Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

The 10 Biggest Limited Box Office Debuts of All Time: How Well Did They Do In The End?

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire July 29, 2013 at 10:12AM

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.
3
Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins in "Blue Jasmine."
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."
"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"

"Dreamgirls"
"Dreamgirls"

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.

PGA To Honor "Precious"
"Precious."

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).  

Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris
"Midnight in Paris"

6. Midnight in Paris
Release Date: May 20, 2011
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Opening Gross: $599,003
Opening Theater Count: 6
Opening Average: $99,834

How Well Did It Do In The End? If the numbers for "Blue Jasmine" hold up, it will replace "Midnight in Paris" as the sixth best average, but it will be very tough for "Jasmine" to match its final gross. Woody Allen's first best picture nominated film in over 20 years grossed $56,817,045 in the end, the highest grossing film of Allen's career and the biggest indie breakout of summer 2011. Like "Jasmine," it was released by Sony Pictures Classics, who likely would be pleased if "Jasmine" grossed even half of "Midnight" by the end of its run (though clearly they'd be happy with more, too).

7. Evita
Release Date: December 27, 1996
Distributor: Disney
Opening Gross: $195,085
Opening Theater Count: 2
Opening Average: $97,542

How Well Did It Do In The End? Madonna's musical held the live action record for nearly a decade when it exploded into 2 theaters just after Christmas in 1996. It didn't quite hold up to its first weekend's potential, though. The $55 million budgeted film grossed just over $50 million during its run. Comparably, the other big budget studio musical on this list -- "Dreamgirls" -- grossed twice that. But still, it's enough not to cry for Madonna and co.

Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood."
Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood."

8. There Will Be Blood
Release Date: December 28, 2007
Distributor: Paramount Vantage
Opening Gross: $372,920
Opening Theater Count: 2
Opening Average: $95,370

How Well Did It Do In The End? Despite an opening average over $50,000 less than director Paul Thomas Anderson's other film on this list, "There Will Be Blood" more than doubled "The Master"'s final gross, taking in $40,222,514 thanks in part to a bunch of major Oscar nominations (and a win for star Daniel Day-Lewis). With a production budget of $25 million, that's a pretty decent haul.

9. The Tree of Life
Release Date: May 27, 2011
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Opening Gross: $372,920
Opening Theater Count: 4
Opening Average: $93,230

How Well Did It Do In The End? Terrence Malick's intensely anticipated 2011 Palme D'Or winner had a huge first weekend, particularly considering it was a largely experimental narrative far removed from what mainstream audiences are used to. Which probably played a role in it eventually becoming the lowest grossing film on this list with a $13,303,319 final gross (less than half its $32 million budget).

"King's Speech" Leads 83rd Oscar Nominations
A scene from Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech."

10. The King's Speech
Release Date:  November 26, 2010
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Opening Gross: $355,450
Opening Theater Count: 4
Opening Average: $88,863

How Well Did It Do In The End? Royally. The highest grossing film on this list, Tom Hooper's best picture winning drama took in $135,453,143 after Oscar season was over, a best ever number for The Weinstein Company (until "Django Unchained" came along, that is).

Just in case you're curious, the next 10 in order of opening average are "Spring Breakers," "Lincoln," "Memoirs of a Geisha," "Moulin Rouge!," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Black Swan," "Edward Scissorhands," "Up In The Air," "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and "The Fighter." Only two of which -- "Spring Breakers" and "Tinker Tailor" -- ended up with grosses under $50 million.

This article is related to: Box Office, Blue Jasmine, The Master, Moonrise Kingdom, Dreamgirls, Midnight In Paris, The Tree Of Life