By Peter Knegt | Indiewire February 21, 2010 at 6:27AM
With a whopping $44,750 average, Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer" stormed the specialty box office this weekend, according to estimates provided by Rentrak. The political thriller - starring Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, and Kim Cattrall - is coming off last week's debut at the Berlin International Film Festival, where it ended up winning the best director prize. In its North American theatrical debut, it grossed $179,000 from four theaters (two in New York, two in Los Angeles), by far allowing for 2010's top per-theater-average.
Distributor Summit Entertainment said the film skewed older and that attendance was "evenly split between male and female movie-goers." It managed a decent "B+" score from audience poll Cinema Score (in line with its criticWIRE grade on this site), which bodes well for its expansion to ten additional markets next weekend. It's a considerable boost for Polanski, who had his last film - 2005's "Oliver Twist" - average $13,689 from its five screen debut, en route to a mediocre $2,080,321 gross in North America.
Though far from a specialty release (it opened on 2,991 screens), another Berlinale title from another legendary director - Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island" - also managed a very impressive debut. Topping the overall box office, the Leonardo diCaprio-starring thriller grossed a stunning $40,200,000 over the weekend, averaging $13,440 and becoming the top debut ever for both Scorsese and diCaprio. Though its essentially impossible for the film to eventually become diCaprio's top grosser ever ("Titanic" will likely always hold that record, unless Leo re-teams with James Cameron someday), "Island" could potentially unseat 2006's "The Departed" as Scorsese's biggest money maker.
Also debuting this weekend was Shorts International and Magnolia Pictures' release of the 2010 Oscar Shorts. On 95 screens, the film grossed an estimated $265,000, averaging $2,789. While overall thats a mild average, considering the content (a collection of short films is not generally box office gold), it's a decent number. More over, its showing at New York's IFC Center found the theater's biggest single day on Saturday, grossing $21,339 across the complex. This beat their previous single-day high of $20,167, which last year's Shorts program contributed to as well.
Roadside Attractions' "The Good Guy," starring "Gilmore Girls"'s Alexis Bledel as an ambitious young urbanite, also debuted. On 9 screens, the film found a somewhat decent $36,240 debut, averaging $4,027 (indieWIRE's Michael Koresky reviewed the film earlier this week).
The distributor also released Mitchell Lichtenstein's "Happy Tears" (a Berlinale 2009 alum), starring Demi Moore and Parker Posey as sisters, and had a much rougher go at it. On 15 screens, the film grossed only $14,000, averaging a poor $933.
Paladin's release of Jeb Stuart's "Blood Done Sign My Name" did not fare much better. On an ambitious 95 screens, the film - based on Tim Tyson's novel about the murder of a black Vietnam veteran by a white businessman during the 1970s - grossed only $97,450, averaging a weak $1,026.
And finally, on a sole New York City screen, Harvey Wang's doc "The Last New Yorker" - which follows lifelong friends Lenny Sugarman and Ruben Liebner - grossed a fair $4,704.
Estimates for another opener - Jessica Hausner's very well-received "Lourdes" - were not released as of early this afternoon. Check back with indieWIRE for an update.
As far as holdovers went, last week's specialty box office champ - Karan Johar's Bollywood film "My Name Is Khan" - fell off considerably from its impressive debut (the best ever for a Bollywood film in North America). Released by Fox Searchlight, the film expanded slightly fro 120 to 125 venues, and dropped off a steep 63%, grossing $720,000 for a $5,760. Still decent numbers to be sure, "Khan" - 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 - has now grossed $3,272,000 Stateside.
Also of note was the expansion of Academy Award nominated Israeli film "Ajami," which headed to LA, Chicago and DC in its third frame, totalling 8 theaters overall. Directors Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani's film managed an estimate of $48,000, averaging $6,000. That included a very good $12,000 gross at New York's Lincoln Plaza. Kino International is distributing the film, which has now totalled $162,937.
Sony Pictures Classics saw good numbers from its Oscar hopefuls as well, with Michael Hoffman's "The Last Station," and Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon" both finding their best weekends in their sixth and eighth respectively. "Station" - nominated for both best actress and best supporting actor - went from 84 to 109 screens and grossed $600,958, averaging $5,513 and bringing its cume to $2,205,114. "Ribbon" - a favorite in the foreign language film category - went from 45 to 72 screens - grossing $171,657, averaging $2,384 and taking its total to $1,267,056. Sony Classics will release another foreign language Oscar nominee, Jacques Audiard's "A Prophet," next weekend.
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..