By Peter Knegt | Indiewire October 11, 2009 at 7:25AM
Lone Scherfig's "An Education" lived up to its hype this weekend. According to estimates, the Sony Pictures Classics release - touted as an Oscar contender since its Sundance premiere - grossed $162,381 from just four screens, averaging $40,595. That's the fourth best specialty debut of the year, and marks the third weekend in a row in which a film has topped the chart with a $40,000+ per-theater-average. In fact, three of the year's top four specialty debuts - "Education," "Capitalism: A Love Story" and "A Serious Man" - have come from the past three weeks.
"Education," featuring a intensely buzzed about performance by Carey Mulligan, is perhaps comparable to last year's "Rachel Getting Married," also an October Sony Classics release and also one riding strong acclaim for its young leading lady. That film averaged $32,597 from 9 screens in its debut, and ended up grossing $12,796,841. "Education" is currently tracking well ahead of "Rachel" at this point.
"Education" expands outside New York and Los Angeles next weekend, where its potential will become more clear.
One film it should certainly aspire toward is Joel and Ethan Coen's "A Serious Man," which went from 6 to 21 theaters in its second frame, and held on quite nicely. The acclaimed Focus Features release grossed $446,761, seeing its per-theater-average cut roughly in half to a still potent $21,274. In fact, if estimates hold, that's the best per-theater-average of any second weekend specialty release this year, topping Marc Webb's "(500) Days of Summer." "A Serious Man"'s total now stands at $799,002.
Other openers this weekend include Roadside Attractions release of Chris Rock doc "Good Hair." The film opened on an ambitious 186 screens in only five markets - New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington and Atlanta - and scored a promising $1,117,200. Its $6,006 per-theater-average bodes well for its national release on October 23rd.
Meanwhile, lightning didn't exactly strike twice for Sony Pictures Classics. In addition to "An Education," the distributor released Tom Hooper's soccer drama "The Damned United" on six screens this weekend. The well-reviewed but under-buzzed film grossed a fair $38,844, averaging $6,141.
Sony Classics actually found better numbers from the third weekend of Anne Fontaine's "Coco Before Chanel," which continues to perform nicely. The Audrey Tatou starrer grossed $330,501 from an expanded 45 screens, averaging $7,344 and taking its total to $905,396.
Also expanding this weekend was Lionsgate's release of Kristopher Belman's "More Than a Game." The doc, which follows the story of LeBron James and the Akron Fab Five, went from 14 to 44 screens and grossed $127,897, averaging $2,906. That's a substantial drop from its promising opening PTA of over $14,000. The film's total stands at $348,761.
In its second weekend of wide release (and third overall), Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story" slid a standard 40%, grossing another $2,700,000 from 995 screens, and taking its total to $9,095,000. It is already the 11th highest grossing documentary of all-time, overtaking "Hoop Dreams" and Moore's own "Roger & Me" this weekend.
The box office story of the weekend, and perhaps even the year, comes from outside of Indiewood but is perhaps notable anyway. Technically an independent film, Oren Peli's "Paranormal Activity," 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). The film opened initially two weeks ago on 12 college town screens to a mild $6,489 average. Then last weekend it leapt 587% on an expanded 33 screens, averaging $16,212. This weekend, the ultra-cheap horror film - which cost only $15,000 to make - exploded into a story box office legends are made of. Expanding to 159 screens, the film managed to gross an absolutely astounding $7,066,000, averaging $44,440 setting a record for ticket sales.
Ten years ago, similarly marketed "The Blair Witch Project" spent two weekends in limited release, averaging $56,002 and $63,811 on 27 and 31 screens, respectively. It its third weekend, it went to 1,101 screens and skyrocketed to a $29,207,381 weekend gross en route to a $140,530,114 total.
Paramount and Dreamworks will continue to expand "Paranormal" next weekend.
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.