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Specialty Box Office: '12 Years' Gets Off To Strong (But Not Huge) Start

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire October 20, 2013 at 12:44PM

After a month of essentially non-stop Oscar buzz and critical acclaim building off of its debuts in Telluride and Toronto, Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave" hit 19 North American theaters this weekend, and the results were expectedly quite strong.
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12 Years A Slave

After a month of essentially non-stop Oscar buzz and critical acclaim building off of its debuts in Telluride and Toronto, Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave" hit 19 North American theaters this weekend, and the results were expectedly quite strong.

The Fox Searchlight-released film -- which stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodward, Lupita Nyong’o and Brad Pitt (among others) -- grossed $960,000 for a $50,526 per-theater-average. 

That's a great number to be sure, particularly since it opened in 19 theaters as opposed to the more typical 4 or 5.  The film still had the sixth best average of 2013 so far, behind five films -- "Blue Jasmine," "Spring Breakers," "The Place Beyond The Pines," "Enough Said" and "Fruitvale Station" -- that all debuted in 4-7 houses.

But considering the mammoth acclaim attached to the film, it's somewhat below what we've come to expect in recent years from fall releases with major Oscar buzz.  "Precious," for example, opened in a similar 18 locations back in November 2009 and averaged over double: $104,025.  "Black Swan" (also 18 theaters) and "Up in the Air" (15) managed $80,212 and $78,763, respectively.  But even though "12 Years" didn't quite reach those heights, it's opening number is far from being disappointing.

No more boats.
No more boats.

"On this opening weekend the film has reached an incredibly diverse audience," Frank Rodriguez, SVP Fox Searchlight Distribution, said. "Playing in theatres such as the Lincoln Plaza in New York, and the Showcase Icon in Chicago, we have been attracting both the Art/Specialty cinephile crowd as well the African- American audience. CinemaScores have come in with an overall grade of ‘A’ with a fairly wide spread in terms of age and demographics."
 
Next weekend the film will add an additional 6 cities as well as expanding in already opened markets,  with a location count increasing to approximately 100-125 theatres. How it fares then will be a more significant test of its box office potential leading into a crowded awards season.

Also opening were two other high profile specialty titles, each coming with their own critical acclaim and varying degrees of awards buzz: J.C. Chandor's "All Is Lost" and John Krokidas' "Kill Your Darlings." Though it seems the extraordinarily crowded market for smart adult fare  (in addition to "12 Years," acclaimed studio releases "Gravity" and "Captain Phillips" are still raking in serious cash in wide release) may have hurt them, at least out of the gate.

"All is Lost" -- starring best actor hopeful Robert Redford as a man lost at sea --- opened in 6 theaters and grossed a respectable $97,350, averaging $16,225.  It jumped 61% from Friday to Saturday, which is a positive sign as co-distributors Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate expand it further in the coming weeks (starting with 15 more markets on October 25th).

Meanwhile, "Kill Your Darlings" -- featuring Daniel Radcliffe as a young Allen Ginsberg -- grossed $57,722 from 4 theaters over the weekend, averaging a similar $14,431. The Sony Pictures Classics release has totaled $73,545 since opening Wednesday, and is off to a decent start considering the competitive marketplace.

Less high profile openers included Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson's acclaimed doc "American Promise," which grossed $18,250 from the IFC Center and Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center in New York for a very reasonable $9,125 average. Distributor Rada Film Group said the gross was limited only by capacity, as "countless patrons were turned away Friday evening with shows sold out hours in advance at both locations." They said that the film's "extensive and aggressive community outreach campaign yielded multiple sold out shows in the 90-seat theater at the Bunin and led to to it being moved into a larger theater uptown due to demand"

Kino Lorber opened Bruno Dumont's Juliette Binoche starring "Camille Claudel 1915" on a sole NYC screen, taking in $5,500 for the weekend to bring its total since opening Wednesday to $7,124. The film will open in LA, Chicago and Seattle in the coming weeks. 

Finally, High Top Releasing found surprising success with the semi-wide debut of their Christian-skewing "I'm in Love with a Church Girl," which stars rapper Ja Rule as a man struggling to stay on the right side of the law as he begins a relationship with the titular church girl. On 457 screens, the film grossed $1,025,000 for a $2,243 average. Definitely a decent number, and one that once again makes clear the market for Christian audiences.

This article is related to: Box Office, 12 Years a Slave, All Is Lost, Kill Your Darlings