Joel and Ethan Coen's "A Serious Man" found itself high atop the specialty box office this weekend, scoring the year's third best limited debut. According to weekend estimates, the highly acclaimed "Man" grossed $251,510 from just six theaters in New York, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis, averaging $41,918.
Those numbers put the Focus Features release behind only "Sunshine Cleaning" and "Capitalism: A Love Story" in terms of '09 debuts, and places it in line the debuts of some of the Coens' most financially successful films. While last year's "Burn After Reading" debuted incomparably (and potently) on 2,651 screens, both 2007's "No Country For Old Men" and 2000's "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" had limited debuts, the former averaging $43,797 on 28 screens and the latter $39,020 from 5 screens. Considering "A Serious Man"'s complete lack of starpower (save for the Coens themselves) in comparison to those films, its debut is all the more admirable. The film expands in the coming weeks, where the Coens' ability to draw audiences outside of major markets without major stars will be curiously tested.
Last weekend's top film - the noted "Capitalism: A Love Story" - managed the second best numbers for a Michael Moore film's first weekend in wide release. Jumping from 4 screens to 962, The Overture Films release grossed $4,850,000, topped only by "Fahrenheit 9/11"'s scorching $23,920,637 debut (from 100 less screens, no less) back in 2004. Averaging $5,042, "Capitalism" fell nicely in line with 2007's "Sicko," which grossed $3,600,179 from a more limited 702 screens in its wide expansion (averaging an almost identical $5,128).
"We’re excited about the reception to Michael’s film across the country," Kyle Davies, EVP of Theatrical Distribution, told indieWIRE. "With a cinema score of A and exit polls showing audiences are loving the film, we expect to have legs. Theatres have been sending us reports of spontaneous applause and discussion groups forming in lobbies after the shows – Moore has got people talking once again!"
"Capitalism"'s total now stands at $5,251,689, which already makes it the highest grossing doc of 2009 (surpassing "Food, Inc."), and among the 20 highest grossing of all-time (a list that now includes a whopping 5 Michael Moore films).
Other debuts this weekend included another documentary, Kristopher Belman's "More Than a Game." Released by Moore's "Sicko" distributor Lionsgate, "Game" follows the story of LeBron James and the Akron Fab Five. On 14 screens, the film managed a promising $196,681, averaging $14,048. If estimates hold, that makes it the fifth best specialty doc debut of the year, behind "Capitalism," "The September Issue," "Food, Inc." and "Valentino: The Last Emperor."
Less promising was the wide-release debut of Drew Barrymore's "Whip It." Despite surprisingly glowing reviews, the Ellen Page roller derby comedy grossed only $4,850,000 from 1,720 screens (the exact same gross as "Capitalism" reported despite being on nearly twice the screens). Perhaps word of mouth will make the film a rare late bloomer, but so far it's not exactly "Whip It" good at the box office.
Among holdovers, Sony Pictures Classics' potent "Coco Before Chanel" continued to impress. Anne Fontaine's Coco Chanel biopic expanded from 5 to 16 screens, and grossed $220,139. Though its per-theater-average of $13,759 was a considerable drop-off from last weekend's stunning $35,468 debut, it remains a fantastic number. "Coco"'s gross stands at $487,442 after ten days, and the film will continue to expand in the coming weeks. If it continues to find good numbers, it has a very good chance of becoming the year's highest grossing foreign language film.
Not quite as hopeful was the third weekend of Jane Campion's "Bright Star." Expanding from 130 to 317 theaters, the film - the first release from Apparition - only saw an 8% increase in overall grosses, taking in $724,000 and averaging $2,284.
Perhaps the most impressive feat among limited release films this weekend came from a rare studio entry. Oren Peli's mockumentary horror film "Paranormal Activity," which screened at the 2008 Slamdance Film Festival and was acquired by Dreamworks and Paramount in a truly rare series of events (Steven Spielberg plays a pivotal role), debuted last weekend on 12 screens in various college towns. It grossed a fair $77,873, averaging $6,489. This weekend, the film expanded to 33 screens, and buzz mounting from the ultra-cheap production (reported to have been made for only $15,000) is obviously taking off. The film skyrocketed 587%, seeing its average nearly triple to $16,212. The film's total now stands at $780,000, and Paramount is expected to continue slowly releasing the film, which could very well turn into a unique and major financial success story.
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.