By Peter Knegt | Indiewire December 20, 2009 at 5:43AM
More than a dozen specialty films - most of them basking in the glow of varying amounts of Golden Globe, SAG and critics notices - competed in the shadow of east coast snowstorms and James Cameron's "Avatar" this weekend (just a quick non-indie fyi: "Avatar" grossed a massive $232 million worldwide - the 8th best of all time). According to estimates provided by Rentrak, it was Rob Marshall's "Nine" that led the specialty pack, overcoming lukewarm reviews to find a very decent opening. On 4 screens, the ridiculously star-studded musical grossed $246,933, good enough for a $61,733 average - the year's fifth best limited debut behind "The Princess and the Frog," "Precious," "Up In The Air' and "Fantastic Mr. Fox."
In regard to recent Christmas-time musicals, it's generally difficult to compare "Nine" due to varying screen counts. In 2007, "Sweeney Todd" went wide in its first weekend, averaging $7,446 from 1,249 screens. "Dreamgirls" had special, higher-priced screenings in its 2006 limited debut, leading to a massive $126,316 average. Marshall's last musical outing, "Chicago," debuted on 77 screens over Christmas weekend in 2002, and averaged an impressive $26,947. The only regularly priced, single-screen debut in recent years was 2005's lambasted (even in comparison to "NIne") "The Producers," which averaged $25,765 from 6 screens.
While The Weinstein Company should generally be happy with "Nine"'s numbers, it's pretty standard for highly-publicized limited releases to reach those figures this time of year ("Frost/Nixon" and "Revolutionary Road" both did last year, and the eventual results weren't pretty). It will be next weekend, when the film expands significantly for the holiday, that real judgements can be made.
Two other, considerably less star-studded debuts found expected numbers. Scott Cooper's "Crazy Heart" - hoping to ride the wave of attention from Jeff Bridges' Oscar-hungry performance - opened on 4 screens, grossing $84,204. Its $21,051 average - though only a third of "Nine"'s - is worthy of hope on distributor Fox Searchlight's end particularly considering the higher amount of attention the film's main competitors have been receiving.
Another release that's main awards hopes is almost singularly for its lead performance - Jean-Marc Vallée's "The Young Victoria" - opened on a more aggressive 20 screens for Apparition. Starring Emily Blunt in a Golden Globe (but not SAG) nominated performance that is a dark horse for Oscar contention, the film grossed a reasonable $148,254, averaging $7,413. More interesting will be how it does next weekend, when competition excellerates and "Victoria" hits 150-160 theaters.
Award contenting holdovers were plentiful, from expansions from potential frontrunner "Up In The Air" and sudden underdog "Precious" to static second weekends from "A Single Man" and "The Lovely Bones."
Peter Jackson's "Bones" was perhaps the most disappointing of the lot. Staying on 3 screens, it grossed only $41,000 - dropping a hefty 65%. The $100 million production averaged $13,667 and took its total to $197,000. With no awards notice this side of Stanley Tucci's supporting actor bid to help it compete (a similar trajectory that met last year's "Revolutionary Road"), "Bones" should have a very rough road ahead.
Fairing much better was Tom Ford's "A Single Man." On 3 screens, The Weinstein Company release - which does have considerable Oscar hopes in stars Colin Firth and Julianne Moore - grossed $139,000 from a stagnant 9 theaters, a fair 36% dropoff from last weekend. Its $15,444 average - though quite short of fantastic - was enough to bring its total to $471,000 as it heads into a major expansion over Christmas.
Also about to expand significantly over the holiday is Jason Reitman's "Up In The Air," though the film has slowly done some expanding already. This weekend it went from 72 to 175 screens, and continued to do excellent business in its third weekend. The George Clooney starrer - which received more Golden Globe nominations than any other film - grossed $3,100,000, averaging $17,714. Though only a 29% jump from last weekend despite a considerable expansion, the film is still tracking slight ahead of Reitman's last film "Juno." That film grossed $3,425,045 in its third weekend back in 2007, but on nearly twice the screens. The $25 million budgeted "Air"'s total now stands at $8,106,000. "Juno" had grossed $6,409,721 at the same time after following a similar release path.
Hitting 1,000 screens for the first time, seven-week old "Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire," which was also a major presence in recent awards announcements, had a much less hopeful weekend. While the film has already taken in a very impressive $40,001,000, its having a rough time holding up through December. The film averaged $1,117, and grossed $1,120,000 - a 13% drop from last weekend despite adding 339 screens.
Other notable holdovers included The Weinstein Company's "The Road" (the third film the distributor has in the mix right now), which expanded 261 screens to 396, grossing a fair (especially if you consider its one of the few films not receiving any awards attention) $612,000. Its $1,545 average was good enough to take its total to $4,879,000, though it should be a struggle to take that number to eight figures by the end of the film's run.
Finally, after four weekends on single screen counts, Sony Pictures Classics took Pedro Almodovar's "Broken Embraces" to 30 screens, and saw an expectedly big drop off in per-theater-average (especially since most of the expansion occurred in suburban NYC). The film grossed $205,000, averaging $6,833. That brought the film's total to a very respectable $848,000. With more expansions to come (next weekend it will hit many major markets for the first time), it looks headed to become one of 2009's highest grossing foreign language films. The reigning champ - another SPC release - is "Coco Before Chanel," which has grossed $5,930,000 to date.
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..