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Box Office: “Mesrine” Starts Strong For Music Box; “Low” Gets Going In Expansion

Box Office: "Mesrine" Starts Strong For Music Box; "Low" Gets Going In Expansion

While “The Last Exorcism” and “Takers” battled it out for the final weekend crown of Hollywood’s summer, Jean-François Richet’s “Mesrine: Killer Instinct” was easily the top specialty debut, at least among those reporting estimates to Rentrak earlier today.

“Mesrine: Killer Instinct” – which premiered nearly two years at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival – is director Jean-François Richet’s chronicle of French gangster Jacques Mesrine. Music Box Films released the movie in 12 of the the top 25 markets over the weekend, on 28 screens overall, and the result was a very respectable $150,000 haul. That gave “Killer” an average of $5,357, which bodes well not only for its future, but for the future of “Mesrine: Public Enemy #1,” the second part of Richet’s Mesrine films. Music Box will release “Public Enemy” next weekend in the same theaters as they released “Killer.”

It’s an ambitious plan, but Music Box Films has had a lot of luck with releasing imported film series within short windows lately. The distributor released both “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” and “The Girl Who Played With Fire” earlier this year, and so far those films – both still in theaters – have grossed $9,978,376 (for “Tattoo,” now in its 24th weekend) and $5,600,085 (for “Fire,” now in its eighth weekend) in the United States. Music Box will release the third and final part of the Swedish trilogy this October 27th, before Hollywood brings its own version – to be directed by David Fincher – late next year.

The only other debut to report estimates this weekend was IFC Films release of Danièle Thompson’s French import “Change of Plans.” On two New York City screens, the film found a decent gross of $16,800 for a $8,400 per-theater-average.

The big news among the holdovers was Sony Pictures Classics’ big expansion of Aaron Schneider’s “Get Low.” In its fourth weekend, SPC brought “Low” from 146 to a whopping 570 screens, and saw a potent $1,747,929 gross. That allowed for a 145% increase from last weekend, and gave the film a $3,066 per-theater-average. The film, which follows Felix Bush (Robert Duvall), a hermit who decides he wants to throw himself a “funeral party” before he actually passes, has now totalled $3,741,104. It also all but assures “Low” will find a place in the rare $5 million club (probably by the end of Labor Day weekend), a feat only 10 specialty films have managed so far in 2010. After “The Last Station” and “The Secret In Their Eyes,” it would be Sony Classics’ third film of the year to do so.

Two docs that opened last weekend all expanded in their sophomore frames, though both just barely so. Amir Bar-Lev’s “The Tillman Story” and Yael Hersonski’s “A Film Unfinished,” which had shared controversial R rating classifications from the MPAA (which “Tillman” kept while “Unfinished” went unrated), now also share the fact that they both went from 4 to 5 screens in their second weekend, and both saw their grosses drop roughly 37-38%. “Tillman” – which spotlights Pat Tillman, a former NFL star-turned-soldier who died in Afghanistan in 2004 – lost 38% of its opening gross, taking in $32,300 for distributor The Weinstein Company. That have the film a reasonable $6,460 average and a new cume of $108,700. “Unfinished” -which examines the infamous Nazi-produced film about the Warsaw Ghetto – lost 37%, grossing $21,315 for a $4,263 average. The Oscilloscope release has now taken in $92,517.

Another film in its second weekend – Bruce Beresford’s “Mao’s Last Dancer” – expanded much more aggressively than “Tillman” or “Unfinished.” The story of a Chinese Ballet Dancer who defects to the US, “Dancer” went from 31 to 73 screens and saw a 50% boost in grosses, taking in $299,300. That made for a strong $4,100 average and suggests “Dancer” may continue to bring good news for distributors Samuel Goldwyn and ATO Pictures as it heads to 10 new markets next weekend. Including its Canadian release earlier this year, the film has now topped $1,193,423.

The second weekend of Fatih Akin’s “Soul Kitchen” wasn’t quite as balletic. On 9 screens (up from 2), the IFC Films-released German import grossed $23,400, averaging $2,600 and taking its cume to $55,564.

IFC Films had better news from the fourth weekend of Ruba Nadda’s Patricia Clarkson-starring romance “Cairo Time.” Expanding from 32 to 49 screens, the film grossed $200,900 and saw its per-theater-average barely erode. Last weekend, “Time” averaged $4,118, while this weekend IFC is estimating a $4,100 average. That kind of staying power suggests “Time” should easily find its way past the $1 million mark in the coming weeks. Its total currently stands at $623,400.

Also holding up nicely is David Michôd’s “Animal Kingdom,” which expanded from 19 to 35 screens in the U.S. in its third frame. The result was a respectable $125,675 gross, giving the Sony Pictures Classics release a $3,571 average. “Kingdom,” a crime drama set in the underground of Melbourne, Australia, also screened on 4 screens in Canada (via E1 Entertainment), where it took in $9,920 for a $2,480 average. In total, the film grossed $135,595 in North America this weekend, and found a 10 day total of $384,512.

Finally, summer’s biggest specialty hit came one step closer to the $20 million mark. Focus Features’ release of Lisa Cholodenko’s family dramedy “The Kids Are All Right” cut its screens from 404 to 342 but managed to drop only 32%, seeing its per-theater-average hold up nicely at $1,620. Taking in $553,961, “Kids” now stands at an impressive $19,181,490 total, and should hit $20 million by next weekend.

Peter Knegt is indieWIRE’s Associate Editor. Follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

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 studiogrosses@rentrak.com by the end of the day each Monday..

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