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Specialty Box Office: 'The Master' Shatters Per-Theater-Average Record; 'Arbitrage' Also Very Strong

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire September 16, 2012 at 11:46AM

In an explosive weekend at the specialty box office, Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" broke the record for the best limited debut of all time (topping "Moonrise Kingdom"), while Nicholas Jarecki's "Arbitrage" managed some excellent numbers on a much wider screen count. 
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In an explosive weekend at the specialty box office, Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" broke the record for the best limited debut of all time (topping "Moonrise Kingdom"), while Nicholas Jarecki's "Arbitrage" managed some excellent numbers on a much wider screen count. 

Full rundown below.

The Debuts:

"The Master" (The Weinstein Company)
Paul Thomas Anderson's veiled take on Scientology -- which stars  Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams -- opened in 5 theaters in New York and Los Angeles on Friday and took in a staggering $729,745 over the weekend. That gave it a $145,949 per-theater-average, which makes the best limited debut ever for a live-action film.

The previous per-theater-average record for a live -action film actually came from earlier this year when another Anderson, Wes, saw his "Moonrise Kingdom" average $130,749 from 4 screens, which topped "Dreamgirls," "Brokeback Mountain" and "Precious," the only other live-action films to find averages north of $100,000 (a dozen or so animated Disney films have much higher averages thanks to massive special screenings they'd hold before wide release -- "The Lion King" is still #1 with a whopping $793,377).

Paul Thomas Anderson's previous film, "There Will Be Blood," averaged $95,370 from 2 screens in December, 2007, which was at the time the fourth best live-action average, behind "Dreamgirls," "Brokeback" and "Evita." So it seems "The Master" broke two PTA records: per-theater-average, and Paul Thomas Anderson.

"The Master" screened at The Landmark and ArcLight Hollywood in Los Angeles, and Lincoln Square 13 IMAX, Angelika Film Center 6 and Village East Cinemas in New York. It expands nationwide next Friday, which will be a significant test as to how far this film can go in the longrun.

"Arbitrage" (Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate)
In the shadow of "The Master" but not to go unnoticed was the debut of "Arbitrage," which found the biggest opening ever for a film opening in both movie theaters and On Demand. Released on 197 screens across North America, the film -- which stars Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon -- grossed an excellent $2,069,770 for a $10,505 average. The film is also #2 on iTunes movies overall, and #1 in Drama and Thriller categories. 

"Between strong reviews and a publicity blitz by the film's stars Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon and Nate Parker, we managed one of the strongest independent openings of the year for either a conventional or day-and-date release," Roadside Attractions' Howard Cohen told Indiewire.

"Liberal Arts" (IFC Films)
Also opening this weekend was Josh Radnor's "Liberal Arts," which stars Radnor and Elizabeth Olsen. On 4 screens in New York and Los Angeles, the Sundance pickup managed a respectable $30,000, averaging $7,500.

IFC will roll the film out to the top 15 markets this coming weekend.

For news on holdover releases, including "For a Good Time, Call..." "Sleepwalk With Me," "Samsara," "2016: Obama's America," and "Beasts of the Southern Wild," continue to the next page.

"Detropia"
The Holdovers:

"Detropia" (Loki Films Release)
"Detropia" -- a doc directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady -- expanded from 1 to 5 screens in its second weekend to strong numbers.

The film -- self-released by Ewing and Grady -- grossed $42,390 over the weekend, which included sold-out shows at DC's West End Cinema and Detroit's Landmark Main Art. That made for a $8,478 average and a new total of $68,515.

The film will open in top markets including Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and Seattle in the coming weeks as it continues to roll out across the country, with over 25 markets already booked and many more to come.

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

"Hello I Must Be Going" (Oscilloscope)
Todd Louiso's "Hello I Must Be Going" -- starring Melanie Lynskey in an acclaimed performance as a divorced and depressed woman -- held steady on 2 screens in its second weekend care of Oscilloscope. It took in $9,480 as a result, dropping a steep 60% as it averaged $4,740. Its total stands at $41,019.

"Keep The Lights On" (Music Box Films)
Also in its second weekend was gay relationship drama "Keep The Lights On." On 5 screens, teh film grossed $32,000 for a $6,400 average. Its total now stands at $112,046 ahead of expansion in the coming weeks.

"For a Good Time, Call..." (Focus Features)
Jamie Travis' comedy "For a Good Time" -- starring Lauren Miller (who also co-wrote) and Ari Graynor -- expanded from 56 to 107 screens in its third weekend care of Focus Features. Taking in $271,319 over the weekend, the film averaged $2,536. That made for a 26% jump from last weekend, and took the film's total to $816,351.

