By Peter Knegt | Indiewire March 16, 2014 at 11:0AM
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."
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
"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.
"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.
Quebec director Denis Villeneuve's second English language film starring Jake Gyllenhaal to find release in the past six months, "Enemy," expanded significantly in weekend two. Distributed by A24, the film expanded from a single NYC theater to 96 theaters across the country. The result was a $206,200 gross and a so-so $2,148 average. The film -- which stars Gyllenhaal as a man seeks out his exact look-alike (also played by Gyllenhaal) after spotting him in a movie -- has totaled $554,099.
More impressive was the second weekend of Jason Bateman's raunchy directorial debut "Bad Words." Released by Focus Features after picking the film up at the Toronto Film Festival (where "Enemy" also debuted), the film grossed $500,000 from 87 theaters (up from 6) for a per-theater-average of $5,747 and and a new total of $655,773. The film -- which stars Bateman as a spelling bee loser sets out to exact revenge by finding a loophole and attempting to win as an adult -- expands to around 600 North American theaters on March 28.
Yet another Toronto premiere, Roger Michell's British import "Le Week-end," expanded from 3 to 25 theaters care of Music Box Films in weekend two. The result was a strong $140,899 gross for a $5,636 average. Music Box will add 25 screens, including openings in Boston, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Atlanta, St Louis and Portland, next weekend. The film's cume is now at $205,079.
The sophomore films didn't stop there. Also reporting estimates were the second frames of Oscilloscope's "Teenage," RADiUS-TWC's "The Art of the Steal" and Abramorama's "Big Men." All clearly facing much smaller expectations than the aforementioned trio, the trio found varying degrees of success (or lack thereof).
"Big Men" and "Teenage" -- both documentaries that premiered at Tribeca last year -- expanded from single screens to 3 and 2, respectively. The former grossed $9,612 for a $3,204 average, while the latter took in $5,000 for a $2,500 average. Their respective totals now stand at $20,642 for "Big Men" and $14,950 for "Big Men."
RADiUS-TWC had a rougher go at it with Kurt Russell-starrer "The Art of the Steal," which in 15 theaters (down from 60) grossed $3,050 for a measly average of $203. Its cume is now $60,566.
As for films further along in release, Sony Pictures Classics expanded Indian import "The Lunchbox" -- which many felt the country should have submitted to the Oscars (they submitted "The Good Road" instead, which did not get nominated) -- from 18 to 36 theaters in its fourth frame. The result was a $189,579 gross -- averaging an impressive $5,266 per theater. Directed by Ritesh Batra, the acclaimed film stars Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, and has now totaled a strong $530,956 heading into further expansion. Crossing the $1 million mark seems like a given in the next couple weeks.
Sundance Selects' documentary "Elaine Stitch: Shoot Me" went to 41 theaters in weekend five, grossing $26,650 for a $650 average. The film's total now stands at $265,670. Sister distributor IFC Films expanded "The Face of Love" -- starring Annette Bening, Ed Harris and Robin Williams -- to 32 theaters in its third weekend. It grossed $44,800 for a $1,400 average, taking its total to $145,800.
One of 2014's few pre-"Budapest Hotel" specialty hits held on nicely in its 8th weekend Penn & Teller's doc "Tim's Vermeer" expanded from 109 to 129 theaters care of Sony Pictures Classics and took in $162,869 -- averaging $1,263. Edited down from a remarkable 2,400 hours of footage, the film follows the epic quest of Penn & Teller's buddy Tim Jenison, an inventor based in San Antonio whose creations include the NewTek firm, the videotoaster, an airplane made entirely from elements that he bought at WalMart, and a lip-synching duck. Tim's latest project is attempting to prove a theory that 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer employed technology in painting his works. The film's total now stands at $1,249,223 -- the first 2014 doc to hit the $1 million mark -- with more to come.
And finally, a big Oscar winner kept on keeping on months into its release.
Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave" -- which won 3 Oscars including best picture -- held onto 522 theaters in its whopping 23rd weekend (despite already being out on DVD, Blu-ray and iTunes). It managed a $445,000 gross as a result, averaging $852 and taking its total to $56,035,585. More good news for distributor Fox Searchlight, which between this and "Budapest Hotel" sure is kicking off its 20th anniversary in style.