Unlike Lee Daniels' last two films, his legally titled "Lee Daniels' The Butler" went wide in its first weekend of release, and it sure did pay off. Though Indiewire's Sunday report is typically exclusive to limited release indies -- we'll get to that in a minute -- it seemed worth leading off with what is clearly the box office story of the weekend, wide or limited. The Weinstein Company scored a $25,010,000 gross from "The Butler" from 2,933 theaters, which gave it a clear spot at #1 and significantly upped its awards season potential (Oprah Winfrey is as close to a lock for a nomination as they come at this time of the year). The reported $30 million budgeted film outgrossed "The Paperboy" seemingly in its first minutes of release (that film took in $693,286 last fall), while it should top the $47,566,524 "Precious" grossed in 2009 by next weekend.
As for the platform releases, a trio of promising Sundance titles -- Sony Classics' "Austenland," IFC Films' "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" and RADiUS-TWC's "Cutie and the Boxer" -- all found good-not-great numbers in their first weekends.
Jerusha Hess's "Austenland" -- which stars Keri Russell as a Jane Austen-obsessed woman who heads to a resort themed around the author -- had the best average of the three, grossed $42,633 from 4 theaters for a decent $10,658 per-theater haul. How it manages as it expands will be the true test, particularly for a romantic comedy aimed at women (which tend to have strong holding power).
IFC Films set David Lowery's acclaimed "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" in 3 theaters in New York and Los Angeles, and saw a similarly so-so $9,600 average as it grossed $28,800. The film -- which stars Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara and Ben Foster -- will roll out to the top 10 markets next weekend.
Doc "Cutie and the Boxer" -- which won the directing award at Sundance for Zachary Heinzerling -- hit 3 theaters as well via RADiUS-TWC. The result was a $21,093 gross and a $7,031 average. That doesn't compare well to RADiUS-TWC's numbers for another Sundance 2013 doc, "20 Feet From Stardom," which they released earlier this summer and saw turn into the season's documentary breakout hit. Notably this weekend -- its tenth -- "20 Feet" became the first doc of 2013 to hit the $4 million mark, a very impressive feat.
The weekend's best per-theater-average actually belonged to French import "You Will Be My Son," which Cohen Media Group released on a sole screen. The Gilles Legrand-directed film about two men working on a vineyard grossed an impressive $15,469, giving it the best average of any film in release this weekend.
The best average for a holdover, meanwhile, went to the fourth weekend of Woody Allen's continuously overperforming "Blue Jasmine." Like "The Butler," it seems like a safe bet for a summer film to take some Oscar nods (in this case for Cate Blanchett's staggering lead performance). That's certainly aided by its box office performance. In week four, the Sony Pictures Classics release went to 229 theaters and grossed $2,359,395, averaging a strong $10,303 as it took its total to $9,489,976. The film is now tracking slightly behind Allen's 2011 megahit "Midnight in Paris," which was at $13.9 million by the end of its fourth weekend. However, that film had expanded to nearly 1,000 theaters by this point which makes the comparison problematic. When Sony sets "Jasmine" to that wide number, it will be much more clear how close it can come to the Allen record of $56.8 million that "Paris" grossed.
Check back for a full chart of new and returning releases later this afternoon.