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Box Office: Art House Audiences Take "Shelter" As "Margaret" and "Sarah Palin" Bomb

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire October 2, 2011 at 6:56AM

It was a busy weekend at the specialty box office with 5 new films reporting their limited debuts. According to estimates provided by Rentrak earlier today, it was Jeff Nichols' "Take Shelter" that was the clear winner of the lot. The Sony Pictures Classics release - which made its debut at Sundance earlier this year and has been winning raves at festivals ever since - grossed $56,171 from its 3 debut screens, averaging an impressive $18,724.
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It was a busy weekend at the specialty box office with 5 new films reporting their limited debuts. According to estimates provided by Rentrak earlier today, it was Jeff Nichols' "Take Shelter" that was the clear winner of the lot. The Sony Pictures Classics release - which made its debut at Sundance earlier this year and has been winning raves at festivals ever since - grossed $56,171 from its 3 debut screens, averaging an impressive $18,724.

"Shelter" is the story of a young husband and father (Michael Shannon) who begins being plagued by a series of apocalyptic visions that threatens the comfortable existence he has with his loving wife (2011’s actress of the year Jessica Chastain). indieWIRE's own Eric Kohn offered up these warm thoughts in his Sundance review:

Part family drama, part psychological thriller, "Take Shelter" manages to succeed as an otherworldly blend of "Field of Dreams" and Noah's Ark. Following up his 2007 festival hit "Shotgun Stories," director Jeff Nichols re-teams with Michael Shannon for the absorbing saga of a mentally disturbed husband and father inexplicably driven to build a tornado shelter in his backyard. As with "Shotgun Stories," Nichols assembles a tense portrait of blue-collar life, while deepening his thematic interests and working on a bigger scale. Burrowing into the subconscious of a damaged man, he delivers a modern American epic with extraordinary restraint.

Beyond "Shelter," good news was somewhat hard to come by. After years of delays (it was shot back in 2005), Kenneth Lonergan's "Margaret" finally hit theaters this weekend with little fanfare. Fox Searchlight released the film - which stars Anna Paquin as a woman caught up in the aftermath of a bus accident - on 2 screens in New York. The result was a weak $7,496 gross and $3,748 average. Though it will open in 12 additional cities on October 7th, these initial numbers suggest there's not going to much to "Margaret"'s life in theaters, putting an unfortunate end to one of the most problematic release narratives in American indie history.

Faring even worse Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill's doc "Sarah Palin: You Betcha!," which grossed even less than "Margaret" despite being on 3 times the screens. "Betcha!" grossed $7,374, averaging a dismal $1,229. The film was releasing through Freestyle - a distribution company that releases films via service deals for the filmmakers. Broomfield personally took to Kickstarter to raise $30,000 for the release of the film. Its unlikely the film will gross that amount, and it will certainly fall behind the $116,381 a much more pro-Palin doc, "The Undefeated," grossed earlier this year.

Other openers included Renaud Barret and Florent de La Tullaye's doc "Benda Bilili!" (continuing the weekend's trend of docs with exclamation marks), which grossed just $1,722 on its sole screen care of distributor National Geographic.

Kino Lorber released Sergei Loznitsa's acclaimed Russian drama "My Joy" on one New York screen and found a $2,800 gross.

Meanwhile, Patrick Takaya Solomon and Patrick Takaya Solomon's doc "Finding Joe" was another bright spot. On one screen in LA, the Balcony Releasing film grossed $9,571

"We're pleased, but not surprised, that many moviegoers found 'Finding Joe' this weekend in Los Angeles," Greg Kendall of Balcony Releasing told indieWIRE. "The filmmaker and his team worked hard to develop audience awareness. We've believed from the get-go that word-of-mouth would be enthusiastic, serving the film well in its roll-out to San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and beyond."

Among holdovers, last weekend's big debut "Weekend" continued to perform nicely. Andrew Haigh's drama about a gay romance that takes place over the titular timeframe expanded from 1 to 6 screens this weekend and saw a 76% rise in grosses. The film - released through Sundance Selects - grossed $48,000, averaging $8,000. That took its total to $91,814 as it continues to expand across the country in coming weekends.

Marc Forster's "Machine Gun Preacher" expanded from 4 to 33 screens for distributor Relativity Media. The film, which stars Gerard Butler as the founder of the Angels of East Africa rescue organization, took in $82,000 for a reasonable (considering its screen count and poor reviews) $2,485 per-theater-average. Relativity had acquired North American rights from Lionsgate, which will continue to oversee international distribution for the film. Its total after 10 days is $140,200.

Also in its second weekend, Millennium Entertainment's release of Adam and Mark Kassen's "Puncture" held steady on 4 screens. Starring Chris Evans as a drug-addicted lawyer who takes on a health supply corporation, the film took in $10,400 (dropping 64%) for a $2,600 average. Its total now stands at $46,300.

Roadside Attractions dropped Mark Landsman's doc "Thunder Soul" from 35 to 14 screens in its second weekend. It grossed $18,800 as a result, averaging $1,343. The film follows alumni from Houston's storied Kashmere High School Stage Band who return home after 35 years to play a tribute concert for their beloved band leader who turned the struggling jazz band into a world-class funk powerhouse in the early 1970s. Its total gross after 2 weekends is now $83,700.

Lech Majewski's "The Mill & The Cross" went to 6 screens in its third frame. The film took in an estimated $23,500, averaging $3,916 (a impressive bump from last weekend) and taking its total to $79,460. The film is being distributed through Kino Lorber, who told indieWIRE today that they are expanding "Mill" to 15-20 more markets in the coming weeks and that they have hopes it will become the distributor's top theatrical grosser of 2011.

Also in its third frame was Cohen Media Group's release of Jean Becker's "My Afternoons With Margueritte," which stars recent newsmaker Gérard Depardieu as an illiterate and lonely man who bonds with an older and well-read woman. The film went from 29 to 41 screens and took in $88,800, averaging $2,166. The film has now grossed a very respectable $218,500.

Sundance Selects' "The Black Power Mix Tape: 1967-1975" held on well in its fourth weekend. Directed by Göran Olsson, the critically acclaimed doc explores the Black Power Movement in the United States (through footage edited together by a contemporary Swedish filmmaker). Expanding from 6 to 11 screens, the film grossed $45,000, averaging $4,091. The film's total now stands at $133,000.

Hark Tsui's "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame" went to 34 screens in its fifth weekend for Indomina Media. The film grossed $48,920, averaging $1,438. The film's total now stands at an admirable $380,249,

In its whopping tenth weekend, Sony Pictures Classics' release of John Michael McDonagh's "The Guard" continued to hold nicely. The Irish black comedy starring Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle dropped from 167 to 157 theaters and took in $222,000 (only a 11% drop) for an average of $1,414. The film's total stands at $4,483,000 with the $5 million milestone very likely.

Finally, comedian Kevin Hart continued to find fantastic numbers at the box office with his "Kevin Hart: Laugh at My Pain," an independently released movie version of his 2011 comedy tour. The film dropped from 287 to 278 screens and grossed another $724,000. That made for a $2,604 average and a stellar new total of $6,240,000, truly making it one of the most substantial indie success stories of the year.

The film was produced for only $750,000 by Jeff Clanagan, chief executive of independent production company Codeblack Entertainment, which distributed the movie domestically in AMC Theaters.

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..

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