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Box Office: “Lions” Lead Holiday Debuts As “Speech” and “Swan” Hit $100 Million

Box Office: "Lions" Lead Holiday Debuts As "Speech" and "Swan" Hit $100 Million

President’s Day weekend saw Dereck Joubert nature doc “The Last Lions” as the top reporting specialty debut, according to estimates provided by Rentrak earlier today. On 4 screens, the National Geographic-distributed film, which follows a journey of a lioness as she battles to protect her cubs, grossed a promising $68,344 over the holiday weekend. That gave it a 4-day per-theater-average of $17,086.

“We continue to feel very good about the film’s performance, strong reviews very positive word of mouth,” National Geographic Mark Katz told indieWIRE. “We also believe audiences are responding to the conservation messaging in a very positive way. When you add in the National Geographic brand, and our integrity in story telling this opening weekend box office gives the film a very good base on which to expand.”

Paladin got good numbers from the Portland launch of Tom Shadyac “I Am,” a doc in which Shadyac speaks with intellectual and spiritual leaders about what’s wrong with the world and how it can be improved. Shadyac, known best for directing studio films like “Bruce Almighty” and “The Nutty Professor,” saw his “I Am” gross $12,600 from its sole Portland theater, including multiple sold out shows and standing ovations for Shadyac (who did Q&As) in just a 140-seat theater.

“Portland marks the first stop of an unconventional rollout of the film,” Paladin explained of plans for “I Am,” “which next takes it to Seattle and San Francisco over the next two weeks before hitting Los Angeles and New York on March 11 and March 18, followed by other top markets in late March and early April. Mr. Shadyac will continue to appear at all initial markets to foster one-on-one connections with the audience.”

Other reporting debuts included Will Canon “Brotherhood,” a 2010 SXSW film that was released on one screen this weekend through Phase 4 Films. The film took in $9,017 over the four-day weekend. Spain official entry to the Academy Awards (though it wasn’t nominated), Icíar Bollaín “Even The Rain,” meanwhile, also debuted. Starring Gael García Bernal and Luis Tosa, the film grossed $53,000 on 8 screens over the 3-day weekend (holiday estimates were not available), averaging a decent $6,625 for distributor Vitagraph.

Reports from new releases like “Putty Hill” and “We Are What We Are” were not available as of yet. indieWIRE will update this story when they are.

Among holdovers, Fox Searchlight’s “Cedar Rapids,” which had last weekend’s top debut, expanded quite successfully. Miguel Arteta Ed Helms-John C. Reilly comedy went from 15 to 102 theaters and found a $1,093,088 gross over the holiday weekend, averaging a strong $10,717 as it took its new total to $1,494,566. That makes it the first specialty release of 2011 to gross over $1 million in a year that has been dominated by 2010 Oscar-related holdovers.

Speaking of which, two of the most successful Oscar nominees crossed major milestones. Best picture frontrunner “The King’s Speech” lost 177 theaters but still received a 10% boost over the four-days, with the Tom Hooper directed film grossing $7,937,976 from 2,086 theaters. That made for a $3,805 average and a grand new total of $104,649,952. The $15 million budgeted film has now grossed over $200 million worldwide, with a final Oscar boost yet to come.

Another best picture nominee, Darren Aronofsky “Black Swan,” crossed the $100 million mark in the middle of last week. This weekend, the film grossed $1,590,000 from 656 screens to expand that number to $101,799,075. A $13 million production, “Swan” has a new worldwide total of $174,118,000, which also should be boosted by the likelihood of the best actress statuette Natalie Portman should walk away with next weekend.

“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 240 screens (down from 359 last weekend), the Danny Boyle directed film, starring Oscar host and nominee James Franco, grossed $392,000 over the four-days, averaging $1,633. “Hours” has now totalled $17,484,920, making it the second lowest grossing best picture nominee after “Winter’s Bone.”

Alejandro González Iñárritu “Biutiful” held up very well in its fourth weekend out (though it had an Oscar qualifying run in December). The Javier Bardem-starrer dropped form 190 to 157 screens but still grossed a strong $643,100 over the four day weekend. That made for a $4,096 per-theater-average and took its total to $3,143,151 – no small feat for a bleak foreign language film. Clearly aided by the perfect timing of its somewhat surprising best actor Oscar nomination, “Biutiful” is becoming a sizable success story for distributor Roadside Attractions.

Also notable was sole Oscar nominees like “Blue Valentine” (which has a best actress nom for Michelle Williams). Weinstein Company’s “Valentine” – a year after its Sundance debut – took in $402,460 from 235 screens (down from 393). Averaging $1,713, the gross brought “Valentine”‘s total to $8,901,927. For a $1 million budgeted film that faced controversy related to its now successfully appealed NC-17 rating from the MPAA, “Valentine” is quite the success story.

Mike Leigh’s screenplay nominee, “Another Year,” dropped its screen count in its sixth weekend from to 121 screens (down from 171) but still performed quite well for distributor Sony Pictures Classics. 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 $271,781 for a respectable week eight per-theater-average of $2,246. The Sony Classics film has now grossed $2,552,759 since opening December 29th. It seems likely to match the gross of Leigh’s last film, “Happy-Go-Lucky,” which grossed $3,512,016 back in 2008.

Sylvain Chomet’s best animated feature nominee “The Illusionist” went from 206 to 106 theaters in its ninth weekend for Sony Classics. Based on an unproduced work by Jacques Tati, the well-reviewed animated French import grossed $236,891 and averaged $2,235 over the four-day weekend. The film has totalled $1,516,186.

Finally, it’s not eligible for the Oscar mix, but Kino Lorber had a promising second weekend of Lee Chang-dong’s Cannes 2010 entry “Poetry.” On 3 New York screens, “Poetry” grossed $26,000 and averaged $8,666. Aided by the holiday, that’s actually a $6,000 boost over last weekend, and brings the film’s total to $54,383. It expands to Chicago this Friday.

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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