By Peter Knegt | Indiewire November 24, 2013 at 12:51PM
The Weinstein Company's "Philomena" got off to a good start this weekend, finding the highest per-theater-average of any film in release save "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." In 4 theaters in LA and New York, 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 $133,716 for a strong $33,429 average. That bodes well as the Weinsteins expand the film into the holidays, where the film should likely be boosted by a few awards notices for Dench's performance.
It was almost an identical opening to last weekend's "Nebraska," which similarly follows intergenerational lead characters on a road trip of discovery. That film -- starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte -- also started off in 4 theaters in LA and New York, and averaging a slightly higher $35,100.
"Nebraska" expanded to 28 theaters this weekend, jumping 149% as it grossed $350,000. That made for a $12,500 average and took the Alexander Payne-directed film to $539,613 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.
In its fourth weekend, McConaughey's
"Dallas Buyers Club" went from 184 to 666 theaters and jumped 58%,
taking in $2,769,989. That made for a strong $4,159 average as the Focus
Features-released film's total grew to $5,674,000.
Buyers Club' sustained its Friday to Saturday box office growth trend with a hefty 57% increase," Focus Features said. "The film successfully expanded into additional markets this weekend and continues to draw new audiences around the country; 'Dallas' also sustained box office momentum in a very competitive marketplace with audiences in the holdover houses where it continues to play well."
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 pushed Ejiofer's "12 Years a Slave" slightly from 1,411 to 1,474 theaters. The result was a #9 finish in the overall top 10, taking in $2,800,000 for an $1,900 average. After six weekends, "12 Years" seems to have peaked, down 39% from last weekend. Though the huge amount of awards recognition it is all but assured to get next month should help it continue on its way. So far, the film has grossed an excellent $29,393,312.
Also in its sixth weekend, Robert Redford's "All Is Lost" went from 483 down to 338 theaters and took in another $389,700, averaging $1,153. The Roadside Attractions-released man-lost-at-sea opus has now totaled $4,970,538.
A film that is competing in the foreign language race had a very strong second weekend. Paolo Sorrentino's "The Great Beauty" -- submitted care of Italy -- expanded from 1 to 3 screens (adding the Angelika in NYC and NUart in LA to its originak Lincoln Plaza Cinemas), and took in a potent $54,755. Considering the running time of the film is 142 minutes, these numbers were notably achieved with a schedule of only four showtimes each day. They resulted in a $18,251 average and a new total of $93,454.
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 fifth weekend, considering its NC-17 rating and 3 hour length. Going from 108 to 138 theaters care of distributor Sundance Selects, "Blue" took in $193,200, averaging $1,400. The film has now totaled $1,457,890 and should very likely become only the 11th NC-17 rated film to cross the $2 million mark.
Finally, another Sundance Selects release opened to strong numbers this weekend. Michel Gondry's "Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy?" -- which Indiewire's Eric Kohn called Gondry's best film since "Eternal Sunshine" -- is an animated portrait of his discussions with the famed MIT linguist Noam Chomsky. It opened in 3 theaters in New York and LA and took in $30,760 for a $10,620 average.
Sundance Selects said the film sold out several shows at the IFC Center in NYC, and will continue its platform release with San Francisco opening Friday and the top fifteen markets throughout December.
Peter Knegt is Indiewire's Senior Writer and box office columnist. Follow him on Twitter.