By Peter Knegt | Indiewire December 13, 2009 at 5:57AM
With December winding down, some of the most anticipated limited debuts of the year made their marks this weekend, with Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones" and Tom Ford's "A Single Man" each opening on single-digit screen counts.
According to initial estimates provided by Rentrak, Paramount's release of "Bones" - despite significantly underwhelmed critics - found the most impressive numbers of the two. On 3 screens, the adaptation of Alice Sebold's bestseller grossed $116,000, good enough for a $38,667 per-theater-average. While that places it among the ten best limited debuts of 2009, great expectations are generally placed on big-name December releases. Last December, Ron Howard's "Frost/Nixon" averaged $60,236 from 3 screens, going on to gross only $18,622,031, despite Oscar nominations in several major categories. A few weeks later, Sam Mendes' "Revolutionary Road" averaged $63,304 - again from 3 theaters - only to end up with a weak $22,911,480 final gross. Like "Road," "Bones" is unlikely to receive much play from awards season, which does not bode well for future expansion plans. Unlike "Road," however, the film has a $100 million budget to recoup.
With much slighter expectations - and less than a tenth of the production budget - The Weinstein Company's release of Ford's "Man" also debut respectably, grossing $216,328 from 9 screens. Its a reasonable number considering the competition, and resulted in a per-theater-average of $24,036.
Though reducing the film to a comparison of other gay-related films is problematic in a certain sense, in keeping with last week's recap of the decade's highest grossing LGBT films, which used "Man"'s potential as an entry point, here's a few numbers to consider: In 2005, "Capote" averaged $27,071 from 12 theaters in its first weekend; Later that year, "Brokeback Mountain" averaged a whopping $109,485 from 5 theaters; Last year, "Milk" averaged $40,385 from 36 theaters. "Man" did not enter its release with the buzz that any of those films - particularly the latter two - had, but since high-profile films featuring LGBT lead characters are few and far between, it felt reasonable to note the comparison. Both "Man" and "Bones" will have a limited expansion Christmas Day.
The performance of both newcomers was greatly overshadowed by the sophomore frame of Jason Reitman's "Up In The Air." Also released by "Bones" distributor Paramount, the George Clooney-starring Oscar favorite expanded from 11 to 72 screens and grossed a stunning $2,450,000, placing it 11th overall despite playing on only a small fraction of its nearest competitor's screens. It managed to even beat the second weekend of Miramax maybe-swan-song "Everybody's Fine," which grossed $200,000 less on over 20 times the screens.
"Air" averaged $34,028, the year's second-weekend limited average, topping November phenomenon "Precious," which averaged $33,762 from a notably more aggressive (and therefore somewhat incomparable) 174 theaters. With several likely "Air"-beneficial awards announcements happening this week - from the LA critics later today to the Golden Globes on Tuesday - Paramount has perfectly situated the film to financially benefit from Oscar precursors, and likely has a big hit on its hands. The film is tracking very similarly to Reitman's "Juno," which went to 40 screens in its second weekend and averaged $35,686.
While two other limited openers, "My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done" and "The Vicious Kind," have yet to report numbers, there were some other notable holdovers.
Sony Pictures Classics's release of Pedro Almodovar's "Broken Embraces" continued its impressive limited run. On 6 screens (up from 2 the previous two weekends), the film grossed $115,000. That gave it a fantastic average of $19,167 (also an annual high for a third weekend - again topping "Precious," which found a $17,300 PTA on an even more incomparable over 629 screens), and took its total to $602,000 - a significant total for a third week film that has never gone over 6 venues.
Also in their third weekends were Freestyle Releasing's DIY release of Richard Linklater's "Me and Orson Welles" and The Weinstein Company's rollout of John Hillcoat's "The Road." "Welles" made a big leap in theaters from 5 to 64, and found a fair gross of $176,195. That was enough for a $2,753 average and a $342,867 total. "The Road" - the first in a trio of TWC's late year hopefuls (followed by this weekend's "Man" and next weekend's "Nine"), slightly expanded from 128 to 135 screens, and dropped a reasonable 33%, grossing another $498,000 and taking its total to $4,004,000.
Both films will continue expanding next weekend, where they will face off against aforementioned "Nine," "Crazy Heart," "The Young Victoria," and the ultra-wide release of "Avatar," which is sure to steal filmgoers from all different realms.
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..