"God's Not Dead"
"God's Not Dead"

God was alive and well in American theaters this weekend, with Freestyle and Pure Flix Entertainment's release of Christian drama "God's Not Dead" unexpectedly storming the box office and continuing to remind us of the underserved faith-based market.

Directed by Harold Cronk and starring Shane Harper, Kevin Sorbo, Jim Gleason and Dean Cain, "God's Not Dead" -- about a college student whose faith is challenged by his philosophy professor -- grossed $8,563,512 from just just 780 theaters for a heavenly (sorry) per-theater-average of $10,979. That's the highest opening ever for Freestyle Releasing (beating "An American Haunting" of all things), and puts it in line with the openings of two recent Christian hits -- 2001's "Courageous" (which opened to $9.11 million) and 2008's "Fireproof" (which started at $6.84 million).

On the other side of the spectrum was Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac, Volume I," which finally opened in US theaters after months of anticipation (and a few weeks of what distributor Magnolia claims has been a "really great" run on VOD). In 25 theaters, the film -- which stars von Trier regular Charlotte Gainsbourg as the titular nymphomaniac alongside Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Jamie Bell, Uma Thurman, and Willem Dafoe -- grossed $175,000 for a respectable (given its VOD release and screen count) $7,000 per-theater-average.

"It did well across the country and lived up to our expectations for it," Magnolia said. "We're excited about Volume II, which is on VOD now and in theaters April 4."

Alejandro Jodorowsky in "Jodorowsky's Dune"
Alejandro Jodorowsky in "Jodorowsky's Dune"

Also opening was Frank Pavich's doc "Jodorowsky's Dune," released by Sony Pictures Classics.  The film looks at director Alejandro Jodorowsky's attempt to adapt and film Frank Herbert's science fiction novel "Dune" in the mid-1970s, and debuted in 3 theaters to a $36,713 gross, averaging a promising $12,238. The film will expand in the coming weeks.

Millennium Entertainment opened crime drama "Rob The Mob" on a single screen. Directed by Raymond De Felitta and starring Michael Pitt, Andy García, Ray Romano and Aida Turturro, the film took in a very nice $11,626, though obviously how it fares with a wider screen count will be a truer test to its potential.

"We're so pleased and excited about this weekend's grosses,"  Bill Lee, CEO Millennium Entertainment, said. "By going exclusive in NY we were able to hone in on the home-town audience who indeed turned out.  This is a great launch for the film. With the support of great reviews, great buzz and great word of mouth we have full confidence that as we expand to LA and Chicago this coming Friday, we will continue to have solid results."

Other openers -- it was quite the crowded frame -- included IDP / Samuel Goldwyn's "Anita," Drafthouse Films's "Cheap Thrills," Screen Media's "A Birder's Guide To Everything" and Variance Films's "It Felt Like Love." "Anita" grossed $44,382 from 7 theaters (for a $6,340 average), "Cheap Thrills" took in $19,065 from 2 houses for a $9,533 PTA, "Birder's" hit $23,000 in 8 theaters (for a $2,875 average) while "Love" felt like $8,000 from its single engagement.

Continuing to break out beyond a limited release, Fox Searchlight expanded Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel" from 66 to 304 theaters this weekend and saw no signs of slowing down.

"Budapest" -- which stars Ralph Fiennes, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody and Jude Law, among many others -- grossed an estimated $6,750,000 over its third weekend, which made for a very grand $22,204 per-theater-average. That put the film in the top 10 of the overall box office chart for the second weekend in a row, alongside films playing in literally thousands more theaters. The film's total now stands at a very impressive $12,960,519, with clearly much more where that came from.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Fox Searchlight "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

"We are seeing  large audiences beyond the Art House and Specialized crowd, and have definitely begun to cross over into the mainstream," Frank Rodriguez,
SVP Fox Searchlight, said. "This is evidenced by the great grosses in many of the suburban multiplexes we took this weekend. Younger fans and 1st time Wes Anderson filmgoers are beginning to check into 'The Grand Budapest Hotel.'

The "Hotel" will open in 800+ theaters next week.

For news on other holdovers, including "Enemy" and "Bad Words," continue to the next page.