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by Peter Knegt
December 26, 2010 5:10 AM
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Christmas Box Office: "Somewhere," "Illusionist" Open Strong As "Swan" and "Speech" Continue Reign

Two new films joined an increasingly crowded end-of-year rush of specialty releases this Christmas weekend, with both Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere" and Sylvain Chomet's "The Illusionist" having strong debuts. According to estimates provided by Rentrak earlier today, the films joined the likes of "Black Swan" and "The King's Speech" to give the specialty market a considerable holiday boost, while the studios continued to struggle through December, though Joel & Ethan Coen's "True Grit" was surprisingly the biggest bright spot, giving the Coens' their best debut ever (and likely their first $100 million grosser... it even outgrossed "Fargo" over the 3-day weekend alone).

While "True Grit" opened on over 3,000 screens, both specialty debuts opened on just a few screens, with "Somewhere" the widest at 7. Focus Features is surely happy with the result for the film, which stars Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning as a movie star and his daughter struggling to connect. It found a $142,257 gross over the 3-day weekend, and $196,168 since opening Wednesday. That made for a $20,322 per-theater-average over the weekend, which is a far cry from the $40,221 "Lost in Translation" averaged from a much wider 23 theaters back in its 2003 limited debut (2006's "Marie-Antoinette" opened wide), but considering a historically low attendance at cinemas on Christmas Eve and "Somewhere"'s more mixed reviews (and its intense competition from other specialty films), it's definitely a respectable debut. Also hopeful was its very strong increase from Friday to Saturday.

"'Somewhere' increased 101% in box office from Friday to Saturday in every theater," Focus' Adriene Bowles told indieWIRE. "The NY and LA markets remain the leading box office drivers for the film delivering the greatest revenue amounts. The Arclight in LA, and the Angelica and Lincoln Square in NYC had the strongest grosses. Box office results in DC, Chicago, SF and Boston were moderate to good (buoyed by excellent reviews in every market except Boston where the Globe review was soft). Outside of NY and LA, the competition in the arthouses was also a factor. Today’s business should be better than Saturday’s. However, the blizzard that is expected to hit the east coast from Virginia to NY is likely to reduce business in DC, Boston and NY."

"The Illusionist," meanwhile, opened on only 3 screens, and didn't debut until Christmas Day. Based on an unproduced work by Jacques Tati, the well-reviewed animated French import grossed $50,628 over Saturday and Sunday for Sony Pictures Classics, averaging $16,876. That's a strong number, and bodes well as the film expands in the coming weeks. Chomet's last film - "The Triplets of Belleville" (also released by Sony Classics) - averaged $18,013 from 3 screens over a full weekend in November, 2008, en route to a fantastic $7,002,255 final gross.

Not faring quite so well was the first weekend of Shana Feste's Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle "Country Strong." The Screen Gems release - in which Paltrow plays a troubled country music star - grossed only $17,300 from its 2 theaters, and $30,000 since opening on Wednesday. That made for a $8,650 three-day average, which though quite weak may not be so suggestive of how the film does when it expands wide and into markets that might be more receptive to the subject matter.

While "Somewhere" and "The Illusionist" were both strong debuts, the big stories remained the holdovers. Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" continued its sensational run at the box office this weekend as Fox Searchlight pushed it to 1,466 screens. The result was an excellent $6,600,000 gross - pushing "Swan" to #8 on the overall box office chart, and allowing it to surpass "The Kids Are All Right" as 2010's highest grossing specialty release.

"Swan," a psychological thriller about a ballerina (Natalie Portman) competing for the lead role in "Swan Lake," averaged $4,502, and pushed its total to $29,030,672 after 4 weekends (it took in $10,148,495 over the Wed-Sun period). Beyond topping "Kids" for 2010's record, it also topped the "The Wrestler"'s $26,238,243 final gross to become Aronofsky's high-grossing release.

Also fairing very well in expansion was Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech." The Weinstein Company has been taking it much more slowly with the film, which finally went semi-wide on Christmas Day, heading to 700 theaters (up from just 43) in its fifth weekend. The story of the relationship between King George VI (Colin Firth), who is plagued by a horrible stutter that challenges his reign, and his eccentric speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush), "Speech" managed a potent $4,558,000 gross this weekend, which is exceptional considering that on Friday night it had not yet expanded. The film has now totalled $8,402,000, and its heavy participation in awards season should only aid in making that number more and more regal in the new year.

"We are very happy with the strong numbers for 'The Kings Speech,'" The Weinstein Company's Victoria Parker told indieWIRE. "The numbers reflect the growing word of mouth and awards buzz for the film. Particularly as we only expanded the film on Saturday this is a very good number."

In its second weekend, Lionsgate's critically acclaimed "Rabbit Hole" did not fare quite as well. On 34 screens (up from 5), the John Cameron Mitchell film, which stars Nicole Kidman as a woman grieving the death of her son alongside her husband (Aaron Eckhart) and mother (Dianne Wiest), grossed $95,200. That made for a $2,800 average, and brought the film's total to $176,039. Hopeful though is that while the film grossed only $8,991 on Christmas Eve (where its subject matter made it an unlikely cinematic choice for the holiday), the film grossed $40,792 on Christmas Day and an estimated $45,417 for Sunday. The film will expand further in January.

Peter Knegt is indieWIRE's Associate Editor. Follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

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 studiogrosses@rentrak.com by the end of the day each Monday..

TAGS: Black Swan

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