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Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Peter Knegt
July 29, 2013 10:12 AM
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The 10 Biggest Limited Box Office Debuts of All Time: How Well Did They Do In The End?

Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins in "Blue Jasmine."

Aided by strong reviews and even stronger early Oscar buzz for Cate Blanchett's performance, Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine" soared this past weekend, taking in $612,767 from just 6 theaters. Distributor Sony Pictures Classics reported a $102,128 average as a result, which if estimates hold up makes it the sixth best average for a live action film (and the best for both 2013 and Woody Allen). But does that mean that "Jasmine" is already a breakout hit, heading for "Midnight in Paris" numbers north of $50 million? Not necessarily. Here's a look at the all top 10 opening per-theater-averages for live action films, and how their box office ended up.

"The Master."

1. The Master
Release Date: September 14, 2012
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Opening Gross: $736,311
Opening Theater Count: 5
Opening Average: $147,262

How Well Did It Do In The End? Despite a truly insane opening average that remains the highest of all time for a live action film, Paul Thomas Anderson's epic follow up to "There Will Be Blood" fell pretty hard as it expanded more aggressively than most specialty titles. Going from 5 to 788 screens in its second weekend, its average fell to $5,572 as a result and ended up grossing only $16,377,274 -- the lowest total gross of the top 5 films on this list.

2. Moonrise Kingdom
Release Date: May 25, 2012
Distributor: Focus Features
Opening Gross: $522,996
Opening Theater Count: 4
Opening Average: $130,749

How Well Did It Do In The End? Briefly holding this all-time record until the aforementioned "Master" opened a few months later, Wes proved the more lucrative Anderson in the end: "Moonrise" held on exceptionally over the summer, grossing $45,512,466 by season's end -- the director's best final gross since "The Royal Tenenbaums"


3. Dreamgirls
Release Date: December 15, 2006
Distributor: Dreamworks
Opening Gross: $378,950
Opening Theater Count: 3
Opening Average: $126,316

How Well Did It Do In The End? Notably, "Dreamgirls" opened on three screens -- Hollywood’s Cinerama Dome, New York’s Zeigfield, and San Francisco’s Metreon -- at $25 a pop for reserved seating, themed lobby displays and merchandise booths and a limited edition program. So it had a significant advantage over other films on this list. But its debut remains impressive, as does its $103.3 million final gross -- the highest on this list (though notably its $80 million budget is also the highest).

4. Brokeback Mountain
Release Date: December 9, 2005
Distributor: Focus Features
Opening Gross: $547,425
Opening Theater Count: 5
Opening Average: $109,485

How Well Did It Do In The End? The top dog for this record until Beyonce and company took it away a year later, Ang Lee's gay romance held on extraordinarily well in its first two months of release, buoyed by Oscar buzz that almost led to the top prize. And even though it lost out in that regard, it took in $83,025,853 by the end of its run, a huge number for an R-rated gay western that cost $14 million to make.


5. Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
Release Date: November 6, 2009
Distributor: Lionsgate
Opening Gross: $1,872,458
Opening Theater Count: 18
Opening Average: $102,167

How Well Did It Do In The End? The astounding thing about "Precious" was that it opened in 18 theaters, damn near wide compared to the rest of the films on this list. And it averaged another remarkable $33,762 when it expanded to 174 theaters the next weekend. Its final gross of $47,536,959 is perhaps not in line with the expectations of those two weekends, but it's still an exceptional number (especially considering its $10 million budget).  


  • Edward Copeland | July 30, 2013 3:04 PMReply

    That math seems off on There Will Be Blood. (I didn't check any others, but that one just leaped out at me.) The opening gross is given as $372,920 on 3 screens (coincidentally, the same opening gross of The Tree of Life) but says its opening average is $95,370. Not quite half of the gross for two screens which should equal $186,480.

  • shelly | July 29, 2013 1:55 PMReply

    who no Red State? Mar 4–6 - 1 theatre - $204,230

  • dommy | July 29, 2013 11:57 AMReply

    other than tree of life and master which were both not loved by audiences... the rest did great... so far the reaction from fans seems to be wildly positive for blue jasmine so odds are it's going to do pretty well based on this list... woody does have a limited reach in the U.S. though so sky is not the limit here