Gus Van Sant's "Milk" scored a huge Thanksgiving opening, according to initial estimates from Rentrak early this afternoon. The Focus Features release, a biopic of gay rights activist Harvey Milk, grossed $1,381,484 on just 36 screens over the three-day weekend, for a $38,375 average. This ranks as the highest opening weekend for any film released in the range of 30-40 theaters (a record previously held by Focus' "Atonement"). Since opening last Wednesday, "Milk" has taken in an impressive $1,866,079.
"'Milk''s record-breaking opening numbers are of course cause for celebration, but in the midst of enjoying the astonishing grosses we can't forgot an even greater cause for joy - the film itself," Focus CEO James Schamus told indieWIRE. "Honestly, if it was just me and my kids in the theater this weekend, I'd still be just as proud to know that Focus had even a small role to play in the creation of Gus Van Sant's masterpiece."
Obviously, it wasn't just Schamus and his children in the theater. On only 36 screens, the film ranked in the overall box office top ten. It sold out shows at all of its showings, finding particularly massive numbers at San Francisco's Castro (where it grossed $154,848 since opening), New York's Chelsea Clearview ($104,109), and Los Angeles' Arclight Hollywood ($101,095). Its lowest gross came from Miami's Aventura, where it totaled only $7,826 since Wednesday.
The film expands significantly this Friday, December 5, and Focus has reason to believe more good news is on the way. "Exit polls are extraordinary and demonstrate not only terrific word of mouth, but also that the film is playing gay/straight, over and under 35 and male/female," Focus' Jack Foley told indieWIRE. "Lots of group sales around the country and lots of sell outs in all houses. 'Milk' is successfully and competitively prepared, after the success of the Thanksgiving holiday, for it upcoming roll outs into the daunting holiday marketplace."
Also notable this weekend was the expansion of Fox Searchlight's "Slumdog Millionaire." The Danny Boyle film, which like "Milk" should benefit from awards season, expanded from 32 to 49 screens and saw its gross rise 44%. "Slumdog" took in $1,366,617 over the three-day weekend, averaging a huge $27,890 and taking its total to $3,562,972 as it continues to expand every weekend in December.
indieWIRE will publish its weekly box office column on Monday evening and the full iW BOT chart on Tuesday afternoon. Get the latest in the indieWIRE Box Office section.