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Specialty Box Office: Oscar Hopefuls Hang On As The Season Heats Up

Specialty Box Office: Oscar Hopefuls Hang On As The Season Heats Up

The final weekend before the Oscar nominations was a big one for many of the films hoping to have a stamp of the Academy’s approval come Thursday.

Clint
Eastwood’s “American Sniper” — which is a dark horse for a Best Picture nomination — continued to do nearly unheard of business
in just 4 theaters.  The film dropped just 18% as it took in another $555,000 for a staggering
$138,750 per-theater-average.

This all means that “Sniper” — which stars Bradley
Cooper as real-life Chris Kyle,
the self-proclaimed “most lethal sniper in U.S. Naval history” — has
the distinction of having the 2nd, 3rd and 5th best per-theater-averages ever
for a live-action film (“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is still #1, and “The Master” is #4). It
also has taken in $3.1 million from just 4 theaters in 17 days — a feat
no other film has ever pulled off. The film goes wide next weekend, and it should definitely be huge.

JC Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year” — which came out on New Year’s Eve, thus being the final release of 2014 — also had a strong weekend.  The film held steady on 4 theaters and dropped a modest 30%, grossing $121,000 for a $30,250 average. It expands nationwide on January 30th.

Expanding wide this weekend was  Ava DuVernay’s “Selma.” The historical drama about the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches went from 22 to 2,179 theaters and took in $11,200,000, which was on the lower end of expectations. It averaged $5,140 as a result, placing second for the weekend behind “Taken 3.”  The film’s total now stands at $13,487,-00.  

Also in their third weekends were two of 2014’s most well-received foreign language offerings. IFC expanded Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne’s Marion Cotillard-led “Two Days, One Night” from 2 to 14 theaters. It jumped 128% as a result, grossing $71,400 and averaging $5,100. Its total now stands at $201,100. Sony Pictures Classics, meanwhile, expanded Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “Leviathan” from 3 to 4 theaters to the tune of a $27,200 gross. The film averaged $6,800 and brought its cume to $120,800.

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

An Oscar long shot after getting snubbed by the BAFTAs earlier this week, Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner” expanded to 39 theaters this weekend and took in a solid $242,000 — averaging $6,205. The film — a biopic of painter J.M.W. Turner, has now grossed $1,290,000 after 4 weekends.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice”  — which stars everyone from Joaquin Phoenix to Josh Brolin to Reese Witherspoon to Owen Wilson to Martin Short — went semi-wide this weekend.  In 645 theaters, the film grossed $2,900,000 for a $4,496 average, definitely not bad for a film that is not very commercial even by Anderson’s standards. That gave “Vice” a very nice $4,480,000 total after 5 weekends.

Reese Witherspoon actually had two films in the top twelve specialty averages of the weekend, with her starring role in Jean-Marc Vallée’s “Wild” holding in 1,286 theaters in its sixth frame to gross $2,700,000. That made for a $2,100 average and helped it cross the $30 million mark.
The film — which stars Witherspoon in a performance that will
surely nab her a Best Actress Oscar nomination (she already has a SAG and Globe nod) — has now totaled $30,339,000. That tops Vallée’s 2013 film “Dallas Buyers Club,” which ended with $27.3 million after winning three Oscars.

Crossing the $40 million mark this weekend was The Weinstein Company’s overperforming “The Imitation Game.” The Morten Tyldum-directed Alan Turing biopic expanded from 754 to 1,566 theaters to gross a very strong $7,624,000.  “Game” has now grossed $40,840,000, and is still pacing ahead of the Weinsteins’ major 2010 hit “The King’s Speech,” which had grossed just over $32 million by its seventh weekend (which was also the second of the new year) via a very similar release strategy. 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 (which are tonight) and the SAGs all had notable weekends in their own right.  “Foxcatcher” dropped from to 298 to 237 theaters in its ninth weekend. Starring Channing Tatum, Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo, the
Bennett Miller-directed, Sony Pictures Classics-released film grossed
$531,000, dropping 40% and averaging $2,241. The film’s total now stands at $8,740,000.

