Two new films joined an increasingly crowded end-of-year rush of specialty releases this New Year's weekend, with Mike Leigh's "Another Year" and especially Derek Cianfrance's "Blue Valentine" both having fantastic debuts as 2011 rang in. According to estimates provided by Rentrak earlier today, the films joined the likes of "Black Swan," "The King's Speech," "Somewhere," and "The Illusionist" to give the specialty market a considerable year-end boost, while the studios continued to struggle through the end of the year, though Joel & Ethan Coen's "True Grit" continued to be the biggest bright spot, with the film nearly topping "Little Fockers" in its second frame.
Nearly a year after its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, The Weinstein Company finally released Derek Cianfrance's Michelle Williams-Ryan Gosling relationship drama "Blue Valentine," and the results suggested it was well worth the wait. Coming off a controversial NC-17 rating, and subsequent appeal to the MPAA, which reversed itself to give the film an R rating, "Valentine" debuted on 4 screens to a not-so-blue $180,066. That made for an excellent $45,017 per-theater-average, making "Valentine" one of only eight 2010 limited releases to debut to $40,000+ PTAs (the others were "Black Swan," "The King's Speech," "The Fighter," "The Kids Are All Right," "127 Hours," "The Ghost Writer," and "Cyrus"). The film will expand significantly January 14th, and has totalled $278,000 since opening on Wednesday.
Mike Leigh's "Another Year," meanwhile, debuted on 6 screens for Sony Pictures Classics. Detailing a year in the life of a long married couple (Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent) and their rather dysfunctional friends (notably alcoholic Mary, played by Lesley Manville), "Year" grossed $120,390 for a strong $20,065 per-theater-average, and totalled $173,000 since opening Wednesday. That puts it slightly ahead of Leigh's last film, 2008's "Happy-Go-Lucky," which averaged $18,467 from 4 theaters on its first weekend (en route to a $3,512,016 final gross).
As far as holdovers went, two films - Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere" and Sylvain Chomet's "The Illusionist" - entered their sophomore weekends to strong results. "Somewhere," which stars Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning as a movie star and his daughter struggling to connect, expanded ever-so-slightly from 7 to 8 theaters and saw an impressive 20% rise in grosses, taking in $142,920 and averaging $17,865.
"Saturday’s business was strong and in line with the historical trend for New Year's Day," "Somewhere" distributor Focus Features told indieWIRE today. "Every theater experienced a robust box office surge from Friday night (New Year's eve), and overall 'Somewhere' enjoyed a very strong day of business as it finishes up the holiday."
"Somewhere" has now grossed $437,192.
"The Illusionist," meanwhile, held steady on 3 screens, Based on an unproduced work by Jacques Tati, the well-reviewed animated French import grossed $50,841, averaging $16,947. That's a strong number, and bodes well as the film expands in the coming weeks. Since opening Christmas Day, the Sony Pictures Classics-released film has totalled $127,901 from just 3 screens.
Meanwhile, Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" continued its sensational run at the box office in its sixth weekend as Fox Searchlight pushed it to 1,553 screens. "Swan," a psychological thriller about a ballerina (Natalie Portman) competing for the lead role in "Swan Lake," saw a 35% surge in grosses as a result, raking in $8,450,000. That made for a strong $5,441 per-theater-average, and took "Swan"'s total to a rather stunning $47,370,093 as it continues to benefit from awards notices. The film actually stands a slight but reasonable chance at hitting the $100 million mark, which is well beyond the greatest expectations anyone had going into its release.
Also doing very well was Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech." The Weinstein Company has been taking it much more slowly with the film, which finally went semi-wide on Christmas Day, heading to 700 theaters. It stayed steady this weekend on the same screen count, but still saw a whopping 70% increase in grosses. The story of the relationship between King George VI (Colin Firth), who is plagued by a horrible stutter that challenges his reign, and his eccentric speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush), "Speech" managed a regal $7,649,164 gross this weekend. The film has now totalled $22,806,942, and its heavy participation in awards season should only aid in pushing that number significantly higher during the first weeks of 2011.
In its third weekend, Lionsgate's critically acclaimed "Rabbit Hole" did not fare quite as well. On 34 screens (steady from last weekend), the John Cameron Mitchell film, which stars Nicole Kidman as a woman grieving the death of her son alongside her husband (Aaron Eckhart) and mother (Dianne Wiest), grossed $136,000. That made for a $4,000 average, and brought the film's total to $429,129. Hopeful though is that the film rose 58% from last weekend despite no screen increase, suggesting word of mouth is helping "Rabbit Hole."
Also showing signs of growth after a disappointing beginning was Shana Feste's Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle "Country Strong." The Screen Gems release, in which Paltrow plays a troubled country music star, grossed $43,000 from its 2 theaters, a 43% increase from last weekend. That made for a healthy $21,500 weekend average, and took the film's total to $121,236. It expands wide next weekend, and into markets that might be more receptive to the subject matter. So perhaps "Country" will be stronger than it seemed when it had its weak debut over Christmas.
Another film that will go wide next weekend saw a respectable fifth weekend in limited released. Roadside Attractions' release of the long delayed Jim Carrey-Ewan McGregor dark romantic comedy/biopic "I Love You Phillip Morris" grossed $20,800 from 68 theaters, a 30% increase from last weekend (despite losing a theater). That gave "Morris" a $2,953 average and a decent total of $1,130,458 heading into 2011 and its wide expansion.
George Hickenlooper's "Casino Jack" saw a 66% increase over last weekend, taking in another $81,000 from its 18 screens. Starring Spacey as Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the comedic biography averaged $4,500 and took its total to $234,924.
Finally, another opener was Manoel de Oliveira's "The Strange Case of Angelica," which took in $7,499 from a sole screen in New York, and totalled $10,433 since opening Wednesday. "Angelica" was released by the Cinema Guild.
Check back with indieWIRE Tuesday for a look back at the winners and losers at the 2010 box office.
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 email@example.com by the end of the day each Monday..