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Box Office: Sarah Palin and Errol Morris Open Opposite “Potter;” “Paris” Becomes Woody’s Top Grosser

Box Office: Sarah Palin and Errol Morris Open Opposite "Potter;" "Paris" Becomes Woody's Top Grosser

While the final “Harry Potter” broke essentially every record in the book this weekend, an unlikely trio of Sarah Palin, Errol Morris and Wayne Wang proved the film’s main indie opener alternatives. According to estimates, Palin doc “The Undefeated,” Morris’ “Tabloid” and Wang’s “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” each found somewhat respectable debuts this weekend, though no film managed an average over $10,000.

Though early reports suggested the film was underwhelming, Stephen K. Bannon’s doc “The Undefeated” ended up with a respectable opening weekend. ARC Entertainment did not respond to indieWIRE‘s request for final weekend estimates, but they did say that the film had accumulated approximately $5,000 per screen through Saturday night.

That suggests the film (released on 10 screens in conservative cities and small towns: Grapevine, Texas; Indianapolis; Independence, Maryland; Kennesaw, Ga.; Houston; Orlando; Oklahoma City; Highlands Ranch, Colo.; Phoenix and Orange, Calif.) would end up with a weekend gross in the $65-75,000 range, averaging an unspectacular $6,500-$7,500. indieWIRE will have final numbers as soon as they come in.

Notably, the film was rushed to select digital theaters in only three weeks and was marketed almost entirely through social media and grassroots efforts, with virtually no traditional media spend. According to its distributor, the film is going into wider release later this month.

“We are extremely pleased with the audience reaction, which has been over-the-top enthusiastic and very passionate, including standing ovations at most screenings,” said Trevor Drinkwater, CEO of ARC Entertainment, the film’s distributor. “We expect word-of-mouth to keep ticket sales strong and we will definitely expand the film to a wider national audience.”

The film’s final numbers for this weekend – and how it expands outside conservative areas – should be telling.

Sundance Selects tried to make it a 2011 documentary hat trick this weekend, releasing Errol Morris’ “Tabloid’ on 14 screens. After considerable success stories from “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” and “Buck,” things seemed to be off to a decent start for “Tabloid,” which follows Joyce McKinney, the colorful Midwestern woman convicted of kidnapping her Mormon ex-lover in the U.K. in the late 1970s. The film grossed $100,800, averaging $7,200. That was on par with the debut of Morris’ 2008 doc “Standard Operating Procedure,” which averaged $7,054 from just two theaters. “Tabloid” will expand to the top 25 markets within the month.

Also opening this weekend was Fox Searchlight’s release of Wayne Wang’s “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.” On 24 theaters, the film grossed a respectable $135,619, averaging $5,651. Searchlight noted that the film – a story set in 19th century China and centered on the lifelong friendship between two girls who develop their own secret code as a way to contend with the rigid cultural norms imposed on women – “played better in the art/specialty theaters to the older audience than to the Chinese and Chinese-Americans.” On July 22, the film will open in 11 new markets.

Sony Pictures Classics released Oliver Schmitz’s South African drama “Life Above All” on five screens this weekend to disappointing results. The film grossed $14,328, averaging only $2,865.

Those were better numbers than the ones that met David Barker’s psychological thriller “Daylight,” which was estimated to have grossed just $900 from its sole screen for distributor Cinema Purgatorio.

Among holdovers, last weekend’s top debut – Michael Rapaport’s doc “Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest” – went from 4 to 22 screens and held on to a decent gross. The Sony Pictures Classics-released film took in $142,379 for a $6,471 average. That took “Beats,” which documents the inner workings and behind the scenes drama of the Queens hip hop collective A Tribe Called Quest, to a new total of $298,902. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

Another sophomore Sundance doc, James Marsh’s “Project Nim,” went from 4 to 22 screens with a less promising result. The film grossed $50,336 for a $2,288 per-theater-average. The film’s total now stands at a disappointing $89,131.

Many other holdovers hit significant milestones.

Cindy Meehl’s “Buck” hit the $2 million mark as it held on very respectably in its fifth weekend care of Sundance Selects. The film, which takes on a living legend in the horse world, Buck Brannaman (inspiration for “The Horse Whisperer’), grossed $312,80 over the weekend on 136 screens. That made for a $2,300 average and a new total of $2,233,800, making “Buck” one of only two indie docs to cross the $2 million mark this year. The other – another Sundance Selects film, Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” – took its cume to $4,931,800 this weekend. By next week it should become the 25th documentary to gross over $5 million.

Chris Weitz’s “A Better Life” expanded aggressively from 151 to 216 screens in its fourth weekend, and grossed an estimated $333,000 for a $1,542 per-theater-average. The film crossed the $1 million mark as a result, finding a new total of $1,033,740 for distributor Summit Entertainment.

A different “Life,” Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” crossed the $10 million mark this weekend as distributor Fox Searchlight dropped it from 237 to 235 theaters. The Palme d’Or winner grossed another $625,000, dropping a reasonable 21% from last weekend. “Life” averaged $2,660, taking its total to $10,088,766. The film should top the $12,712,093 Malick’s “The New World” took in back in 2005 within the next few weeks.

Focus Features release of Mike Mills’ “Beginners” eased toward the $4 million mark as it expanded from 155 to 170 screens. The romantic drama, starring Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Melanie Laurent, grossed another $415,848 as a result, making for a $2,446 average and a new total of $3,910,158. That’s three times the gross of Mills’ 2005 “Thumbsucker,” with a couple more million dollars likely en route.

Michael Winterbottom’s “The Trip” crossed the $1 million mark as it went from went from 38 to 41 theaters in its sixth weekend. The film, which follows fictionalized versions of actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as they stop at some of the best restaurants and inns in the north of England, grossed another $110,700, averaging $2,700 and bringing its total to a fantastic $1,107,111 for IFC Films.

Finally, Woody Allen’s “Midnight In Paris” finally surpassed “Hannah and Her Sisters” to become his highest grossing film ever (without adjusting for inflation, at least). Distributor Sony Pictures Classics saw the screen count drop from 819 to 706 screens, but “Paris” still only lost 28% of its grosses from last weekend. Taking in $1,890,585, Allen’s 42nd feature film averaged a strong $2,677 and took its total to $41,792,695 after 9 weekends. That tops 1986’s “Hannah,” which had grossed $40,084,041. Its also the second highest grossing film for Sony Classics, behind only “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” which grossed $128,078,872 in 2000.

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

indieWIRE 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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