By Peter Knegt | Indiewire December 27, 2009 at 5:08AM
In the shadow of a stunning Christmas box office for Hollywood fare - with "Avatar," "Sherlock Holmes" and "Alvin and the Chipmunks 2" grossing a combined $190 million to make for the biggest weekend in box office history - specialty films had their own interesting holiday frame, though not all of it was good news.
Some of the good news - according to estimates provided by Rentrak - was the debut of Terry Gilliam's "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus." The Sony Pictures Classics release (on behalf of Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group), which was the last role for late actor Heath Ledger - grossed $129,980 from 4 screens, averaging $32,495. That's a promising number considering the ridiculous amount of competition the film had, particularly from expanding awards fare.
Not faring as well was IFC Films' release of Corneliu Porumboiu's "Police, Adjective." Romania's entry for the Academy Awards' foreign language film category grossed $20,000 from 8 screens, averaging $2,500. The film's total since opening on Wednesday is $27,000.
What "Parnassus" and "Police" had to compete with was about a dozen high-profile expansions, which in general seemed to suffocate one another from doing exceptional business, particularly with phenoms like "Avatar" and "Sherlock Holmes" taking away some business to begin with. Most notably there was The Weinstein Company's wide expansion of Rob Marshall's Golden Globe-celebrated but critically-slammed musical "Nine." The film - starring seemingly half of Hollywood's living Oscar winners - went from 4 theaters to 1,412, grossing $5,544,000. Though enough to make the overall top ten, its $3,926 average was one of the weakest among it, less than the sixth weekend of Sandra Bullock starrer "The Blind Side." By comparison, "Dreamgirls" averaged $16,549 in its first weekend of wide release. After ten days, "Nine" has grossed $5,922,000.
Also finding a spot in the top ten was Jason Reitman's "Up In The Air," which after three weekends of potent limited release found its way onto 1,895 screens. Considered a frontrunner for the Oscar race, the George Clooney dramedy grossed $11,755,000. A decent number to be sure, it still suggested "Air"'s momentum slowed a bit in the big leagues. Its $6,203 average was below the debut of Nancy Meyers' "It's Complicated," which was playing on 1,000 more screens. It was also significantly below the $10,436 Reitman's "Juno" averaged in its first weekend of release back in 2007. Still, the $25 million budgeted "Up In The Air" has grossed $24,518,000 after 4 weeks, with numerous awards-influenced box office frames to come.
Other notable holdovers included the two films featuring the performances likely to go head-to-head with "Air"'s Clooney in the best actor category. Fox Searchlight's "Crazy Heart" - starring Jeff Bridges - went from 4 to 12 screens and grossed $156,000 for a fair $13,000 average, while The Weinstein Company's "A Single Man" - starring Colin Firth - expanded to 46 screens and grossed $323,000, holding onto a $7,022 average. The totals for "Heart" and "Man" stand at $321,000 and $891,000, respectively.
Best actress hopeful "The Young Victoria" - depicting Emily Blunt as Queen Victoria - expanded to 163 screens in its second weekend. The Apparition release grossed $604,000, struggling in the mix of stronger awards contenders. Though all things considered, its $3,706 average remains reasonable. Its total stands at $887,000,
Pedro Almodovar's "Broken Embraces" - which had a fantastic first few weekends in limited release - also expanded over the holiday frame, going from 30 to 71 screens. It resulted in a very decent $360,000 for the Sony Pictures Classic release, averaging $5,070 and taking its total to $1,325,000 after six weeks, already one of the highest grosses for a foreign film this year.
Finally, after struggling in its expansion to 1,003 screens last weekend - its widest yet - Lionsgate's "Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire" dropped back down to 629 for Christmas. It resulted in a reasonable 31% dropoff in grosses, taking in $830,000 and averaging $1,317. Still, its going to be a rough road for "Precious" to get too much farther than the $41,740,000 total its now accumulated. Just a month ago - which it found one of the biggest limited openings of all time - it looked possible the film could double that.
Check back with indieWIRE this week for updated numbers and a wrap-up of the year's box office in our new Box Office 2.0 column.
indieWIRE:BOT 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 email@example.com by the end of the day each Monday..