Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" bowed in four theaters this weekend and according to estimates, it took in a huge $144,000 gross. That makes for a $36,000 average for the Summit Entertainment release, topping the opening of recent films like "Whatever Works" and "Away We Go" to become the second biggest limited debut of 2009, behind only "Sunshine Cleaning." This is particularly impressive considering that, unlike those three examples, "Locker" is not a comedy and does not feature any well-known stars. It's also set amidst the Iraq war, which has spelt box office death for essentially any other film. But it seems fantastic reviews and a plot that focuses less directly on the political or social themes of the war and more on a deadly game of urban combat, has helped "Locker" kick the losing streak, at least so far.
Stephen Frears' "Cheri" also debuted this weekend. Michelle Pfeiffer's first theatrically released leading role in some time found a decent audience response - though mild in comparison to "Locker," and considering its star power. The Miramax release grossed $408,000 on 76 screens, for a $5,368 average. That was good enough to place it in the overall top 20, but weak in comparison to Miramax's seemingly annual "romantic period piece with literary appeal" offerings. Two summers ago, "Becoming Jane" opened on 100 screens in August, 2007, and grossed $972,066, making for a nearly double-that-of-"Cheri" $9,720 average. Last year, "Brideshead Revisited" opened on 33 screens to $339,616, averaging $10,291.
"Cheri" was actually toppled by two Sony Pictures Classics' holdovers beat all non-"Locker" openers in terms of per-theater-average, and continued to show significant promise. After finding great numbers in its opening last weekend, Woody Allen's "Whatever Works" expanded 26 screens to 35 for its sophomore frame. The film held on nicely, grossing $386,269, and averaging $11,036. That puts the film's total at $765,433 after just 10 days. "Whatever"'s distribution sibling "Moon," directed by Duncan Jones and starring Sam Rockwell in dual roles, did not expand its screen count this weekend, but managing to fall just 29% anyway, grossing another $127,332 on 21 screens. It's $6,063 average was the fourth highest of any film - wide or limited - in release.
Farther along in its expansion, Sam Mendes' "Away We Go" also continued to do good business. Entering the overall top ten - the first platform release to do so since "Sunshine Cleaning" - the Focus Features release grossed another $1,678,000 from its significant expansion to 495 screens (up 363 from last weekend). Its $3,390 average helped bring its total to $4,056,000, tracking just slightly below "Cleaning," which had a nearly identical expansion so far.
Adding 24 screens, Magnolia's doc "Food, Inc." saw its gross essentially hold steady, taking in another $291,444, a 1.1% increase from last weekend. Still, the film's third weekend average of $3,886 and standing gross of $834,848 puts it in line to become one of the highest grossing docs of the year.
Other openers included Cyrus Nowrasteh’s "The Stoning of Soraya M.," which took in a decent $117,050 on 27 screens for Roadside Attractions; IFC Films' "Quiet Chaos" managed only $3,672 on one New York screen; Magnolia's "Surveillance," which grossed a weak $4,590 from two screens; and Havana Marking's doc "Afghan Star," which didn't fare much better, grossing $3,671 on one screen for Zeitgeist.
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.