READ MORE: FUTURES | "For a Good Time, Call..." Director Jamie Travis

"Little Birds" (Millennium Entertainment)
The long-delayed "Little Birds" -- which premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival -- was finally released two weekends ago to dismal results via Millennium Entertainment. This weekend it went from 1 to 2 screens, and jumped a hopeful 230% as a result, taking in an admittedly still weak $4,031. Directed by Elgin James, the film stars Juno Temple, Kay Panabaker, Kate Bosworth and Leslie Mann. The film's total stands at $16,594.

"Sleepwalk With Me" (IFC Films)
Mike Birbiglia's semi-autiobiographical "Sleepwalk With Me" continued to find great numbers in its fourth frame, crossing the $1 million mark in the process.

Expanding from 73 to 118 theaters, the film scored a $417,000 gross, giving it a $3,534 per-theater-average.

"Another great weekend for sleepwalk with me as the numbers held in very well.  The word of mouth has been extremely positive as the film crossed the 1 million dollar mark on Friday.  We will continue to open new markets throughout September," IFC Films SVP of Sales and Distribution Mark Boxer told Indiewire.

Its total now stands at $1,336,343.

"Samsara" (Oscilloscope)
Also managing fantastic fourth weekend numbers this 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 1992 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 clearly appealed to many folks. Expanding from 25 to 62 screens, "Samsara" jumped 24% to gross $241,205 and average $3,890. The film's total now stands at $826,796, with the $1 million mark a certainty.

"2016: Obama's America" (Rocky Mountain Pictures)
The anti-Barack Obama documentary “2016: Obama’s America" -- written and directed by John Sullivan and “The Roots of Obama’s Rage” author Dinesh D’Souza -- dropped 141 screens to 1,876 in its 10th weekend and held on well, crossing the $30 million mark.

Released by Rocky Mountain Pictures (the same folks that brought you "Atlas Shrugged, Part I" and "An Inconsistent Truth"), the film dropped 39% as it took in  $2,031,186. Its $1,083 average helped take its total to $30,080,253.  It is now the fifth highest-grossing documentary of all time (ahead of, among others, "Sicko," "An Inconvenient Truth," "Bowling For Columbine," "Hoop Dreams," and "Roger & Me").

The film aims to show how the future of the United States might unfold should Barack Obama be elected to a second term as president. It should easily top out with a final gross north of $30 million.

READ MORE: Why the Success of Anti-Obama Doc "2016" Doesn't Mean Anything for the Presidential Election

"Robot and Frank" (IDP / Samuel Goldwyn Films)
Fairing quite well in its fourth frame was Sundance Film Festival alum "Robot and Frank," which aggresively went from 202 to 209 screens. Grossing $428,450 weekend, the film averaged $2,050.

Starring Frank Langella, James Marsden, Liv Tyler and Susan Sarandon, the comedy follows an aging ex-convict (Langella), whose children hire a robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) to care for him. The film's total now stands at an impressive $2,623,355.

"Celeste and Jesse Forever" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Sony Classics' Sundance pickup "Celeste and Jesse Forever" dropped from 441 to 152 screens in its seventh weekend. The film -- written by real-life best friends Rashida Jones (who also stars) and Will McCormack -- grossed $155,666 averaging only $1,024. That brought the film's total to $2,913,411.

"Celeste and Jesse" stars Jones, Andy Samberg, Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts and Ari Graynor. It follows a married couple (Jones and Samberg) who try and remain best friends after breaking up.

"Searching For Sugar Man" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Sony Pictures Classics expanded Malik Bendjelloul's doc "Searching For Sugar Man" from 33 to 34 screens in its eigth 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 $112,524 over the weekend, dropping just 2% and averaging a strong $3,310. Its total now stands at $1,054,231.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" (Fox Searchlight)
Finally, Benh Zeitlin's Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner "Beasts of the Southern Wild" saw its grosses drop 29% in its 12th weekend as it went from 269 to 212  screens. The film took in  $256,000  over the weekend. Averaging $1,208, the film's total now stands at $10,673,433. The film has now impressively topped the grosses of recent Sundance Grand Jury Prize winners "Like Crazy" and "Winter's Bone."

Peter Knegt is Indiewire's Senior Editor. 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.

This article is related to: Box Office, The Master, Arbitrage