By Peter Knegt | Indiewire May 22, 2011 at 4:58AM
A week after opening the Cannes Film Festival to warm notices, Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" is burning up the U.S. box office. On six screens, the Owen Wilson led ensemble piece grossed a downright stunning $578,905. According to estimates provided by Rentrak earlier today, that made for a $96,488 per-theater-average, which is by far the best limited debut of 2011 and the highest per-theater-average since "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" managed $104,025 on 18 screens back in November 2009. It even topped the likes of "The King's Speech" and "Black Swan," which had per-theater-averages in the $80,000-$90,000 range late last year.
Distributor Sony Pictures Classics should clearly be very pleased. Their previous outing with Allen, last year's "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," averaged $26,684 on 6 screens. "Paris" surpassed that Friday night alone. It also surpassed "Melinda and Melinda" as Allen's best limited opening ever, and was the highest per-theater-average ever for Sony Classics, nearly doubling the $53,556 Pedro Almodovar's "Broken Embraces" averaged in 2009.
"The response to this magical movie is just fantastic," Sony Pictures Classics' Michael Barker told indieWIRE today. "The opening weekend more than fulfills its promise as the perfect summer movie."
"Paris" was the only reporting debut, overshadowing a diverse group of holdovers that for the most part struggled to find strong numbers. Its fellow Cannes film "The Beaver" expanded from 105 to 168 screens in its third weekend, for example, and continued to perform very poorly. Directed by Jodie Foster and starring Mel Gibson as a clinically depressed toy company CEO who finds solace through a beaver hand puppet (and Foster herself as his wife), "The Beaver" grossed only $190,000 over the weekend, averaging just $1,131. With a budget of $21 million, "The Beaver" was not a costly endeavour and will break even with foreign sales. However, these numbers are still very poor and suggests North American audiences are not up for seeing Gibson back on the big screen. After 17 days, "The Beaver" has now taken in $581,643 for distributor Summit Entertainment. Even the $1 million mark seems like it will be a struggle for the film.
Spencer Susser's "Hesher" - released through Wrekin Hill Entertainment - didn't fare too much better. Despite the presence of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Natalie Portman, the 2010 Sundance Film Festival alum grossed only $63,758 from 24 screens (a drop of 18 screens from its debut last weekend, which is also not a good sign). That amounted to a $2,657 average and a new total of $255,632.
Also in its second weekend, National Geographic expanded Justin Chadwick's "The First Grader" from 7 to 14 screens. The film, based on the true story of an 84 year-old Kenyan villager and ex Mau Mau freedom fighter who fights for his right to go to school for the first time, grossed $39,314 gross for a weak $2,313 per-theater average.
Roadside Attractions expanded Dan Rush's "Everything Must Go" from 218 to 245 screens. The film, which had premiered at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival, stars Will Ferrell in a largely dramatic role of a man who simultaneously loses his wife and his job. The film grossed $529,000 - a reasonable 33% drop from last weekend - and averaged $2,159 per theater. "Everything Must Go" has now grossed $1,628,000 after 10 days. Considering the star power of Ferrell, it's an underwhelming number.
Last weekend's highest per-theater-average debut, Sundance Selects' release of Yves Saint Laurent doc "L'Amour Fou," expanded from 2 to 12 screens. The result was a $42,000 gross and a per-theater-average of $3,500. The film's new total stands at $102,000.
Sundance Selects had better news with regard to Werner Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," which expanded from 83 to 107 screens in its fourth frame and continued to do robust business. The doc, which screened in both 2-D and 3-D versions, grossed an estimated $438,700. That amounted to a $4,100 per-theater-average and a new total of $1,980,000. "Dreams" follows an exclusive expedition into the nearly inaccessible Chauvet Cave in France, home to the most ancient visual art known to have been created by man. Sundance Selects picked up the film out of the Toronto Film Festival last fall and will see it gross over $2 million in under a month of release. Its by far the highest grossing documentary of 2011 so far.
In its sixth frame, IDP/Samuel Goldwyn's release of Giuseppe Capotondi's Italian thriller "The Double Hour" also continued to do well. The film expanded to 36 screens and took in $126,000 for a per-theater-average of $3,500. The film's total now stands at $541,045.
Finally, "Paris" distributor Sony Pictures Classics had mixed results from the continued expansion of two of its other films: Denis Villeneuve's "Incendies" and Morgan Spurlock's "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold." Academy Award-nominated Quebec import "Incendies" expanded from 33 to 59 U.S. screens in its fifth weekend and took in a $198,025 gross. That made for a very respectable $3,357 per-theater-average. "Incendies" has now totaled $680,699 in addition to the $3 million-plus it grossed in Canada since opening last fall.
"Greatest Movie," meanwhile, went from 57 to 81 screens in its fifth weekend and didn't do so well. The doc, which takes on American brand marketing, grossed $41,110 and averaged only $508. So far, Spurlock's latest has grossed a weak $478,393.
indieWIRE 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 firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of the day each Monday..