By Peter Knegt | Indiewire November 29, 2009 at 6:23AM
While "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" and "The Blind Side" battled it out in a uncharacteristically female friendly Thanksgiving for studio fare, it was John Hillcoat's "The Road" that was the major story at the specialty box office. With three new specialty films to hit theaters on this very potent Thanksgiving weekend (the overall box office was up 17% over last year), the apocalyptic Cormac McCarthy adaptation grossed $1,522,870 over the three day weekend and $2,000,814 since opening Wednesday, according to estimates provided by Rentrak earlier today. Playing in 111 theaters, that resulted in an impressive per-theater-average of $13,720 for the 3 day weekend, and $18,027 over the five day holiday. That nearly placed the Viggo Mortensen starrer in the overall top ten despite screening on a fraction of its competitors' screens.
"This is a very solid opening and what looks like a very nice beginning for The Road, which will expand through December and January," Bob Weinstein told indieWIRE today. "Many major critics have been very supportive of the film and this performance at the box office - in just over 100 theatres - certainly exceeded expectations."
The overall per-theater-average leader among specialty films came from "Broken Embraces," which managed to improve on its massive $53,798 PTA debut from last weekend (the highest ever for an Almodovar film). Remaining on its original two screens, the Sony Pictures Classics film grossed a spectacular $117,005 over the 3-day frame, and $169,656 over the 5-day holiday. That gave "Embraces" a $58,503 3-day PTA, and a $84,828 average over the entire holiday. The film's total stands at $311,985 after 10 days in theaters, despite only screening in two theaters, which certainly bodes well for the film's expansion in coming weeks.
The weekend's two other openers - Rebecca Miller's "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee" and Richard Linklater's "Me & Orson Welles" - while certainly not finding Almodovarian numbers, both managed decent debuts. "Pippa Lee," which opened on Friday and therefore only has three day numbers, grossed $96,000 on 12 screens for Screen Media Films. That made for a fair $8,000 average, though the film did manage a considerable $17,000 from its engagement at New York's Angelika Center. "Pippa Lee" - which stars Robin Wright Penn, Julianne Moore, Keanu Reeves, Maria Bello and Winona Ryder, among others - will expand throughout December.
"Orson Welles" - likely assisted by the presence of one Zac Efron in its cast - more than doubled "Pippa"'s per-theater-average. On 4 screens, the well-reviewed film (which opted to get distributed through Freestyle Releasing) grossed $64,800 over the three day weekend, and $86,600 since opening Wednesday. That gave it very respectable 3 and 5 day averages of $16,200 and $21,650, which actually topped "The Road" as the best PTA among openers. The film will expand through December.
The specialty box office offered numerous continued success stories throughout its many holdovers, perhaps most notably with Lee Daniels' "Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire." The heavily Oscar-buzzed Lionsgate release expanded only slightly for Thankgiving after three consecutive frames of aggressive rollout. On 663 screens (up 34 from last weekend), the film grossed $7,090,000 over the 3-day weekend and $9,419,745 since Wednesday. That actually marked a fairly steep (for Thanksgiving, at least) 34.8% weekend-to-weekend decline, the film's first sign of slowing down (likely due in large part to "The Blind Side"'s unexpected success from similar demographics). However, it's hard to draw anything negative from per-theater-averages of $10,694 (3-day) and $14,208 (5-day) for a fourth weekend indie on 663 screens. "Precious"'s total now stands at $32,461,000, topping "(500) Days of Summer" as the year's top grossing specialty film, with much more awards-fueled box office to come. A $50 million gross is essentially assured before major Oscar precursors like the Golden Globes and Critics Choice even announce their nominations.
Despite actually reducing its screen count by 38, one of "Precious"'s major awards competitors, Lone Schefig's "An Education," actually saw a 18% rise in grosses over the three day weekend. The Sony Pictures Classics release - in its eighth weekend out - grossed $974,077 over the three-day frame (its best ever weekend) and $1,200,719 over the five day holiday. That gave it averages of $3,676 and $4,531, respectively, and took its total to $5,619,802. That made it Sony Classics' fourth $5 million+ film this year, and the distributor's top 2009 grosser, narrowly topping the eclectic trio of "Moon," "Whatever Works," and "Coco Before Chanel."
Also topping the $5 million mark this weekend was Apparition's "The Boondock Saints II: All Saint's Day." In its fifth weekend, the Troy Duffy-directed sequel to DVD phenomenon (and theatrical failure) "Boondock Saints," the film expanded to 373 screens and saw its grosses rise 108% over the three-day frame, grossing $1,250,000 and placing 12th on the overall box office chart. Over the five day holiday, it grossed $1,901,953, giving it a total of $5,677,000 and making it newly formed Apparition's top grosser ever (and giving it a theatrical total 189 times greater that its predecessor).
Other holdovers included the second frame of Werner Herzog's "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans," which expanded to 57 screens, grossing $296,000 and maintaining a considerable $5,193 average over the three day frame (5 day number were not yet made available). That brought the dark comedy, which stars Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes, to a respectable $692,000 total after 10 days.
The third weekend of Oscilloscope Laboratories' release of Oren Moverman's "The Messenger" also held up nicely. The film - which stars Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton - grossed $155,000 over the three day weekend, averaging $3,875 from its 40 screens and taking its total to $368,000. The film will continue it's expansion to 10 more cities next weekend.
The only truly disappointing development this weekend was the expansion of Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr. Fox." After two weekends of scorching per-theater-averages on 4 screens, the film - a stop-motion animated adaptation of the Roald Dahl book - went to 2,033 theaters and fell short of its initial promise. "Mr. Fox" grossed $7,020,000 over the 3-day weekend, and $9,499,685 over the 5-day, averaging a less-than-fantastic $3,453 and $4,673, respectively. While it has already nearly outgrossed Anderson's last film, "The Darjeeling Limited," its family-friendly appeal and potent limited release suggested even greater things. Instead, the likes of "Old Dogs" and "Ninja Assassin" found much greater per-theater-averages.
And finally, on another studio-related note, Disney's special two-theater NY & LA debut of "The Princess and the Frog" definitely warrants a little attention. The high priced event (tickets went for $50) grossed $1,142,000 over the five day weekend, giving it third best per-theater-average of all-time, behind the similar events that debuted Disney siblings "The Lion King" and "Pocahontas."
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..