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Specialty Box Office: 'Sushi' Becomes Year's First $1 Million Doc; 'Damsels' and 'Pope' Debut Nicely

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire April 8, 2012 at 1:10PM

It was a happy Easter for the two reporting newbies at the specialty box office. According to estimates provided by Rentrak earlier today, both Sony Classics' "Damsels in Distress" and Sundance Selects' "We Have a Pope" found respectable debuts.
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Whit Stillman's "Damsels in Distress."

It was a happy Easter for the two reporting newbies at the specialty box office. According to estimates provided by Rentrak earlier today, both Sony Classics' "Damsels in Distress" and Sundance Selects' "We Have a Pope" found respectable debuts.

Meanwhile, holdovers like "Bully," "The Raid: Redemption," "Salmon Fishing In The Yemen" and especially "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" (which became the year's first $1 million doc) held on nicely.

Here's the rundown:

The Debuts:

"Damsels in Distress" (Sony Pictures Classics)
The top debut this weekend was Whit Stillman's first film in almost 15 years, "Damsels in Distress." On four screens, Sony Pictures Classics saw the film take in $64,199, averaging $16,050. That made for the sixth best per-theater average so far in 2012, and the highest of any film in release, including wide releases like "The Hunger Games" and "Titanic 3-D."

"We are very pleased with the great start of Damsels in Distress this weekend," Sony Classics' Michael Barker told Indiewire today. "As it rolls out across the country in the coming weeks, Whit Stillman's movie is clearly an independent movie perfect for the spring season."

That rollout will see where "Damsels" falls compared to Stillman's previous films.

Stillman has only directed four films over the course of his 22-year career, the last being 1998's "The Last Days of Disco." In May of 1998, that film opened on 22 screens and grossed $277,601, averaging $12,618. It eventually totaled $3 million, a number "Damsels" could manage if it has some strong holding power. But like "Disco," it's unlikely to live up to 1994's "Barcelona," which averaged $25,705 from four screens in its first weekend, eventually taking in an impressive $7.3 million (more like $13.6 million, if one adjusts for inflation).

"We Have a Pope" (Sundance Selects)
The only other reporting debut this Easter (though likely more will report tomorrow and will be included in an updated version of this story) was Sundance Selects' release of Nanni Moretti's "We Have a Pope." On three screens in New York and Los Angeles, the film took in $31,500 for a $10,500 average.

That's notably a much stronger debut than the $4,887 Moretti's 2002 film "The Son's Room" took from one screen in its debut. That film went on to finish with a gross just over $1 million.

"We are very excited about the numbers over the holiday weekend," Sundance Selects' Mark Boxer told Indiewire. "With a rave New York Times review, 'We Have A Pope' got off to a great start this holiday weekend and will expand to the top 10 markets next weekend."

Check out analysis on a dozen holdover releases on the next page.

Lee Hirsch's "Bully."
The Holdovers:

"Jiro Dreams of Sushi" (Magnolia)
A look at 85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono, "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" went from 44 to 70 screens in its fifth weekend and took in a very strong $240,000. That made for a $3,428 average and saw the film become the first doc of 2012 to cross the $1 million mark with its new total of $1,001,917.

"Bully" (The Weinstein Company)
Lee Hirsch's doc "Bully" expanded to just one additional screen in its second frame before its big expansion (with a new "PG-13" rating) next weekend. On six screens total, the results saw a reasonable 36% drop, taking in $74,686 for a $12,464 per-theater average (just over half the average it managed last weekend). That brought the film's total to $235,196 so far, but the real test comes with the expansion to 55 markets this upcoming Friday, which should make or break the film as a success story.

"Turn Me On, Dammit" (New Yorker Films)
Also in its second weekend, Jannicke Systad Jacobsen's Norwegian import "Turn Me On, Dammit" held steady on two screens. The result saw the film take in an unimpressive $6,320 for a $3,160 per-theater-average. Its total now stands at $21,111.

"October Baby" (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
Samuel Goldwyn saw Andrew and Jon Erwin's "October Baby" drop considerably in its third frame. The film, about a college freshman who learns she is the "adopted survivor of an attempted abortion," went from 387 to 339 screens and dropped 52%. That made for a $367,096 gross and a $1,083 average -- and a new total of $3,782,295. Notably, that's nearly four times its $1 million budget.

