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by Peter Knegt
May 30, 2011 12:21 PM
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Holiday Box Office: Malick's "Tree" Full of Life Over Memorial Day Weekend; "Paris" Still Burning

"Tree of Life." Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

While "The Hangover Part II" rocked the studio box office Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" opened to very strong numbers in 4 New York and Los Angeles theaters over the the holiday weekend. According to estimates, the long-awaited Palme d'Or winner took in $489,000 over the four-day weekend, averaging a potent $122,250. Its three-day average alone ($93,250) made it Fox Searchlight's best limited debut ever (topping "Black Swan"'s $80,212 per-screen), and Malick's best debut by far ("The Thin Red Line" is his second best, which averaged $56,506 from 5 theaters in 1998). All in all, it was the 18th best limited debut of all time.

The numbers are all the more impressive considering the fact that the film is 2 ½ hours long, giving the film significantly fewer shows than its average competitor ("Midnight in Paris" is only 94 minutes, for example). Every prime show and evening show sold out in all the theatres, and the film will set a house record at the Sunshine in New York City. The previous record holder was "The Wrestler" ($71,300) and though final numbers for the theater itself are not yet available, the film took in a whopping $70,227 on Friday and Saturday alone.

Its a very promising start to the film, which benefits from generally positive reviews and the star presence of Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, but could easily alienate audiences with its challenging and far from conventional narrative (the fact that it dropped from Friday-to-Saturday suggests interest may in general be front-loaded). Fox Searchlight will expand on Friday to 8 new markets and add 3 theatres in LA and 3 theatres in NY for a total of 18 theatres. They will roll out on a limited platform release in exclusive runs every week until the national release July 1. They will find out more on how limited "Tree"'s audience is then, but for now they should clearly be pleased.

One record the film did not break is the best limited debut of 2011, which Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" set an extremely high bar for last weekend in its $99,834 per-theater-average ("Tree" and "Paris" together should end up being among the 20 best limited debuts of all time). This weekend, Sony Classics expanded "Paris" from 6 to 58 theaters, and continued to see stellar numbers indicative of the film becoming a significant breakout hit (and one of Allen's highest grossing films ever.

The film grossed $2,614,671 over the 4-day weekend, averaging a fantastic $45,081. It saw a 54% increase from Friday to Saturday, and ended up placing 7th in the overall box office despite playing on a tiny fraction of the screens its competitors were. It also gave "Paris" a new total of roughly $3,519,655. After just 11 days, "Paris" has outgrossed last year's "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger"'s entire gross.

Sony Classics' Michael Barker told indieWIRE today that the film will hit approximately 125 screens this upcoming Friday, and 750-1,000 on June 10th - more than any other Woody Allen film.

"Paris" and "Tree"'s fellow Cannes 2011 alum "The Beaver" went from 168 to 109 screens in its fourth weekend, 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 $136,000 over the four-day weekend, averaging just $1,248. 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. "The Beaver" has now taken in $796,000 for distributor Summit Entertainment. Even the $1 million mark will be a struggle for the film.

In its third weekend, National Geographic expanded Justin Chadwick's "The First Grader" from 14 to 36 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 $57,239 over the 3-day portion of the holiday weekend (4-day numbers were not yet available) for a weak $1,590 per-theater average. The film's total now stands at $139,768.

Sundance Selects had better news with regard to Werner Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," which expanded from 107 to 136 screens in its fifth frame and continued to do robust business. The doc, which screened in both 2-D and 3-D versions, grossed an estimated $588,000 over the 4-day weekend. That amounted to a $4,900 per-theater-average and a new total of $2,775,000. "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 $3 million by next weekend. It is by far the highest grossing documentary of 2011 so far.

In its seventh frame, IDP/Samuel Goldwyn's release of Giuseppe Capotondi's Italian thriller "The Double Hour" also continued to do well. The film expanded to 58 screens and took in $214,020 over the holiday for a per-theater-average of $3,690. The film's total now stands at $789,206.

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 59 to 72 U.S. screens in its sixth weekend and took in a $260,219 gross. That made for a very respectable $3,614 per-theater-average. "Incendies" has now totaled $949,727 in addition to the $3 million-plus it grossed in Canada since opening last fall. It has also significantly outperformed the film that beat it at the Oscars, "In a Better World," which was also released by Sony Classics.

"Greatest Movie," meanwhile, went from 81 to 141 screens in its sixth weekend and didn't do so well. The doc, which takes on American brand marketing, grossed $68,493 over the 4-day and averaged only $486. So far, Spurlock's latest has grossed a weak $570,041.

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

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

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5 Comments

  • Hannah Torres | May 31, 2011 1:25 AMReply

    Director Ewing Miles Brown says Sam Botta has lost 74 lbs (now 150 lbs.) for Movie Tech Studios pre-production of "Live Fearless" Sam Botta Hosts the upcoming reality TV show. :) in Pre-Production now with guests like Betty White, who says "Appreciate life while it's happening!" Also "get over it" (referring to aging) and "I'm swimming as fast as I can" in reference to her work.

  • Dasbrt | May 29, 2011 8:14 AMReply

    This is really great news for Tree and Malick and for audiences stateside. I was beginning to think that reality tv and the string of really awful films hitting the market had decayed our brains. Hungry for something that will leave me thinking after I exit the theatre instead of exhausted by the green-screen fillers, poor scripts, end of world scenarios, etc.

    Love Pitt and Penn together. Love Malick always. Hope audiences come out and support an intelligent offering that tells Hollywood we want more.

  • timm | May 29, 2011 6:22 AMReply

    "“The Tree of Life” opened to very strong numbers in 4 New York and Los Angeles theaters over the 3-day portion of the holiday weekend. According to estimates, the long-awaited Palme d’Or winner took in $352,320 on its first day of release, averaging a potent $88,080."

    Are you certain that number is for the Friday only? From my vantage point it looks like it did 120,130 on Friday and 119,190 on Saturday. Still amazing but was wondering if the 352,320 is an estimate for all three days. Typo?

  • mary | May 29, 2011 5:52 AMReply

    On the other hand, Sony Pictures Classics’ “Incendies” is still doing well and may be on track to gross around $2 million in US theatically. It may be a good example about how to handling a platform release.
    “Incendies” lost the Best Foreign Language Film award to “In a Better World” at Oscar 2011. However, the well-reviewed “Incendies” enjoys US box office success while the mixed-reviewed “In a Better World” doesn’t. For US specialty theatrical markets, critical support may be a much more influential factor than Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film award.

  • dom | May 28, 2011 6:46 AMReply

    i dont know if paris will top vcb or match point. vcb opened on 700 screens out of the gate and match point jumped to 300 in week 2. paris seems to be a much slower roll out and i don't know if it can hold all that positive momentum. would love to see them just push it with all the great reviews and min 500 screens