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Specialty Box Office: Baumbach’s ‘While We’re Young’ Has 2015’s Best Indie Debut (UPDATED)

Specialty Box Office: Baumbach's 'While We're Young' Has 2015's Best Indie Debut (UPDATED)

Noah Baumbach found the best limited debut of his career with “While We’re Young” this weekend, which pulled in $242,152 from just 4 theaters to average a fantastic $60,538. That’s by far the best average of 2015 so far, and tops the $40,517 average of Baumbach’s “Margot at the Wedding” to become his strongest ever.

“While We’re Young” stars Baumbach regular Ben Stiller alongside Naomi Watts, Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried. Stiller and Watts play a couple in their 40s who begin hanging out with a pair of twentysomethings (Driver and Seyfried).

“The generational comedy, buoyed by strong reviews, excellent
performances by the ensemble cast, along with the movie’s ability to
provide hilarious insight, strikes a chord for audiences of all ages,” A24’s Heath Shaprio said.
“The box office increase from Friday to Saturday was very strong, and had
several sellouts throughout the weekend in both NY and LA.”

“While We’re Young” is Baumbach’s seventh feature, and with a debut like this has a reasonable shot at becoming his most successful. 2005’s “The Squid and the Whale” currently holds that title with $7,372,734 — and is surprisingly the only Baumbach film to gross over $5 million. We’ll have a better idea whether “Young” can change that when A24 begins expanding it in the coming weeks.

Not fairing so well was the long delayed theatrical release of Susanne Bier’s troubled “Serena” (its already out on VOD).  Despite the presence of Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper — undoubtedly two of the most marketable stars out there — the Magnolia release took in just $110,000 from 60 theaters, averaging $1,833.  Notably “While We’re Young” managed to double the gross of “Serena” on 56 less screens.

Also opening was Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado’s Oscar nominated doc “The Salt of the Earth.”  Portraying the works of the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, the Sony Pictures Classics release had a solid debut in 4 theaters, grossing $44,900 and averaging $11,225. That was the second best average for a specialty release after “While We’re Young.”

Holding on nicely in its second weekend was the  first release from Bleecker Street Films, which was formed last year by former Focus Features Co-CEO Andrew Karpen. “Danny Collins” stars Al Pacino as an aging rocker, with Annette Bening and Jennifer Garner heading up the supporting cast. It managed a respectable $231,000 gross from 29 theaters (up from 5), averaging $7,966 (the best of any holdover film). The film has now grossed $327,500.

Over a year after it debuted at Sundance (and a few months after it picked up some major Spirit Award nominations), Amplify sent David Zellner’s “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter” from 4 to 30 theaters in weekend number two. The result was a decent $91,000 gross and a $3,033  average. “Kumiko” has now taken in $147,300.

Also in its second weekend was Eugene Green’s “La Sapienza,” the
first film from Green (an American who has been living and making films
in France) to hit US theaters. The film expanded from a single engagement to 6 theaters, grossing a nice $28,000 as it averaged $4,666 and took its 10 day total to $47,732.

Certainly the biggest expansion of an indie this weekend came via David Robert Mitchell’s buzzy horror flick “It Follows,” which continued its success story as RADiUS-TWC took it from 32 theaters 1,218.  The film — which premiered back in Cannes last May — managed to place fifth on the overall box office chart, grossing $4,021,000 and averaging a solid $3,301.  Following a
group of teenagers pursued by a supernatural entity after having sex, RADiUS had decided to hold back the film’s VOD release and expand it wide this weekend, and the strategy paid off. “It Follows” has now grossed $4,755,000.  

In its third weekend,
Ethan Hawke’s documentary “Seymour: An Introduction” went from 17 to 31 theaters and took in another $94,000. Looking at the life of
pianist and teacher Seymour Bernstein, the film averaged $3,061 and brought its cume to $209,200.

Yann
Demange’s war drama “’71” — which stars breakout actor Jack O’Connell
(“Unbroken”) — expanded from 116 to 121 theaters in its fifth weekend.
Released by Roadside Attractions and Black Label Media, the film took in
a solid $193,000, averaging $1,595 per theater. Its total now stands at
$988,000 and it seems a near certainty it’ll head for the million mark in the next few days.

Best Actress Oscar winner “Still Alice” held onto 401 theaters in its 11th weekend out .   The
$5 million-budgeted Sony Pictures Classics release took in another $371,000 to take its total to an impressive $17,871,000 (by far the highest gross of an indie film released in 2015 — even though with its qualifying Oscar run “Alice” is technically a 2014 film.

Finally, Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s “What We Do In The Shadows” had a strong seventh weekend. Distributed by Unison Films in
association with Paladin, the film went from 134 to 146 theaters this
weekend and dropped just 15%, grossing $254,000 for a $1,740
per-theater-average.  Its total now stands at $2,191,000.

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

The Weekend’s Specialty Top 10 (ranked in order of
per-theater-average, and only including independent films that both submitted
estimates and initially opened in under 500 theaters):

1. While We’re Young (A24)
Week: Debut
Weekend Gross: $242,000
Theaters: 4
Per-Theater-Average: $60,500
Total Gross: $242,000
Criticwire Average: B+

2. The Salt of the Earth (Sony Pictures Classics)
Week: Debut
Weekend Gross: $44,900
Theaters: 4
Per-Theater-Average: $11,225
Total Gross: $57,000
Criticwire Average: A-

3. White God (Magnolia)
Week: Debut
Weekend Gross: $16,000
Theaters: 2
Per-Theater-Average: $8,000
Total Gross: $16,000
Criticwire Average: N/A

4. Danny Collins (Bleecker Street)
Week: 2
Weekend Gross: $231,000
Theaters: 29 (up from 5)
Per-Theater-Average: $7,966
Total Gross: $327,500
Criticwire Average: B

5. Man From Reno (First Pond)
Week: Debut
Weekend Gross: $12,600
Theaters: 2
Per-Theater-Average: $6,300
Total Gross: $12,600
Criticwire Average: B+

6. La Sapienza (Kino Lorber)
Week: 2
Weekend Gross: $28,000
Theaters: 6 (up from 1)
Per-Theater-Average: $4,666
Total Gross: $47,732
Criticwire Average: A-

7. Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq (Kino Lorber)
Week: Debut
Weekend Gross: $3,800
Theaters: 1
Per-Theater-Average: $3,800
Total Gross: $5,126
Criticwire Average: N/A

8. It Follows (RADiUS-TWC)
Week: 3
Weekend Gross: $4,021,000
Theaters: 1,218 (up from 32)
Per-Theater-Average: $3,301
Total Gross: $4,755,000
Criticwire Average: A-

9. Seymour: An Introduction (IFC Films)
Week: 3
Weekend Gross: $94,900
Theaters: 31 (up from 17)
Per-Theater-Average: $3,061
Total Gross: $209,200
Criticwire Average: A-

10. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (Amplify)
Week: 2
Weekend Gross: $91,000
Theaters: 30 (up from 4)
Per-Theater-Average: $3,033
Total Gross: $147,300
Criticwire Average: A-

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

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