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Box Office: 3-D "Dreams" Gives Werner Herzog His Best Debut (UPDATED)

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire May 1, 2011 at 5:55AM

IFC Films descended into Werner Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" this weekend with five theaters in New York, LA and Chicago and the result was a very strong debut. The doc, which screened in both 2-D and 3-D versions, grossed an estimated $127,500 for a strong $25,500 per-theater-average (among the 10 best so far this year). Its top performing theaters were New York's IFC Center and LA's Arclight, where in both venues it took in roughly $33,000 on Friday and Saturday alone (note this article initially had erroneously reported that as a full weekend number).
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IFC Films descended into Werner Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" this weekend with five theaters in New York, LA and Chicago and the result was a very strong debut. The doc, which screened in both 2-D and 3-D versions, grossed an estimated $127,500 for a strong $25,500 per-theater-average (among the 10 best so far this year). Its top performing theaters were New York's IFC Center and LA's Arclight, where in both venues it took in roughly $33,000 on Friday and Saturday alone (note this article initially had erroneously reported that as a full weekend number).

"We are thrilled with the opening weekend numbers," IFC Films' Mark Boxer told indieWIRE today. "'Cave of Forgotten Dreams' in 3D played to sold-out shows all weekend as the film received glowing reviews in opening markets. We will aggressively roll out the film in May and open top the 15 markets this weekend."

"Dreams" follows an exclusive expedition into the nearly inaccessible Chauvet Cave in France, home to the most ancient visual art known to have been created by man. IFC picked up the film out of the Toronto Film Festival last fall and, unlike most of its films, did not release "Dreams" day-and-date on VOD.

Its debut is the best debut ever for Herzog, topping the per-theater-averages of his 2008 Antarctica doc "Encounters at the End of the World," which grossed $17,730 from a single screen; 2007's Vietnam narrative "Rescue Dawn," which averaged $18,387 from six theaters; and 2005's self-explanatory doc "Grizzly Man," which averaged $9,280 from 29 theaters.

Of course, "Cave" also benefitted from the higher ticket prices that came with its 3-D screenings, making its numbers hard to compare with Herzog's other films. "Rescue" and "Grizzly" remain his top-grossing efforts, eventually taking in $5,490,423 and $3,178,403, respectively. Those are dreamy final totals for "Cave" and clearly the next few weeks should be the true suggestion of whether of not that's possible. But so far, so good.

For a list of the 10 best per-theater-averages of those reporting indies, click here.

Other debuts included Takashi Miike’s Japanese import, “13 Assassins," which follows a group of assassins who come together for a suicide mission to kill an evil lord. Released by Magnet Releasing on four screens (New York, LA, Austin and Orange County), the film managed a decent $43,000 gross and $10,750 average. That's almost more than Miike's 2008 effort, "Sukiyaki Western Django," grossed in its entire run ($50,659).

Samuel Goldwyn Films released Phil Rosenthal's debut doc "Exporting Raymond," which follows Rosenthal (creator of "Everybody Loves Raymond") as he attempts to export the show to a Russian market. On 13 screens in NY, LA, Philly, Phoenix and San Diego, the film took in $36,010 for an unpromising $2,770 average.

Mark Ruffalo's directorial debut, "Sympathy For Delicious," didn't fare much better in a much more limited release. The Sundance 2010 holdover, which stars Christopher Thornton, Laura Linney, Orlando Bloom and Ruffalo himself, took in $9,238 from two screens, averaging $4,619.

As far as holdovers went, Sony Pictures Classics saw mixed results from the expansion of last weekend's 1-2 punch of Denis Villeneuve's "Incendies" and Morgan Spurlock's "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold." Academy Award-nominated Quebec import "Incendies" expanded from three to 10 U.S. screens and took in a $71,714 gross. That made for a strong $7,171 per-theater-average, by far the highest of any holdover and the third highest overall. "Incendies" has now totaled $140,731 in addition to the $3 million-plus it grossed in Canada since opening last fall.

"Greatest Movie," meanwhile, doubled its count from 18 to 36 screens, but still managed to fall off by 17%. The doc, which takes on American brand marketing, grossed $98,258 and averaged just $2,739. That's not promising news as the film continues to expand. So far, Spurlock's latest has totaled $249,527.

Rocky Mountain Pictures' Ayn Rand adaptation, "Atlas Shrugged, Part I," continued to fail through its expansion. Though its producers suggested it would hit 1,000 screens after its somewhat promising debut, the film went from 465 screens down to 371 in its third frame. The result was a 54% drop in grosses, taking in $402,535 for a per-theater-average of $1,085. The $20 million-budgeted film has now grossed $3,881,789.

Kelly Reichardt's epic indie Western, "Meek's Cutoff," expanded ever so slightly in its fourth weekend, going from six to 10 screens. The film, distributed by Oscilloscope, dropped 7% in grosses as a result, taking in $33,451 and averaging $3,345. The total for "Cutoff" now stands at at $138,921 as it continues to expand.

In its sixth weekend, Tom McCarthy's "Win Win" dropped its screen count for the first time (down 86 to 302) and started to show signs of decline. The high school wrestling dramedy, starring Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan and Bobby Cannavale, still took in another $685,000 and brought its total to a fantastic $7,631,000.

In its eighth frame, Cary Fukunaga's adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's "Jane Eyre" also slowly began to recede. It dropped 25 theaters to 294 and took in $539,000, averaging $1,833. Distributor Focus Features should still be quite pleased with the film's $8,761,000 total, which makes it the highest-grossing limited release of 2011 so far. The film, which stars Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell and Judi Dench, could still squeak past the $10 million mark, as could "Win Win." Together, the two films are certainly the MVPs of the 2011 specialty market thus far.

Finally, its whopping 11th weekend, Paladin's unique release of Tom Shadyac's "I Am" went to its widest count yet -- 46 screens -- and saw fantastic results. The doc, in which Shadyac speaks with intellectual and spiritual leaders about what's wrong with the world and how it can be improved, grossed $143,840 for an average of $3,127. That gives the film a new total of $751,570, a stellar number for such a slow-and-steady limited release. indieWIRE profiled the film's unique release strategy last month.

Peter Knegt is indieWIRE's Associate 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: Incendies