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Specialty Box Office: Big Debut For 'Blue' As Lesbian Drama Turns Controversy Into Cash

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire October 27, 2013 at 12:31PM

Abdellatif Kechiche's Palme d'Or winning "Blue is the Warmest Color" got off to a very promising start this weekend.
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"Blue Is the Warmest Color"

Abdellatif Kechiche's Palme d'Or winning "Blue is the Warmest Color" got off to a very promising start this weekend. In 4 theaters in New York and Los Angeles, the film -- which has managed an endless stream of controversy since debuting in Cannes six months ago -- grossed $101,116, averaging $25,279.

READ MORE: Adèle Exarchopoulos Addresses the 'Blue is the Warmest Color' Controversy and the Film's Sex Scenes

Those numbers are very strong considering the lesbian relationship drama is 3 hours long and rated NC-17 (though not all the theaters showing it adhered to that rating's rule). Clearly a unique mix of the Cannes' prize, rave reviews, much discussed graphic sex and a battle between the film's director and young stars added up to a lot of interest, at least from NYC and LA audiences. It actually topped the $22,755 that the previous Palme d'Or winner, "Amour," averaged from 3 theaters in its first weekend before going on to gross $6.7 million and get multiple major Oscar nominations (though if "Blue" could manage any of those feats at this point it would be rather remarkable).

READ MORE: 'Blue is the Warmest Color' and the Real Problem With Male Filmmakers and Female Sexuality

"We are thrilled with this weekend's performance of 'Blue Is The Warmest Color,'"  Sundance Selects' Mark Boxer, SVP Sales and Distribution, said. "From the moment it screened in Cannes (winning the Palme d'Or) to its opening engagements here in the United States the film has received enormous publicity and critical acclaim for the film and for the lead actresses' performances.  Now filmgoers in New York and Los Angeles have had the opportunity to see what generated so much excitement and controversy and the turnout was quite impressive in a very crowded marketplace.  The audience appears to have appealed equally to both men and women and a variety of age groups and the response to the film was excellent."

Sundance Selects rolls the film into the top 10 markets on November 1st. 

Also fairing quite well in their first weekend was Costa-Gavras's French language "Capital" and Jehane Noujaim's highly acclaimed documentary "The Square. The latter -- which won audience awards at both Sundance and Toronto and is having DIY release -- impressively grossed $15,665 from a sole 180 seat screen at NYC's Film Forum The former -- released through Cohen Media Group -- hit 2 screens and grossed $22,400 for a very respectable $11,200.

Fox Searchlight "12 Years a Slave."

Clearly also of note this weekend was the expansion of Steve McQueen's Oscar frontrunner "12 Years a Slave." After a great-but-not-amazing debut last weekend, Fox Searchlight expanded the film from 18 to 123 theaters, and saw it jump into the overall top 10 as it grossed $2,150,000 for a $17,480 average. That took its total to $3,409,943.

"This has been a very good result as the film is playing well in Art Houses, African American theatres, as well as in mainstream multiplexes," Frank Rodriguez. Head of Distribution at Fox Searchlight said. "The markets we are in presently are LA, NY, Atlanta, Wash DC, Chicago, Toronto. Dallas, Houston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston and Detroit. Next week we will add approximately 45 new cities and will increase our theatre count to over 400 locations across North America."

That expansion will be the biggest test for "12 Years" yet, though so far its numbers remain very strong but still behind many recent Oscar hopefuls that followed similar trajectories (opening on 15-20 screens before expanding significantly in weekend two).  The second weekends for "Black Swan" ($36,726 average from 90 theaters), "Precious" ($33,762 from 174 theaters), "Up In The Air" ($33,255 from 72 theaters) all saw roughly double the per-theater-averages of "12 Years." On the one hand, its difficult to be disappointed by a $17,480 average from 123 theaters. On the other, there's an extraordinary amount of acclaim and momentum attached to "12 Years," so the sky really should be the limit.

Fox Searchlight impressively two films in the overall top 10, as Nicole Holofcener's "Enough Said" continued to show remarkable legs. In its sixth weekend, the film hit 835 theaters and dropped just 11% as it took in $1,555,000, averaging $1,862. Its total now stands at $13,021,092. In the next few days, it should top the $13,368,437 that was grossed by 2006's "Friends With Money" to become Holofcener's biggest box office hit.

This article is related to: Box Office, Blue is the Warmest Color , Abdellatif Kechiche , LGBT