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Box Office: “Jane Eyre” Gives 2011 Its Best Specialty Debut (UPDATED)

Box Office: "Jane Eyre" Gives 2011 Its Best Specialty Debut (UPDATED)

Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” had an extremely promising debut this weekend. According to estimates, the film is on track to gross $182,317 from just 4 screens in New York and Los Angeles, averaging $45,579, which is by far the best per theater average of 2011, more than doubling “Cedar Rapids”‘s $20,198 last month (unless one counts Kevin Smith’s roadshow tour of “Red State”). Distributor Focus Features will expand the feature, starring Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell and Judi Dench, considerably next weekend, providing an even bigger test. But clearly there is great interest in the film from specialty audiences.

“‘Jane Eyre”s strong box office momentum continued from Friday to Saturday with a sizeable 53% increase from Friday to Saturday,” Focus Features said. “Strong matinee business in NY and LA helped to drive the large uptick in Saturday’s business; late matinee, prime and late shows continued to experience actual or close to sell out conditions in every theater… The combination of strong reviews, positive word-of-mouth (as indicated by increase from Fri to Sat), and audience demand for a quality movie choice in the marketplace (reflected in heavy advance ticket sales) helped to deliver great opening weekend box office results.”

Its best gross was at New York’s Lincoln Square, where the film took in $54,387.

“Eyre” was not alone in its promise as the weekend saw a quartet of films enter the specialty marketplace to hopeful results. Anchor Bay found very strong numbers from Jonathan Hensleigh’s mobster drama “Kill The Irishman,” which in itself topped “Cedar Rapids” for the year’s second best per-theater-average. On 5 screens, the film took in $155,000 for a $31,000 average. Starring Ray Stevenson, Christopher Walken and Vincent D’Onofrio, the film will expand in the coming weeks.

Also debuting to great numbers this weekend was Abbas Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy,” which IFC Films released in 5 theaters in New York and Los Angeles. The result was a $84,000 gross and a $16,800 per theater average, itself one of the stronger showings so far this year. Starring Williams Shimell and Juliette Binoche, IFC picked up the film out of last year’s Cannes Film Festival. “Certified Copy” will expand to the top twenty markets within two weeks.

On one screen, Screen Media saw Eric Mendelsohn’s “3 Backyards” take in a decent $11,000. Starring Embeth Davidtz, Edie Falco and Elias Koteas, the film had debuted at last year’s Sundance Film Festival.

As for holdovers, “Irishman”‘s Anchor Bay saw a steep drop off in per-theater-average for the second weekend of another 2010 Sundance alum, Josh Radnor’s “happythankyoumoreplease.” The film expanded from 2 to 19 screens but only rose 50%, grossing $52,700 and averaging $2,774. The film’s total now stands at $95,908.

Xavier Beauvois’ “Of Gods and Men,” held on much better in its third weekend.The Sony Pictures Classics’ release, which won the Grand Prix at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, grossed $107,919 on 16 U.S. screens (up from 7) over the weekend, averaging $6,745. That gave the film a 10-day total of $293,604 in the U.S. only, and an additional $916,365 from Canada (where it’s being released much more aggressively through Mongrel Media).

In its fourth weekend, Dereck Joubert’s nature doc “The Last Lions” went from 14 to 39 screens. The National Geographic-distributed film, which follows a journey of a lioness as she battles to protect her cubs, grossed $117,501 for a $3,013 per-theater average. The film’s cume is now a strong $325,835 as it continues to expand in the coming weeks.

Paladin received good numbers from the fourth weekend of the 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 $43,950 from 7 theaters averaging $6,279. That marks only a slight drop in per-theater-average for the film, which is unsing geographically unique platform strategy that seems to be paying off quite nicely. After debuting in in Seattle, Portland, and the San Francisco Bay area, in the past weeks, it opened in Los Angeles this weekend to an estimated $22,000 from its lone theater. Shadyac has been touring with the film, as noted in indieWIRE‘s profile of the film’s strategy earlier this week.

Finally, in its fifth weekend, Fox Searchlight’s “Cedar Rapids” continued to hold up nicely. The Miguel Arteta directed comedy – starring Ed Helms and John C. Reilly – went from 235 to 395 theaters and found a $955,000 gross, averaging $2,424 as it took its new total to $4,631,294. That makes it the first specialty release of 2011 to gross over $4 million in a year that has been dominated by 2010 Oscar-related holdovers.

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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