Phoenix The Master (beach)
'The Master'

Winter might not officially come until just before Christmas, but in the movie world "fall" becomes "holiday" season as of November. This is when the Hollywood tentpoles hoping to cash in on Thanksgiving and Christmas-related trips to the movies start popping up (see "Skyfall" and "Breaking Dawn, Part II" in the next few weeks), but it is also time for Indiewood to release their biggest of big Oscar hopefuls (see "Hitchcock," "Silver Linings Playbook," "Rust and Bone" and "Anna Karenina," all due out in November).

So it seemed a good time to take a quick look back at the hits and misses of the movies' version of the fall before the "holiday" heavy hitters drowned them out. And there's definitely much to discuss. Some major specialty breakouts happened over the past few months, as did a few major indie disappointments...

Winner: The opening weekend of "The Master"
When Paul Thomas Anderson's veiled take on Scientology opened in five theaters in New York and Los Angeles back on September 14th, it stunned just about everyone by shattering the per-theater-average record for a live action film, grossing $736,311 for a whopping $147,262 per-theater.

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).

Loser: The final gross of "The Master"
While the P-T-A for P.T.A.'s latest (get it?) was extraordinarily impressive, the buck pretty much stopped there. The Weinstein Company took a risky approach to its expansion, pushing it to  783 theaters in its second frame. It managed a very respectable $4,391,092 gross, but that would end up its very best weekend. By its third, the film dropped 29% despite adding another 68 screens, and now it's struggling to hit the $20 million mark (it grossed $269,000 from 201 screens last weekend, taking its total to $15,219,000).

It's worth noting that for most specialty releases, a gross north of $15 million is great news (right now "The Master" is indeed the highest grossing specialty platform release of the fall). But for a film with a $35 million budget that opened with that average, it's very disappointing. It won't even end up grossing half of the $40.2 million "There Will Be Blood" made, and is Anderson's lowest grossing film since 1997's "Hard Eight," which is hardly comparable since its highest screen count was on just 29 screens.


Winner: "Samsara"
Who knew that one of the true breakouts among indie films this fall would be a non-verbal, non-narrative documentary? That was indeed the case with Ron Fricke’s and Mark Magidson’s "Samsara," which a few weeks ago became the highest grossing film in the nearly three-year history of Oscilloscope Laboratories. Filmed over a period of five years in 25 countries on five continents, and shot on 70mm, the film opened in late August to the highest per-theater-average of any documentary released in 2012 and fifth highest of any film for the year at that time -- $38,111. But unlike "The Master" (which also was released in 70mm), "Samsara" made good on its initial promise. After eight straight weeks of averages above $2,000 per theater, the film has grosed $2,178,700 and could top out around $3 million, potenially making it one of the 50 highest grossing documentaries of all time.

Losers: "Hello I Must Be Going" and "Wuthering Heights"
It wasn't all good news over at Oscilloscope. Two generally acclaimed films --  Todd Louiso's "Hello I Must Be Going" and Andrea Arnold's "Wuthering Heights" -- have found very disappointing numbers so far in their releases. The former has managed just $96,118 since opening on September 9th, while the latter has made $62,100 since October 5th. "Heights" is still somewhat early in its release, but its $833 average from 12 screens this past weekend doesn't bode well.