By Peter Knegt | Indiewire September 19, 2010 at 4:22AM
The first signs of a potentially strong fall season arrived this weekend in the form of Mark Romanek's "Never Let Me Go" and Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman's "Catfish." Both films performed very strongly in a crowded weekend that saw many titles from the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival (which announced their winners this afternoon) hit theatrical release as the fest winded down, including studio box office winners "The Town" and "Easy A."
According to estimates provided by Rentrak earlier afternoon, TIFF 2010 alum "Never Let Me Go" led the specialty set, grossing $120,830 from just four theaters (2 in New York, 2 in Los Angeles). That gave the Fox Searchlight film, which stars Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield in an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's award-winning novel, a $30,208 average over the weekend. Since opening Wednesday, "Never Let Me Go" has grossed $165,331, and Fox Searchlight plans on expanding to 11 additional cities and expanding in NY and LA on Friday, September 24th.
"This is a great start in a crowded market with a Jewish holiday," Sheila DeLoach, EVP of Fox Searchlight's distribution said. "It's one of the top opening per screen averages of a limited film this year, and we feel we'll have good word of mouth."
Also finding a great start was Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman's controversial documentary "Catfish." Released by Universal on behalf of the owners of the film, Relativity/Rogue, "Catfish" debuted on 12 theaters with a $255,000 gross and an excellent per-theater-average of $21,271. The film, which debuted at Sundance earlier this year to considerable buzz, follows filmmaker Ariel Schulman's brother, Nev, who develops a relationship with an eight year old painter via Facebook which leads to a bizarre series of events that suggests deception on the part of Abby's identity. It had divided Sundance over whether or not the film itself was deceitful and manipulative. So far, this controversy hasn't seemed to be a disadvantage for the film.
"The film is off to a good start and we believe that word of mouth will continue to provoke curiosity and interest as it expands into additional theaters and markets in the coming weeks," the film's distributor said in a statement.
Next weekend, the film will expand into 19 additional markets.
Other openers included Overture's release of Philip Seymour Hoffman's directorial effort "Jack Goes Boating" (also a TIFF 2010 release). The film grossed $30,000 from 4 theatres, averaging a fair $7,500. Starring Hoffman himself, as well as Amy Ryan, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Tom McCarthy, the film will expand to 9 additional markets next weekend.
A title from last year's Toronto International Film Festival, Tim Blake Nelson's Edward Norton starrer, "Leaves of Grass," finally made its way to theaters after a bumpy ride (at one point it was suggested as going straight to DVD) via distributor First Look. On 3 screens, the film grossed $25,000 for a $8,333 average. The film follows an Ivy League professor (Norton) who is lured back to his Oklahoma hometown where his twin brother (also Norton), a small-time pot grower, has concocted a scheme to take down a local drug lord.
That was a much better showing than Katie Aselton's "The Freebie," which also opened this weekend but managed only a $4,500 gross on its sole screen. Aselton (wife and frequent collaborator of Mark Duplass) wrote, directed and starred in the film film that a follows a young married couple (Aselton and Dax Shepard) who decide to give each other one night with someone else. It was released through Phase 4.
As for holdovers, IFC Films' release of Pascal Chaumeil's "Heartbreaker" expanded from 3 to 8 screens and grossed $40,800 for a respectable $5,100 average. The French import's new total stands at $114,800.
Amir Bar-Lev's doc "The Tillman Story," which spotlights Pat Tillman, a former NFL star-turned-soldier who died in Afghanistan in 2004, continued to perform decently in its fifth frame. The Weinstein Company release took in another $61,30 from 28 screens, averaging $2,189 and taking its total to $519,000.
Sony Pictures Classics had two holdover-related reasons to be happy this weekend. Aaron Schneider's "Get Low" dropped from 529 to 467 screens in its seventh weekend and held on very nicely, taking in another $678,00. That gave the film, which follows Felix Bush (Robert Duvall), a hermit who decides he wants to throw himself a "funeral party" before he actually passes, a $1,452 average and a shiny new total of $7,911,000. That makes "Low" Sony Classics' highest grossing film of 2010, and it should easily pass the $10 million in coming weeks - a feat only 3 specialty films have done so far this year.
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..