Five rather high-profile specialty films entered an already crowded marketplace this weekend: Davis Guggenheim's "Waiting For 'Superman,'" Woody Allen's "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," Rodrigo Cortés's "Buried," Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's "HOWL," and Gasper Noe's "Enter The Void." While each and every one of them found at least respectable results, "Superman" and "Stranger" were the clear winners of the weekend, continuing what's been a strong beginning to the fall movie season after last weekend's strong launch of "Catfish" and "Never Let Me Go."
According to estimates provided by Rentrak earlier this afternoon, "Superman" - Guggenheim's acclaimed doc on the U.S. public school system - not only led the weekend's specialty debuts, but also found the highest limited opening for a documentary this year to date, and the fourth highest per-theater-average for any 2010 film. Perhaps aided by a high-profile boost from Oprah (and Mark Zuckerberg) earlier this weekend, "Superman" grossed $141,000 from just 4 theaters in New York and Los Angeles, giving the film a per-theater-average of $35,250. That's the best average for any doc since last September's "Capitalism: A Love Story," and ranks behind only "The Kids Are All Right," "The Ghost Writer" and "Cyrus" in terms of the year's best per-theater-averages. Released by Paramount Vantage, the film will expand to the top ten markets next Friday, October 1st. While this is obviously a fantastic start for the film, it will be that weekend that makes clear how far "Superman" can soar outside New York and Los Angeles.
Just behind "Superman" was Sony Pictures Classics' release of Woody Allen's "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," which performed very nicely, and very much in line with Allen's recent work. On six screens, London-set "Stranger," which stars Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Brolin, Antonio Banderas and Lucy Punch, grossed $163,474, taking its total to $214,815 since it opened on Wednesday. Its strong $27,245 average is similar to last year's Allen effort "Whatever Works," which averaged $29,574 from 9 screens (in a much less crowded early summer marketplace). That film ended up with a very respectable $5.3 million final gross, a number Sony Classics would surely be happy with for "Stranger."
The weekend's other two debuts were both certainly aided by the considerable star power of their leads: "Buried"'s Ryan Reynolds and "HOWL"'s James Franco. Though beyond that, they have very little in common. One stars Reynolds as a man trapped inside a coffin, the other is a look at the obscenity trials surrounding Allen Ginsberg's poem "HOWL," with Franco starring as Ginsberg.
"Buried," picked up by Lionsgate at Sundance, opened on 11 screens and grossed a decent (though definitely unspectacular) $104,500, averaging $9,500. "HOWL" - also a 2010 Sundance debut - saw similar results. On 6 screens in New York and San Francisco, the film grossed $54,000, averaging $9,000. It's a fair result, and notable is that "HOWL" is a considerably more niche product than "Buried," and distributor Oscilloscope should be hopeful with its numbers. It was actually either number 1 or 2 in each of its theaters. "HOWL" expands to 7 more screens next Friday, while "Buried" will have a considerable expansion on October 8th.
Definitely the least mainstream accessible of all the debuts, Gasper Noe's "Enter The Void" brought out many folks curious about Noe's challenging, divisive film. IFC Films opened "Void" in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and saw a $42,300 gross from 3 screens. That gave "Void" a strong average of $14,100. By comparison, Noe's last film - 2002's controversial "Irreversible" - grossed $60,086 from 7 theaters in its first weekend, averaging $8,583. IFC will expand "Void" to the top ten markets over the next two weeks.
There was also plenty of notable news from specialty holdovers. Last weekend's chart-topping duo - Mark Romanek's "Never Let Me Go" and Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman's "Catfish" - each expanded to promising results, though "Catfish" is looking like the bigger breakout of the two.
Released by Universal on behalf of the owners of the film, Relativity/Rogue, controversial documentary, "Catfish," went from 12 to 57 screens and grossed an excellent $470,000, holding on to an $8,254 per-screen-average. 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. So far, this controversy hasn't seemed to be a disadvantage for the film. Along with "Waiting For Superman," "Catfish" is giving documentaries some heft this fall season. After 10 days, its total already stands at $829,000.
Meanwhile, "Never Let Me Go" expanded from 4 to 26 screens and grossed $245,000. That gave the Fox Searchlight film, starring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield in an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's award-winning novel, a decent (but considering its cast and earlier buzz, somewhat disappointing) $9,423 per-theater-average over the weekend. Its total now stands at $442,000.
Other holdovers included Overture's release of Philip Seymour Hoffman's directorial effort "Jack Goes Boating," which went from 4 to 39 screens. The film grossed $86,000 for a fair $2,205 average. Starring Hoffman himself, as well as Amy Ryan, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Tom McCarthy, the film has now grossed $128,000.
Finally, two summer success stories crossed milestones this weekend. Aaron Schneider's "Get Low," in its ninth weekend out, grossed another $354,000 this weekend from 354 screens (averaging $1,000), which helped it cross the $8 million mark for Sony Pictures Classics. And its remarkable sixteenth weekend, Debra Granik's "Winter's Bone" chugged along past the $6 million mark, grossing another $59,500 from 82 screens. Distributor Roadside Attractions continue to deserve credit for turning this small, marketing-challenged film into such a success story.
"We're in our 16th weekend at the Angelika in NY," Roadside's Howard Cohen told indieWIRE earlier today, "but the Missouri-set film has also played 15 weeks at the Plaza Frontenac theatre in St. Louis, where we have the house record for the year. And a significant part of our gross has come from cities like Joplin, MO and Fayetteville, AK where independent films rarely play at all. We've stayed steady for virtually the entire release on just over 100 screens and only in this 16th weekend dipped to 82. We will have played at some point in the release in over 500 theatres. The theatrical release will extend up to, and even beyond, its DVD release date of October 26."
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..