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by Peter Knegt
February 14, 2010 8:57 AM
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Box Office: "Khan" Strong For Searchlight; Two Docs Find Nice NYC Debuts (UPDATED)

A scene from Karan Johar's "My Name Is Khan." Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

The year may have its first specialty hit in Karan Johar's "My Name Is Khan," which Fox Searchlight released in North America this weekend just as it was making its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival overseas. The film - about a Muslim who suffers from Asperger's sundrome who is detained at LAX after 9/11 after security mistakes his disability for suspicious behavior - grossed a fantastic $1,860,000 on 120 screens over the three day weekend. According to estimates provided by Rentrak earlier this afternoon, that made for a $15,500 average - the highest of any film in release (including $50 million+ grossing "Valentine's Day," which led the box office overall). It's already the highest grossing specialty film released in 2010.

Two new provocative documentaries also debuted this weekend, opening on sole NYC screens. For the three-day portion of the weekend, both Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher’s “October Country” and Erik Gandini’s “Videocracy" found decent numbers as they competed for audiences at New York's IFC Center.

"Videocracy" - an documentary released through Lorber Films - has been causing a stir back in Italy for its allegation that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s controls all forms of media in Italy. The film grossed $10,000 Stateside this weekend, and was the #1 film at the IFC Center complex Saturday night. On Friday night, the film was #2 in the theater behind International Film Circuit's "October Country," which ended up with a slightly less profitable weekend overall. The film - about co-director Mosher’s eclectic and eccentric family - ended up with a $7,500 gross for the weekend.

"Our publicity initiative focused on the Berlusconi opposition media in New York and they got out the vote for our film," Richard Lorber told indieWIRE regarding "Videocracy"'s debut, "including anti-Berlusconi protestors in front of the theatre. Beyond that the political junkies and doc lovers came for smartly perverse political entertainment... Berlusconi's circus of a government puts new meaning in 'political party.'"

Last week's top debut, the NYC roadshow presentation of the "Red Riding" trilogy, expanded to a second screen in Los Angeles this weekend. Adapted for the screen by Tony Grisoni from David Peace's series of novels, the trilogy consists of three separate films directed by Julian Jarrold ("Red Riding: 1974"), James Marsh ("Red Riding: 1980") and Anand Tucker ("Red Riding: 1983"). The film grossed an estimated $13,000 on its two screens, averaging a respectable $6,503. The trilogy's total stands at $37,297. A national release is expected to follow in coming weeks.

Also in its second weekend was Henrik Ruben Genz's "Terribly Happy," which grossed $22,000 from 5 screens in New York, LA and San Francisco. The Oscilloscope released Danish film averaged a decent $4,400, taking its cume to $39,000. "Happy" will expand to 6 screens next weekend.

"Ajami," the Oscar-nominated Israeli film released by Kino International (which, like "Videocracy"'s distributor Lorber Films, is a division of Kino Lorber Films), did very well in its second frame. Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani's film grossed $44,000 on four NYC screens, averaging $11,000. That represents a tiny drop-off from last weekend's $11,931 average despite one more screen, giving it the second highest per-theater-average of any specialty release this weekend behind "Khan." The film's total to date is $100,309, with expansions to LA, DC and Chicago next weekend.

The remainder of the specialty box office was made up mostly of other Oscar nominees. Sony Classics - which tied The Weinstein Company for the most nominations overall - saw three of its most nominated films find decent grosses as Oscar night approached. Michael Hoffman's "The Last Station" - nominated for best actress and supporting actor in Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer - expanded from 51 to 84 screens in its fifth weekend, grossing $528,596. What's so great about that number is that it represents a $6,293 per-theater-average, just a tiny drop from last weekend's $6,592 despite 33 additional screens. "Station"'s total stands at $1,386,872.

SPC's "The White Ribbon," directed by Michael Haneke and nominated for both foreign language film and cinematography Oscars, crossed the $1 million mark over the weekend. Grossing $156,699 from 45 screens (up from 26 last weekend), the film averaged $3,482 and took its total to $1,001,472. Also hitting a milestone for the distributor was "An Education," Sony Classics' lone best picture nominee, which cut its screens in half this weekend, going from 761 to 333. It still managed to take in $486,189, crossing the $10 million mark.

Finally, Fox Searchlight had more good news to add on to its "Khan"-related celebration as best actor Oscar favorite "Crazy Heart" hit the 1,000 screen mark for the first time, grossing a strong $4,000,000 and taking its total to $16,526,975. Starring Jeff Bridges as a washed up country singer, "Heart" looks to become one of 2009's biggest specialty grossers, even if most of that gross came in 2010.

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 studiogrosses@rentrak.com by the end of the day each Monday..

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