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by Peter Knegt
February 28, 2010 7:43 AM
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Box Office: "A Prophet" Profits While Polanski's "Ghost" Continues To Fly

A scene from Jacques Audiard's "The Prophet." Image courtesy of Sony Classics.

Jacques Audiard's critically acclaimed, Academy Award-nominated "A Prophet" ("Un Prophete") had a very good weekend. On Saturday, it won nine Cesar awards just as it was finally making its North American theatrical debut over nine months after its debut at the Cannes Film Festival. And according to estimates provided by Rentrak earlier this afternoon, it got off to a very good start.

On 9 screens, the Sony Pictures Classics released film grossed $170,354 - averaging an impressive $18,928. Behind last weekend's "Ghost Writer" debut, it's the best limited opening of 2010 thus far, and a debut very much on par with "Prophet"'s distributor sibling and Cannes/Oscar competitor, "The White Ribbon," which averaged $19,949 from 3 screens in December.

"Ghost Writer," meanwhile, made for what was probably the most impressive feat of the weekend in its second frame. The Roman Polanski political thriller - which stars Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan - had managed $183,000 from just 4 screens in its opening, and this weekend skyrocketed 375% as it added 39 more. On 43 screens in 14 U.S. markets, "Writer" grossed $870,000 - averaging a rather stunning $20,233, which was enough to top "A Prophet" as the weekend's best per-theater-average. It was also enough to take the film's cume to $1,100,000 as it heads into an aggressive expansion next weekend - taking on 11 new markets. If it holds up numbers like this, distributor Summit Entertainment could have a serious specialty hit on its hands.

Beyond "A Prophet," the two debuting limited releases reporting numbers were IFC Films' release of Don Argott's doc "The Art of the Steal," and IDP/Samuel Goldwyn's "The Yellow Handkerchief." "Steal" was definitely the winner between the two, grossing $41,000 from its three opening screens (two in New York, one in Philadelphia, where the film is set). Chronicling the long and dramatic struggle for control of the Barnes Foundation, a private collection of Post-Impressionist and early Modern art valued at more than $25 billion, "Steal"'s grosses worked out to a good $13,666 average as it heads into expansion in coming weeks.

"Handkerchief," which boasts a marketable cast in Kristen Stewart, William Hurt and Maria Bello, opened on 7 screens this weekend, and managed only $1,000 more than "Steal," grossing $42,000 for an underwhelming (though certainly not disastrous) $6,000 average.

As for holdovers, Oscar hopefuls continued to rake in receipts as their big night approached. Fox Searchlight's "Crazy Heart" added 59 screens to find a new high of 1,148, helping it cross the $25 million mark. Starring Jeff Bridges in a performance likely to win him an Oscar, the $7 million budgeted "Heart" grossed $2,540,000 over the weekend, taking its total to $25,087,000.

Another potential Oscar winner, albeit for costume design, crossed a box office milestone this weekend. In its 11th frame, Apparition's "The Young Victoria" managed another $220,000 from its 187 screens, averaging $1,176 - an impressive number for a film at this point in its run. That brought the film's total to $10,183,000 - and makes it look like it should soon topple "Boondock Saints II" to become the highest grossing film for upstart Apparition.

The highest grossing film of its distributor as well, Oscilloscope Laboratories' "The Messenger" (nominated for both supporting actor and original screenplay) didn't quite reach the benchmark its inching towards, but notably jumped 80% in grosses its slight expansion from 28 to 34 screens. The Oren Moverman-directed film took in $46,800, averaging $1,376 - the highest per-theater-average the film has seen since early December. That brought its total to $952,600, suggesting hopes it could become Oscilloscope's first million dollar baby should soon materialize.

Also of note was the expansion of Kino International's Academy Award nominated Israeli film "Ajami," which totalled 16 theaters this week (up from 8). Directors Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani's film managed a respectable $75,000, averaging $4,687. That was enough to take the film's total to $303,968.

And finally, ending off with a look at one of aforementioned "Prophet" distributor Sony Classics's many Oscar contenders (they tied The Weinstein Company for the most nominations). Michael Hoffman's "The Last Station" (nominated for actress and supporting actor) expanded quite aggressively in its last bid to gain attention from its nominations (which it is very unlikely to win), going from 109 to 352 screens and impressively reaching 13th place on the overall box office chart. Grossing $1,061,000, "Station" averaged $3,014, taking its total to $3,431,929 after 7 weeks. Sony Classics should be very pleased with those numbers.

indieWIRE:BOT 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..

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