 down to 292 theaters on Friday.  Riding a wave by receiving the most nominations of any film at the Golden Globes, managed to drop just 5% in grosses despite losing a sizable chunk of its theaters, taking in $820,000 for a $2,808
average. The film has now totaled $23,778,000.

"Birdman"
stars Michael Keaton as a washed-up Hollywood actor who once played a
superhero. Aiming to reinvent his career, he tries adapting Raymond
Carver’s short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" as a
play. It is now notably Iñárritu’s second highest grossing film behind only "Babel."

Head to the next page for a chart of the weekend’s best per-theater-averages.

The Weekend’s Specialty Top 15 (ranked in order of
per-theater-average, and only including films that both submitted
estimates and initially opened in under 500 theaters):

1. American Sniper (Warner Brothers)
Week: Debut
Weekend Gross: $610,000
Theaters: 4
Per-Theater-Average: $152,500
Total Gross: $850,000
Criticwire Average: B
Read more about "Sniper"

2. Selma (Paramount)
Week: Debut
Weekend Gross: $590,000
Theaters: 19
Per-Theater-Average: $31,053
Total Gross: $912,000
Criticwire Average: A
Read more about "Selma"

3. Two Days, One Night (Sundance Selects)
Week: Debut
Weekend Gross: $30,600
Theaters: 2
Per-Theater-Average: $15,300
Total Gross: $30,600
Criticwire Average: A-
Read more about "Two Days"

4. Inherent Vice  (Warner Bros)
Week: 3
Weekend Gross: $200,000
Theaters: 16 (up from 5)
Per-Theater-Average: $12,500
Total Gross: $964,000
Criticwire Average: B+
Read more about "Vice"

5. The Imitation Game (The Weinstein Company)
Week: 5
Weekend Gross: $7,930,000
Theaters: 747 (up from 34)
Per-Theater-Average: $10,616
Total Gross: $14,631,000
Criticwire Average: B+
Read more about "Game"

6. Mr. Turner (Sony Pictures Classics)
Week: 2
Weekend Gross: $252,000
Theaters: 24 (up from 5)
Per-Theater-Average: $10,500
Total Gross: $494,000
Criticwire Average: A-
Read more about "Mr. Turner"

7. Leviathan (Sony Pictures Classics)
Week: Debut
Weekend Gross: $15,200
Theaters: 2
Per-Theater-Average: $7,600
Total Gross: $15,2000
Criticwire Average: A-
Read more about "Leviathan"

8. The Interview (Sony)
Week: Debut
Weekend Gross: $1,811,000
Theaters: 331
Per-Theater-Average: $5,471
Total Gross: $2,851,000
Criticwire Average: B-
Read more about "The Interview"

9. Wild (Fox Searchlight)
Week: 4
Weekend Gross: $5,415,000
Theaters: 1,285 (up from 1,061)
Per-Theater-Average: $4,214
Total Gross: $16,364,000
Criticwire Average: B+
Read more about "Wild"

10. Foxcatcher (Sony Pictures Classics)
Week: 7
Weekend Gross: $954,000
Theaters: 315 (up from 308)
Per-Theater-Average: $3,006
Total Gross: $6,147,000
Criticwire Average: B+
Read more about "Foxcatcher"

11. Birdman (Fox Searchlight)
Week: 11
Weekend Gross: $820,000
Theaters: 292 (down from 452)
Per-Theater-Average: $2,808
Total Gross: $23,778,000
Criticwire Average: A-
Read more about "Birdman"

12. Whiplash (Sony Pictures Classics)
Week: 12
Weekend Gross: $180,300
Theaters: 87 (down from 111)
Per-Theater-Average: $2,072
Total Gross: $5,457,900
Criticwire Average: A-
Read more about "Whiplash"

13. The Theory of Everything (Focus)
Week: 8
Weekend Gross: $1,205,000
Theaters: 736 (down from 1,011)
Per-Theater-Average: $1,637
Total Gross: $22,369,000
Criticwire Average: B
Read more about "Theory"


14. Citizenfour (RADiUS-TWC)
Week: 10
Weekend Gross: $60,900
Theaters: 40 (down from 52)
Per-Theater-Average: $1,525
Total Gross: $2,141,800
Criticwire Average: A-
Read more about "Citizenfour"

15. Boyhood (IFC Films)
Week: 25
Weekend Gross: $36,900
Theaters: 26 (up from 25)
Per-Theater-Average: $1,419
Total Gross: $24,220,200
Criticwire Average: A-
Read more about "Boyhood"

Peter Knegt is a contributing editor at Indiewire and our box office columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments

joenamherst

I wouldn’t go to see a Reese Witherspoon movie if you paid me.She’s nothing but a drunken foulmouthed prima donna.

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