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Specialty Box Office: 'Middle' Tops Debuts; 'Paperboy' Plummets In Second Weekend

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire October 14, 2012 at 1:20PM

Perhaps helped by a big endorsement from Oprah Winfrey,  Ava DuVernay's Sundance Film Festival-award winning "Middle of Nowhere" topped all indie newcomers this weekend, grossing $78,030 for a $13,005 per-theater-average. That average bested the likes of "Smashed," "The Big Picture," "Simon and the Oaks" and "War of the Buttons," all of which also opened this weekend. News wasn't so good for another filmmaker with Oprah-associations, Lee Daniels, whose "The Paperboy" fell off sharpy in its second weekend.
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"Middle of Nowhere"

Perhaps helped by a big endorsement from Oprah Winfrey,  Ava DuVernay's Sundance Film Festival-award winning "Middle of Nowhere" topped all indie newcomers this weekend, grossing $78,030 for a $13,005 per-theater-average. That average bested the likes of "Smashed," "The Big Picture," "Simon and the Oaks" and "War of the Buttons," all of which also opened this weekend.

News wasn't so good for another filmmaker with Oprah-associations, Lee Daniels, whose "The Paperboy" fell off sharpy in its second weekend.

Full rundown below.

The Debuts:

"Middle of Nowhere" (AFFRM)
 Ava DuVernay's "Middle of Nowhere" -- which won the directing prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival -- debuted on 6 screens this weekend to promising results.

Released by the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM) and Participant, the film grossed $78,030 for a $13,005 per-theater-average.

"The weekend was electric as 'Middle of Nowhere' enjoyed sold-out shows with both diverse crowds in NYC and LA, and predominately African-American audiences in Washington DC and Philadelphia," AFFRM's Tilane Jones said. "AFFRM, and our partners at Participant Media, also offered AMPAS members free admission beginning opening weekend.  We fiercely believe in this picture, and are committed to reaching a wide-cross section of filmlovers as we expand throughout October."
 
The film will expand to 16 screens next weekend, with runs in Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Berkeley, Miami and Seattle. AFFRM is a distribution collaborative dedicated to black arthouse cinema. "Nowhere" is their fourth theatrical release, preceded by "Kinyarwanda," "I Will Follow" and "Restless City."

"Smashed" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Another Sundance alum didn't fare so well this weekend as James Ponsoldt's "Smashed" hit 4 screens care of Sony Pictures Classics. The acclaimed film -- which Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul as a couple dealing with alcoholism -- grossed $30,025 for a disappointing $7,506 per-theater-average.

"The Big Picture" (MPI Media)
Eric Lartigau's French import "The Big Picture" hit 2 screens this weekend care of MPI Media and managed a $14,500 gross, averaging $7,250.  The film -- which stars Romain Duris and Niels Arestrup -- debuted way back at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival.

"Simon and the Oaks" (The Film Arcade)
Lisa Ohlin's "Simon and the Oaks" -- a Swedish film about two boys coming of age during World War II -- grossed an admirable $10,377 from a single screen in its first weekend. It marks the second release from newbie distributor The Film Arcade after "The Other Dream Team" a few weeks back.

"War of the Buttons" (The Weinstein Company)
The Weinstein Company released another foreign language film -- Christophe Barratier's French "War of the Buttons" -- on 5 screens this weekend to dismal results. Grossing just $4,570, the film averaged only $914 per theater.

"Atlas Shrugged, Part II" (Atlas Distribution)
Though this column doesn't normally cover wide releases, the 1,012 screen debut of John Putch's "Atlas Shrugged, Part II" warrants discussion. The $20 million budget film had a worse debut than its disappointing predecessor, taking in just $1,708,000 for a $1,688 average. Last April, "Part I" grossed a similar $1,686,347 in its first weekend, but from only 299 screens. The film -- which replaced all of its cast members from the first film -- has a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

For a full report on more than a dozen holdover releases shortly -- including "The Paperboy," "The Master," "Arbitrage," and "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" -- continue to the next page.

"The Paperboy"
The Holdovers:

"The Paperboy" (Millennium)
Lee Daniels' Southern gothic flick expanded from 11 to 49 screens this weekend care of Millennium Entertainment and found very disappointing numbers.  Rising just 1% in grosses despite more than quadrupling the screen count, "The Paperboy" grossed $103,995 for a weak $2,122 average. Considering its starry cast (Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, John Cusack and Nicole Kidman), one might have thought it could manage a lot better, even with its generally negative reviews. After 10 days, the film's total stands at $244,785.

READ MORE: REVIEW: Is Lee Daniels' 'The Paperboy' So Bad Its Good? Only If That's What You Want From It.

"The House I Live In" (Abramorama)
Not holding on that much better in its second weekend (though clearly with smaller expectations) was Eugene Jarecki's highly acclaimed doc "The House I Live In."  Going from 2 to 8 screens, the film -- which looks at the profound human rights implications of U.S. drug policy -- grossed $22,470, averaging $2,809. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize for a U.S. doc at Sundance, the film has now totalled $46,713.