Samuel Goldwyn explained that the film "was marketed to the faith audience and a significant group sales effort helped drive the box office." They'll expand the film to new markets on April 13th.

"The Raid: Redemption" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Gareth Evans' much-anticipated Indonesian action flick "The Raid: Redemption" got an aggressive expansion in its third weekend. Released by Sony Pictures Classics after acclaimed festival screenings at Toronto and Sundance, the film expanded from 46 to 176 screens and jumped 109% in grosses, taking in a strong $564,585 and averaging $3,208. Its total after 17 days now stands at $1,288,195.

"The Deep Blue Sea" (Music Box Films)
Also in its third weekend, Terence Davies' acclaimed Rachel Weisz-starrer went from 49 to 51 screens care of Music Box Films and found respectable numbers as a result. "The Deep Blue Sea" grossed $98,741, averaging $1,936. The film's total now stands at $495,831 ahead of considerable market expansion on April 13th, where it will hit Philadelphia, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Denver, Indianapolis, Tampa, Santa Cruz, Palm Springs and Rochester.

"Casa de mi Padre" (Lionsgate)
Lionsgate dropped Matt Piedmont's Spanish-language comedy -- starring Ferrell, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna -- from 439 to 283 screens in its fourth weekend weekend. As a result, the film saw a 56% slip in grosses, taking in $260,000 and averaging an exceedingly mild $919. However, the film has now managed a respectable $5,488,985 -- which makes the second-highest grossing 2012-released specialty film, after "Friends With Kids." 

"Jeff Who Lives at Home" (Paramount Vantage)
Also in its fourth weekend was Mark & Jay Duplass' "Jeff Who Lives at Home," which Paramount Vantage dropped from 513 to 447 screens. Starring Jason Segel and Ed Helms, the film lost 40% of its grosses from last weekend, taking in $405,000 for a rather weak $906 average. "Jeff" has now totalled $3,386,870 and should finish its run around the $5 million mark.

"The Kid With a Bike" (Sundance Selects)
Another brotherly filmmaking duo, Belgium's Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, saw their "Kid With a Bike" expand from 37 to 54 screens in its fourth weekend care of Sundance Selects. The result was a $142,000 gross, averaging $2,500 (an average down 40% from last weekend). The 2011 Cannes Film Festival alum has already outgrossed the Dardennes' last film -- 2009's "Lorna's Silence" -- which ended up with a $338,795 North American gross. "Kid" will quickly surpass that as Sundance Selects will expand the film to the top 50 markets next weekend. Its total currently stands at  $542,500, with the $1 million mark a good possibility.

"Footnote" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Israel's submission to the Academy Award's foreign language category fell off sharply in its fifth weekend after performing consistently strong in its first month. Sony Classics expanded Joseph Cedar's Academy Award nominated Israeli film from 60 to 65 screens this weekend, and saw a 48% drop in grosses. That made for a $1,914 per-theater-average and a $124,393 gross, amounting to a new total of $805,234. Despite a big drop this weekend, the $1 million mark is still all but assured.

"Salmon Fishing In The Yemen" (CBS Films)
Doing very well in its fifth weekend was Lasse Hallstrom's "Salmon Fishing In The Yemen," which went from 359 to 524 screens this weekend and placed into the overall top 10. Starring Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor, the film grossed $975,000 -- a stong number, but also a 23% drop from last weekend despite the added screens. That suggests "Salmon" has peaked, but it should still be able to add a few million onto its already impressive $4,639,001 total so far.

"A Separation" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Asghar Farhadi's Oscar-winning "A Separation" continued to find solid numbers in its whopping 15th weekend. Dropping from 199 to 141 screens, the Iranian import grossed another $142,182 -- dropping off just 36% from last weekend despite losing a good chunk of screens. That made for a $1,008 average and a stunning new total of $6,697,916. At this rate, the film should end up with a final gross around $8 million, making it the highest-grossing foreign-language Oscar winner since 2007's "The Lives of Others" (another Sony Classics release).

Peter Knegt is Indiewire's Senior Editor. Follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

Indiewire tracks independent/specialty releases compiled from Rentrak Theatrical, which collects studio reported data as well as box-office figures from North American theatre locations. To be included in the Indiewire Box Office Chart, distributors must submit information about their films to Rentrak at studiogrosses@rentrak.com by the end of the day each Monday.

This article is related to: Box Office, Damsels in Distress, We Have a Pope