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iW BOT *UPDATE* | “Wrestler” Rules Pre-Xmas Frame

iW BOT *UPDATE* | "Wrestler" Rules Pre-Xmas Frame

Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” charged the box office this weekend, according to estimates from Rentrak early this afternoon. The Mickey Rourke starrer scored a $202,714 gross from just four screens, making its $50,679 average the highest specialty opening of the year. Last weekend’s trio of Oscar hopefuls each held on to varyingly decent amounts of their audiences. Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” grossed $468,221 on 19 screens, John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt” grossed $680,948 from 39 screens, while the relative runt of the group, Stephen Daldry’s “The Reader,” grossed $92,790 on 8 screens.

The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT is available at indieWIRE.com.

Behind only Ron Howard’s “Frost/Nixon” in terms of 2008 PTA openings (though “Nixon” is a studio release, making “Wrestler” the top specialty opener of the year), “The Wrestler”‘s scorching $50,679 average marks a very promising beginning. It was tops at three of its four NY and LA runs (falling second to fellow Fox Searchlight release “Slumdog Millionaire” at LA’s The Landmark). In a ridiculously crowded marketplace, this story of an aging wrestler has quickly distinguished itself one of the potential breakouts. It had totaled $288,220 since Wednesday, where it played on one NY screen for two days.

Its two most notable competitors remain Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog” and Gus Van Sant’s “Milk.” In their six and fourth weekends respectively, each has maintained interest going into an awards season that should likely benefit them more than “The Wrestler.” “Slumdog” made its biggest expansion yet this weekend, reaching 589 screens, and held on to a fantastic $5,185 average. It grossed $3,053,760, taking its total to $12,037,510. Just behind was Focus Features’ “Milk,” grossing another $1,641,290 from 356 screens. The Sean Penn-as-Harvey Milk biopic’s $4,857 average helped take its cume to $10,410,039 after two less weeks in release than “Slumdog.”

Last weekend’s trio of debuts, Universal’s “Gran Torino,” Miramax’s “Doubt” and The Weinstein Company’s “The Reader,” each held on to sizeable audiences. “The Reader” was the only of the three that didn’t expand, remaining on 8 screens and seeing its average drop a reasonable 40% to $11,599. Its total stands at $349,240, and it’s likely not to stand out in the crowd as the marketplace hits a competitive high in the coming two weeks. “Torino” and “Doubt” have better chances, each expanded to 19 and 39 screens in their sophomore frames and holding on to potent PTAs of $24,643 and $17,460. Cumes stand at $859,860 for “Torino” and $1,399,548 for “Doubt.”

Also of note this week was the unfortunate mini-expansion of Kelly Reichardt’s “Wendy and Lucy.” The acclaimed Michelle Williams starrer, the first narrative released through Oscilloscope Laboratories, went from 2 to 6 screens (5 of which in the LA area, where it did very poorly last weekend in comparison to NYC) and grossed only $16,004. Its $2,667 average, even amidst the crowd, is quite disappointing. After 10 days, “Wendy”‘s total stands at $50,650.

IFC’s one week Academy run of Matteo Garrone’s “Gomorrah didn’t fare too much better, grossing $5,532 on a sole screen. However, the film’s likely to reach much greater heights with its traditional run in January, which will benefit from more marketing and, potentially, an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film.

Three foreign language films not in the running for that prize continued to do great business over the weekend. IFC’s sixth weekend of “A Christmas Tale,” and the ninth weekends of Sony Pictures Classics’ “I’ve Loved You So Long” and Magnet Releasing’s “Let The Right One In” all found averages of over $1,000. “Tale” took its cume to $795,910, “Loved You” hit $2,052,667 and “Let The Right One In” totaled $1,245,880.

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