"Wuthering Heights" (Oscilloscope)
Oscilloscope expanded Andrea Arnold's adaptation of "Wuthering Heights" from 1 to 4 screens in its second weekend. The result was a slight 12% rise in grosses, taking in just $10,000 for a $2,500 average. "Heights" now has a total gross of $23,117.

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" (Summit)
Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" -- adapted from Chboksy's own 1999 novel -- had a healthy fourth weekend in expansion.

Starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller as a trio of teenage misfits in 1990s Pittsburgh, Summit Entertainment expanded the film aggressively from 221 to 726 screens and jumped 36%. That resulted in a $2,166,000 gross, which made for a very respectable $2,983 per-theater-average. The film's total so far stands at $6,151,445, and Summit should easily see the film pass the $10 million mark.

READ MORE: Ezra Miller On His New Role, Queer Representation in Cinema and the 'Perks' of Being Honest About Your Sexuality

"How To Survive a Plague" (Sundance Selects)
In its fourth weekend was David France's intensely acclaimed look at AIDS activism on New York, "How To Survive a Plague." On 9 screens (up from 7), the film struggled to find audiences, taking in $12,600 for a $1,400 average. The film's total now stands at $92,000.

"The Master" (The Weinstein Company)
Paul Thomas Anderson's veiled take on Scientology -- which stars  Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams -- dropped from 864 to 682 theaters in its fifth weekend and took a hit.

Falling 56% in grosses, "The Master" took in $823,000. Its $1,207 average helped make it clear that "The Master" has peaked, box office wise. Its total gross so far -- $13,919,908  -- makes competing with the $40.2 million Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" grossed (or half that) seem unlikely.

"Arbitrage" (Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate)
Also in its fifth weekend was "Arbitrage." Going from 245 down to 195 screens across North America, the film -- which stars Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon -- grossed $363,350.  Like "The Master," that's a big drop-off from last weekend, though overall nothing to be disappointed by (particularly given expectations for "Arbitrage" were much less than "The Master"). It made for a $1,863 average, and helped its total grow to $6,673,239 (impressive considering it was release day and date on VOD).

"Detropia" (Loki Films Release)
"Detropia" -- a doc directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady -- held steady with an 11 screen count in its sixth weekend.

The film -- self-released by Ewing and Grady -- grossed $16,215 over the weekend, which made for a $1,474 average and a new total of $253,458.

The October 19 weekend will bring a number of new markets, including Seattle, Miami, Denver, Baltimore, Pittsbrugh, Cleveland and others.

READ MORE: 'Detropia' Filmmakers Explain DIY Distribution and How the Sundance Institute Artist Services Program Works

"Sleepwalk With Me" (IFC Films)
Mike Birbiglia's semi-autiobiographical "Sleepwalk With Me" continued to find success in its eighth frame. Dropping from 100 to 70 theaters, the film scored a $70,000 gross, giving it a $1,000 per-theater-average and a new total of $2,120,000.

"Samsara" (Oscilloscope)
Also in its eighth weekend was "Samsara," the non-narrative film created by Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson. The film is a sort of sequel or continuation of the acclaimed 1993 film "Baraka," which also was directed by Fricke and produced by Magidson. "Samsara" was shot in about 100 locations in 25 countries and took four years to make. As described on the film's website, it "explores the wonders of our world from the mundane to the miraculous, looking into the unfathomable reaches of man’s spirituality and the human experience. Neither a traditional documentary nor a travelogue, 'Samsara' takes the form of a nonverbal, guided meditation."  

While that synopsis definitely doesn't scream "blockbuster," it has clearly appealed to many folks. Dropping from 52 to 48 screens, "Samsara" lost just 11% to gross $112,944 and average $2,353. The film's total now stands at $1,800,564. Back in 1993, "Baraka" grossed $1,254,237. "Samsara" should end up doubling that. Its also already topped "We Need To Talk About Kevin" as the highest grossing Oscilloscope release ever.

"Searching For Sugar Man" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Finally, Sony Pictures Classics aggressively expanded Malik Bendjelloul's doc "Searching For Sugar Man" from 38 to 157 screens in its 12th weekend. The film -- which won the Audience Award at Sundance earlier this year  -- follows two South Africans who set out to discover what happened to their unlikely musical hero, the mysterious 1970s rock'n'roller Rodriguez. It took in $202,767 over the weekend, jumping 134% and averaging $1,292. Its total now stands at $1,697,639.

Peter Knegt is Indiewire's Senior Editor and box office analyst. Follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

Indiewire tracks independent/specialty releases compiled from Rentrak Theatrical, which collects studio-reported data as well as box-office figures from North American theatre locations. To be included in the Indiewire Box Office Chart, distributors must submit information about their films to Rentrak at studiogrosses@rentrak.com by the end of the day each Monday.