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by Peter Knegt
December 1, 2013 12:45 PM
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Specialty Box Office: Indie Oscar Contenders Battle Out a Very Crowded Holiday

"Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom."

While the studios saw record numbers this holiday weekend care of "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" and "Frozen," a good dozen smaller films tried to take as much turkey money as they could in varying levels of release. Though only newcomer braved the crowd in Justin Chadwick's Nelson Mandela biopic "Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom," which The Weinstein Company released in 4 theaters to a respectable $100,306. That made for a $25,077 average, the highest of any film in release.

The Weinsteins also aggressively pushed out their other November release, "Philomena," in its second weekend.  Expanding from 4 to 835 theaters, the film -- which stars Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in the real life story of a woman (Dench) searching for the son that was taken from her decades earlier -- grossed $3,789,000 to jump into the overall top 10. It was a risky expansion move so quickly into the film's release, but it seems to have paid off to the tune of a strong $4,538 per-theater-average.

Three week old "Nebraska," which similarly follows intergenerational lead characters on a road trip of discovery.  That film -- starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte -- went a little more slow-and-steady as it went from 28 to 102 theaters this weekend, jumping 124% as it grossed $728,000. That made for a $7,137 average and took the $12 million-budgeted Alexander Payne-directed film to $1,476,000 as it heads into further expansion.

The film -- released via Paramount Vantage -- has been garnering Oscar buzz for Dern's performance since Cannes, where he won the best actor prize. Likely among Bruce Dern's main competition for the best actor Oscar, Matthew McConaughey, Chiwetel Ejiofer and Robert Redford all saw their films compete in a crowded specialty market this weekend as well.

"Nebraska."

In its fifth weekend, McConaughey's "Dallas Buyers Club" went from 666 to 696 theaters and fell a reasonable 3%, taking in $2,599,000 (though it also suggests the film has peaked). That made for a strong $4,159 average as the Focus Features-released film's total grew to $10,295,000.

The film stars McConaughey as Ron Woodroof, a homophobic drug addict who was diagnosed with HIV in 1986 Dallas, Texas and is given 30 days to live.  To save his life and the lives of others, he smuggles anti-viral medications into Dallas from all over the world, selling them through the "Dallas Buyers Club" to work around legalities (with the help of a trans woman played by Jared Leto, also an Oscar contender here). 

Fox Searchlight dropped Ejiofer's "12 Years a Slave" slightly from 1,474 to 1,165 theaters. But in a good sign, its grosses grew anyway. The result was a #10 finish in the overall top 10, taking in $3,025,000 for an $2,597 average (up from last weekend's $1,900 average). After seven weekends, "12 Years" has grossed $33,143,000, surpassing "Blue Jasmine" as the highest grossing English language platform release of 2013.

Also in its seventh weekend, Robert Redford's "All Is Lost" went from 338 down to 161 theaters and took in another $196,750, averaging $1,302. The Roadside Attractions-released man-lost-at-sea opus has now totaled $5,270,562.

A film that is competing in the foreign language race had a very strong third weekend. Paolo Sorrentino's "The Great Beauty" -- submitted care of Italy -- expanded from 3 to 23 screens, and took in a potent $139,000.  Considering the running time of the film is 142 minutes, these numbers were notably achieved with a limited schedule of showtimes each day. They resulted in a $6,043 average and a new total of $261,000.

While its ineligible for the foreign language Oscar due to not making the release deadline in its native France (though it did get multiple European Film Award noms), Palme d'Or winning lesbian relationship drama "Blue is the Warmest Color" continued to do strong business in its sixth weekend, considering its NC-17 rating and 3 hour length.  Going from 138 down to 92 theaters care of distributor Sundance Selects, "Blue" took in $127,880, averaging $1,390 (basically on par with last weekend's average).  The film has now totaled $1,622,530 and should very likely become only the 11th NC-17 rated film to cross the $2 million mark.

Peter Knegt is Indiewire's Senior Writer and box office columnist. Follow him on Twitter.


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1 Comment

  • mary | December 1, 2013 1:11 PMReply

    I think that the box office result of "Blue is the Warmest Color" isn't strong, given the good buzz, mostly positive reviews and bigger-than-usual marketing push from IFC/Sundance. (Now, it looks like the film wouldn't outgross even "Renoir".)
    On the other hand, "Lust Caution" had NC-17 rating and 2 hour 38 minutes length (without mosyly positive reviews), but that film still grossed $4.6 million.

    PS: sorry for off-topic, but this page has some mistakes
    http://www.indiewire.com/article/the-10-highest-grossing-foreign-language-films-of-2013-a-running-list

    1) The US version of "Kon-Tiki" isn’t a Foreign-Language film.
    The Weinstein-released "Kon-Tiki" isn't the same "Kon-Tiki" that received Oscar nomination; they are different movies. (In fact, Weinstein-released "Kon-Tiki" is a English-language movie.)
    http://ow.ly/rkVQy

    2) “Pulling Strings” is approximately 70% English, 30% Spanish.
    http://ow.ly/rkVTZ