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Box Office: “Cedar Rapids” Scores Strong Debut; Oscar Shorts Hit All-Time High

Box Office: "Cedar Rapids" Scores Strong Debut; Oscar Shorts Hit All-Time High

After six weeks of 2011’s specialty box office essentially relying on 2010 Oscar contenders, Fox Searchlight has given the new year its first potential breakout with Miguel Arteta’s “Cedar Rapids.” According to estimates provided by Rentrak earlier today, the Ed Helms-John C. Reilly comedy grossed $310,789 from 15 theaters in 7 cities, averaging $20,719 (its the first ’11 release to top a $20,000 PTA, though barely). The film stars Helms as a small-town underachiever who travels to “major metropolis” Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to save his company at a do-or-die insurance conference. It had a huge 79% boost on Saturday, which bodes very well as it heads into expansion next weekend when it will add 90 theaters and 18 markets.

On 95 screens, Shorts International and Magnolia Pictures rolled out their annual Oscar Shorts program this weekend. Grossing $305,000, its per-theater-average of $3,211 is a promising start for the program. Including all the Animation and Live Action shorts (and for the first time, the Documentary shorts in a handful of markets), it did especially well at New York’s IFC Center, where it should end up with a $35,000 gross. That bested last year’s gross at the theater by 10%, and would make it the third best opening weekend ever for the IFC Center, behind only “In The Loop” and “The Secret of Kells.”

These numbers represent another year-to-year boost for the annual program. Last year, the Oscar Shorts program opened to a $291,360 gross on an identical 95 screens, averaging $3,067 en route to a $1,018,169 final gross. That represented a radical 289% growth since the first year of the program in 2005. The year prior, Oscar Shorts opened to a $150,203 gross from 41 screens. That program went on to gross $644,635.

The program has another 40 runs opening on February 18th, and plenty more beyond that, into March. Check out indieWIRE‘s take on the 15 nominated films here.

Also debuting this weekend was Lee Chang-dong’s Cannes 2010 entry “Poetry,” which Kino Lorber opened on 3 screens in New York to a decent $20,000 gross and $6,666 per-theater average.

“Poetry has been lifting our spirits ever since we saw it in Cannes last year, and the NY critics, particularly Manohla Dargis at the New York Times, provided magnificently eloquent support,” Gary Palmucci, VP Theatrical Distribution at Kino Lorber told indieWIRE today.

The film will be expanding around the country in the coming weeks.

Phase4 Films released Craig Teper’s Vidal Sassoon doc “Vidal Sassoon: The Movie” on a sole screen this weekend, grossing a promising $14,274, while another doc opener came with Elizabeth Canner’s “Orgasm, Inc.,” which First Run Features reported a $8,620 gross for at their single screen at New York’s Quad.

Last weekend’s top debut, Aaron Katz’s “Cold Weather,” expanded to LA this weekend. The IFC Films release – a pickup out of last year’s SXSW Film Festival – grossed $13,000 from its 2 screens (one in LA, one in NYC), averaging $6,500. Following Doug, a former forensic science major and avid reader of detective fiction who returns to his hometown of Portland, OR where he become embroiled in a mystery, “Weather” will expand to the top ten markets in February.

Meanwhile, Alejandro González Iñárritu “Biutiful” held up very well. In its third weekend of official release (though it had an Oscar qualifying run in December), the Javier Bardem-starrer expanded from 177 to 190 screens and grossed a strong $596,360. That made for a $3,138 per-theater-average and took its total to $2,279,456. Clearly aided by the perfect timing of its somewhat surprising best actor Oscar nomination, “Biutiful” is en route to becoming a sizable success story for distributor Roadside Attractions.

Beyond “Biutiful,” other major Oscar nominees saw big bumps in what continues to be a very strong awards season economically. Frontrunner “The King’s Speech” had an excellent weekend. Losing 321 theaters, the Tom Hooper directed feature film grossed $7,412,000 over the weekend (only a 4% drop despite the screen count drop), landing in the #6 slot of the overall box office. “Speech” found a $3,275 average (actually up from last weekend) and a new total of $93,856,971 after 11 weeks. That number should grow substantially – $120 million+ is very likely – as the film is aided by its all-but-assured major Oscar wins.

Darren Aronofsky best picture nominee, “Black Swan,” will also hit the $100 million soon. The film grossed $2,150,000 over the weekend, falling a reasonable 36% despite losing over 900 screens. The film, on 1,069 screens, averaged $2,011 and took its total to a stunning $99,364,665 after 11 weeks. “Swan” is essentially assured crossing the $100 million mark in the next day or two, an incredible feat for the $13 million budgeted film, and a testament to Fox Searchlight’s effective release strategy (and obviously also to how well the film has played across demographics).

“Swan”‘s Fox Searchlight sibling and fellow best picture nominee, “127 Hours,” is nowhere near the $100 million mark, but an Oscar-related expansion is helping push it toward $20 million. On 359 screens (down from 899 last weekend), the Danny Boyle directed film, starring Oscar host and nominee James Franco, grossed $560,000, averaging $1,559. “Hours” has now totalled $16,846,802, making it the second lowest grossing best picture nominee after “Winter’s Bone.”

Also notable was sole Oscar nominees like “Blue Valentine” (which got in for best actress Michelle Williams). Weinstein Company’s “Valentine” – a year after its Sundance debut – took in $586,535 from 393 screens screens (down 57). Averaging $1,492, the gross brought “Valentine”‘s total to $8,212,637. For a $1 million budgeted film that faced controversy related to its now successfully appealed NC-17 rating from the MPAA, it seems “Blue Valentine” is en route to having a very happy ending (or at least a $10 million gross).

Lionsgate’s best actress nominee, “Rabbit Hole,” dropped from 131 to 112 screens in its ninth weekend. Starring Nicole Kidman as a woman grieving over the death of her son, the John Cameron Mitchell directed film grossed $80,000, averaging $714 as it took its total to $1,689,719. Despite an Oscar nomination and the starpower of Kidman, “Rabbit Hole” has still been outgrossed by both of Mitchell’s previous films, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “Shortbus.”

Sony Classics found good news from three other Oscar nominees, all of which crossed milestones this weekend.

Mike Leigh’s screenplay nominee, “Another Year,” dropped its screen count in its sixth weekend from to 174 screens (down from 236) but crossed the $2 million mark in the process (and only lost 20% of its grosses). Detailing a year in the life of a long married couple (Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent) and their rather dysfunctional friends (notably alcoholic Mary, played by Lesley Manville), “Year” grossed $352,912 for a respectable per-theater-average of $2,028. The Sony Classics film has now grossed $2,178,140 since opening December 29th.

Sylvain Chomet’s “The Illusionist” (best animated feature) went from 68 to 206 theaters in its eighth weekend, crossing the $1 million mark in the process. Based on an unproduced work by Jacques Tati, the well-reviewed animated French import grossed $321,213 averaging $1,559. The film has totalled $1,155,239 from a very limited screen count.

Sony Classics got a makeup nomination out of Richard J. Lewis’s “Barney’s Version,” which expanded from 45 to 58 theaters in its fourth frame and grossed $297,655, rising 8% in grosses. “Version,” which stars Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver and Rosamund Pike, averaged a quite strong $5,132 and has now totalled $1,252,556 as it continues to expand.

Finally, it didn’t manage any Oscar nominations, but The Weinstein Company’s “The Company Men,” which had a December qualifying run, is holding its own. On 277 screens, “Men” grossed a respectable $525,400 averaging $1,897 (and dropping only 4% despite no screen count change). The film has totalled $3,039,445 if the qualifying run is included.

Peter Knegt is indieWIRE 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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