By Peter Knegt | Indiewire February 27, 2011 at 8:13AM
France's snubbed entry to the Academy Awards was the top specialty debut on Oscar weekend, as Xavier Beauvois' "Of Gods and Men," which just came off a big night at France's Cesar Awards, debuted to very strong numbers on 3 screens. The Sony Pictures Classics' release - which also won the Grand Prix at last year's Cannes Film Festival - grossed $69,950 over the weekend, according to estimates provided by Rentrak earlier today. That made for an excellent per-theater-average of $22,317.
Other debuts included IFC Films' release of another French alum from last year's Cannes Film Festival, Xavier Dolan's "Heartbeats." The second film from the young Quebecois filmmaker (though his acclaimed debut "I Killed My Mother" has yet to be released in the U.S.), IFC Films released "Heartbeats" on a sole New York City screen, where it grossed $7,300.
A much more aggressive release saw Samuel Goldwyn take in a strong $1,091,200 from 352 screens for its religious drama "The Grace Card." Telling the story of two Memphis policeman, one black and one white, and "how through the power of forgiveness they learn to overcome racism, anger and personal demons," the film averaged $3,100 to hit the overall top 20.
"Exit polling indicated that audiences enthusiastically enjoyed [the film] and would highly recommend the film to their friends, boding well for excellent word of mouth that is essential to a successful rollout," Samuel Goldwyn told indieWIRE today.
Dereck Joubert nature doc "The Last Lions" saw its gross cut in half in its second weekend. On 4 screens, the National Geographic-distributed film, which follows a journey of a lioness as she battles to protect her cubs, grossed $26,772 for a respectable $6,693 per-theater average. The film's cume is now $116,927.
Paladin received good numbers from the second weekend of the Tom Shadyac "I Am," a doc in which Shadyac speaks with intellectual and spiritual leaders about what's wrong with the world and how it can be improved. Shadyac, known best for directing studio films like "Bruce Almighty" and "The Nutty Professor," saw his "I Am" gross $17,500 from its debut at a Seattle theater, which alongside its holdover showing in Portland saw the film total $22,470 for a per-theater-average of $11,235 and a 10 day total of $35,923. Paladin said that the $17,500 figure marks one of the strongest openings of a documentary in Seattle in the past year, second only to "Waiting for Superman" (which opened on three screens), and well ahead of all exclusive-engagement documentary openings, including such current Oscar-nominees as "Exit Through the Gift Shop" and "Inside Job." Paladin takes the film - and Mr. Shadyac himself - to the San Francisco Bay Area next week, before hitting LA on 3/11 and NY on 3/18.
Spain's official entry to the Academy Awards (though it wasn't nominated), Icíar Bollaín "Even The Rain" also expanded in its second weekend. Starring Gael García Bernal and Luis Tosa, the film grossed $69,450 on 16 screens (up from 8), averaging $4,341 for distributor Vitagraph. The film's total now stands at $151,500.
In its fourth weekend, Fox Searchlight's "Cedar Rapids" continued to hold up nicely. Miguel Arteta, Ed Helms, John C. Reilly comedy went from 102 to 136 theaters and found a $751,000 gross, averaging $5,257 as it took its new total to $2,400,266. That makes it the first specialty release of 2011 to gross over $2 million in a year that has been dominated by 2010 Oscar-related holdovers.
Speaking of which, two of the most successful Oscar nominees continued to chug past $100 million. Best picture frontrunner "The King's Speech" saw a 17% boost over the weekend, with the Tom Hooper directed film grossing $7,618,000 from 2,386 theaters. That made for a $3,193 average and a grand new total of $114,509,271. The $15 million budgeted film has now grossed over $200 million worldwide, with a final Oscar boost yet to come.
Another best picture nominee (and big winner at the Spirit Awards yesterday), Darren Aronofsky "Black Swan," saw a 2% rise in grosses despite losing 39 screens. The film grossed $1,350,000 from 617 screens to expand its total to $103,598,574. A $13 million production, "Swan" should be boosted by the likelihood of the best actress statuette Natalie Portman should walk away with tonight.
Alejandro González Iñárritu "Biutiful" held up very well in its fifth weekend out (though it had an Oscar qualifying run in December). The Javier Bardem-starrer went form 157 to 180 screens and grossed a strong $504,275. That made for a $2,802 per-theater-average and took its total to $3,827,593 - no small feat for a bleak foreign language film. Clearly aided by the perfect timing of its somewhat surprising best actor Oscar nomination, "Biutiful" is becoming a sizable success story for distributor Roadside Attractions.
Finally, nominated doc "Inside Job" crossed a milestone in its 21st weekend out. The Sony Pictures Classics-released financial crisis film grossed $38,061 from 53 screens to cross the $4 million mark.
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..