Focus Features’ release of James Marsh’s “Theory of Everything” dropped from 651 to 408 theaters in its tenth weekend.  It took in $675,000 as a result, averaging $1,654 per theater and taking its total to $25,898,000. “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 282 down to 228 theaters on Friday.  Riding a wave by receiving the most nominations of any film at the Golden Globes, managed to drop only 31% grosses despite losing theaters, taking in $590,000 for a $2,588
average. The film has now totaled $26,338,000.

“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.”

Check out a chart of the weekend’s best per-theater-averages below.


The Weekend’s Specialty Top 12 (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: 3
Weekend Gross: $555,000
Theaters: 4 (even)
Per-Theater-Average: $138,750
Total Gross: $3,150,151
Criticwire Average: B
Read more about “Sniper”

2. A Most Violent Year (A24)
Week: 2
Weekend Gross: $120,561
Theaters: 4 (even)
Per-Theater-Average: $30,140
Total Gross: $457,473
Criticwire Average: A-
Read more about “Year”

3. Leviathan (Sony Pictures Classics)
Week: 3
Weekend Gross: $27,200
Theaters: 4 (up from 3)
Per-Theater-Average: $6,800
Total Gross: $120,800
Criticwire Average: A-
Read more about “Leviathan”

4. Mr. Turner (Sony Pictures Classics)
Week: 3
Weekend Gross: $242,000
Theaters: 39 (up from 24)
Per-Theater-Average: $6,205
Total Gross: $1,290,000
Criticwire Average: A-
Read more about “Mr. Turner”

5. Selma (Paramount)
Week: 3
Weekend Gross: $11,200,000
Theaters: 2,179 (up from 22)
Per-Theater-Average: $5,140
Total Gross: $13,487,000
Criticwire Average: A
Read more about “Selma”

6. Two Days, One Night (Sundance Selects)
Week: 3
Weekend Gross: $71,400
Theaters: 14 (up from 2)
Per-Theater-Average: $5,100
Total Gross: $201,100
Criticwire Average: A-
Read more about “Two Days”

7. The Imitation Game (The Weinstein Company)
Week: 7
Weekend Gross: $7,624,000
Theaters: 1,566 (up from 754)
Per-Theater-Average: $4,868
Total Gross: $40,840,000
Criticwire Average: B+
Read more about “Game”

8. Inherent Vice  (Warner Bros)
Week: 5
Weekend Gross: $2,900,000
Theaters: 645 (up from 16)
Per-Theater-Average: $4,496
Total Gross: $4,480,000
Criticwire Average: B+
Read more about “Vice”

9. Birdman (Fox Searchlight)
Week: 13
Weekend Gross: $590,000
Theaters: 228 (down from 282)
Per-Theater-Average: $2,588
Total Gross: $26,338,000
Criticwire Average: A-
Read more about “Birdman”

10. Foxcatcher (Sony Pictures Classics)
Week: 9
Weekend Gross: $531,000
Theaters: 237 (down from 298)
Per-Theater-Average: $2,241
Total Gross: $8,740,000
Criticwire Average: B+
Read more about “Foxcatcher”

11. Whiplash (Sony Pictures Classics)
Week: 14
Weekend Gross: $153,000
Theaters: 69 (down from 84)
Per-Theater-Average: $2,217
Total Gross: $6,154,000
Criticwire Average: A-
Read more about “Whiplash”

12. Wild (Fox Searchlight)
Week: 6
Weekend Gross: $2,700,000
Theaters: 1,286 (down from 1,361)
Per-Theater-Average: $2,100
Total Gross: $30,339,000
Criticwire Average: B+
Read more about “Wild”

Peter Knegt is a contributing editor at Indiewire and our box office columnist.

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