By Peter Knegt | Indiewire November 23, 2009 at 6:50AM
Expanding to 629 screens, this was the weekend for "Precious" to truly prove itself a formidable box office entity. Adding on 455 screens and screening all over the country, it did just that. According to estimates provided by Rentrak today, the Lee Daniels film grossed $11,007,500 over this pre-Thanksgiving holiday weekend, averaging a fantastic $17,501. This was all the more impressive coming in the midst of one of the most robust female-driven box office weekends in film history. Summit Entertainment's "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" was obviously the box office story of the weekend, grossing an astronomical $140.7 million dollars, while Sandra Bullock starrer "The Blind Side" played a surprisingly strong bridesmaid to "New Moon" by opening to $34 million (Bullock's best opening ever). With these two films competing for similar audiences as "Precious" ("New Moon"'s audience was dominated by women, while "Blind Side" played largely to both women and African-American audiences), it's quite incredible that all three films seemed to exceed expectations in their first wide (or in "Precious"'s case, semi-wide) weekends.
"Precious" is now heading into the Thanksgiving frame - one of the most potent of the year - with $21,403,000 already in its pocket, a gross some wondered if it could ever even hit. It's quite possible the film could be pushing $50 million before the awards boosts of December even comes into play.
One film that could also be having a very nice Thanksgiving is Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr. Fox." In its second weekend of limited release, the film remained on its four New York and Los Angeles screens and fell only 25%, grossing $199,000 for a sky-high $49,750 per-theater-average. That made for the year's best second weekend average (topping "Precious") and bodes very well for its wide expansion on Wednesday, when it hits over 2,000 screens for turkey weekend.
The debut of Pedro Almodovar's "Broken Embraces" edged out "Mr. Fox" for the weekend's top per-theater-average, with audiences embracing the Penelope Cruz starrer to the tune of $107,597. That made for a $53,798 average, which if estimates hold will edge out "Talk To Her"'s $52,198 average and "Bad Education"'s $49,123 for the best Almodovar debut ever in North America. The Sony Pictures Classics release will expand in coming weeks, attempting to outgross Almodovar's top overall gross for 2006's "Volver," which amassed $12,899,867 in the end.
Another high profile opener came with Werner Herzog's "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans," released through tiny distributor First Look. On 27 screens, the well-received black comedy - which stars Nicolas Cage as a corrupt, drug-addicted cop - grossed a decent $257,000, averaging $9,519. Herzog's last narrative film, 2007's "Rescue Dawn," grossed $5,490,423 in North America.
Other openers included Alexander Sokurov's "The Sun," which took in an impressive $11,588 from its sole New York screen (and topped off at $15,122 since opening Wednesday); Lukas Moodysson's critically challenged Michelle Williams-Gael Garcia Bernal starrer "Mammoth," which grossed a fair $4,531 from its NYC screen; Yoav Shamir's critically acclaimed doc "Defamation," which disappointed by averaging only $1,181 from its 4 screens; and John Woo's "Red Cliff," which grossed a reasonable $13,104 from 2 screens, averaging $6,522.
Among holdovers, Sony Classics slowly brought Lone Scherfig's awards contention "An Education" to its widest release yet in week seven. Going from 120 to 303 screens, the film saw a 38% rise in grosses, taking in $915,000. That was a good enough for a $3,020 average (not bad for a film in its seventh weekend), and a $4,357,000 cume as it heads into a likely boost from December's Oscar precursors.
Also expanding was Oscilloscope's release of "The Messenger," which went form 4 to 31 screens in its second frame. The well reviewed film, which stars Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton, grossed $120,000 over the weekend, resulting in a fair $3,870 average. Sell out shows continued in New York as well as other regional cities (in was in a total of 15 markets), and the film will expand to 10 more cities for Thanksgiving. "The Messenger"'s total stands at $177,000.
Finally, Frederick Wiseman's self-released doc "La Danse" expanded after two amazing weekends in New York City and held on reasonably well. On 7 screens in NYC, Chicago and Los Angeles, the film grossed $31,150 for a per-theater-average of $4,450. The film takes on Washington DC next weekend in addition to select expansion in the New York tri-state area. For more on "La Danse," check out indieWIRE's new "Box Office 2.0" column profiling its stunning debut at New York's Film Forum.
Three other debuts - John Woo's "Red Cliff," Lukas Moodysson's "Mammoth" and Alexander Sokurov's "The Sun" - have yet to report estimates, but check back with indieWIRE for an updated version of this article that includes them.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of the day each Monday..