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Box Office: “Sarah’s Key” and “Another Earth” Open Well; Palin Doc Slumps (UPDATED)

Box Office: "Sarah's Key" and "Another Earth" Open Well; Palin Doc Slumps (UPDATED)

The folks behind both Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s “Sarah’s Key” and Mike Cahill’s “Another Earth” had reason to celebrate this afternoon, as estimates provided by Rentrak earlier today suggested the duo of debuting films found some nice numbers at the box office.

“Key” – a French-language film starring Kristin Scott Thomas – was released in 5 theaters via The Weinstein Company and found the best per site numbers of any film in release (including “Captain America” and “Harry Potter”), taking in $117,045 for a $23,409 average. Its second weekend should be telling, but so far things look good for the film, which stars Scott Thomas as a journalist who finds her life becoming entwined with a young girl whose family was torn apart during the notorious Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup in 1942.

A very different film – “Another Earth” – made its way to 4 theaters in NY and LA (though notably on 7 screens, as both the Lincoln Center and Sunshine theaters in New York and Arclight in LA had “Earth” in 2 different showings). The result was a $78,413 gross, averaging a decent $19,603 per theater (though per screen it would only be $11,201).

“Earth” was written by Cahill and Brit Marling, who is also the film’s star and generally regarded as one of 2011’s big indie breakouts. Marling plays Rhoda, a twenty-something on the brink of getting accepted to MIT. Just as she overhears on her car radio that a new planet has appeared in the sky, she inadvertently crashes into a van and kills two-thirds of the family on board. Cut to four years later, when Rhoda is released from jail and seeks out the one third of that family that remains in the midst of news that Earth is sending visitors to the new planet.

The film is pretty unique to the indie market in genre, but perhaps a good comparison would be to Duncan Jones’ 2009 film “Moon,” which opened in 8 theaters and averaged a very similar $17,006. “Moon” ended up grossing just over $5 million.

“The film is attracting a young hip audience that’s intrigued by this creative unique story,” Fox Searchlight said today. The film will open in 6 new markets on July 29th.

Also opening was David Robert Mitchell’s “The Myth of the American Sleepover,” which Sundance Selects debuted on a sole New York City screen. The result was a mild $9,100 gross for the film, which follows four young people as they navigate the suburban wonderland of metro-Detroit on the last weekend of summer.

Among holdovers, Sarah Palin doc “The Undefeated” tanked in its second weekend. Expanding from 10 to 14 screens, the film – directed by Stephen K. Bannon – dropped 63% in grosses, taking in just $24,000. That made for a $1,714 average and a new total of $101,000.

According to its distributor ARC Entertainment, the film will still have a “massive national rollout,” with theatrical release continuing through October while a VOD release is tapped for September 1st and DVD on October 1st.

Meanwhile, Sundance Selects expanded Errol Morris’ “Tabloid’ from 14 to 31 screens in its second weekend. After considerable success stories from “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” and “Buck,” the distributor seems to be off to a good start with “Tabloid” as well, 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 $139,500, averaging $4,500. That’s a considerable cut above Morris’ 2008 doc “Standard Operating Procedure,” which averaged $2,868 from just 11 theaters in its second weekend. “Tabloid”‘s total now stands at 283,100.

The noted other recent Sundance Selects docs – “Buck” and “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” – continued to find numbers “Tabloid” should clearly aspire to in their 6th and 13th weekends, respectively. Cindy Meehl’s “Buck” dropped from 136 to 128 screens but still managed a strong $281,600 gross. The film, which takes on a living legend in the horse world, Buck Brannaman (inspiration for “The Horse Whisperer’), averaged $2,200 (just about on par with last weekend) and took its total to $2,594,322

Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” meanwhile, became the 25th documentary to ever cross the $5 million mark as it took in $63,000 from 42 screens. The fact that the film can still manage a $1,500 per-theater-average in its 13th weekend of release is a testament to how strong the film’s holding power has been. The film’s total now stands at $5,041,415.

Fox Searchlight’s release of Wayne Wang’s “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” held on respectively in its second frame. Expanding from 24 to 61 screens, the film saw its grosses rise 47%, taking in $197,185 for a $3,233 average. 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 – “is appealing to the older audience .” On July 29, the film will open in 13 new markets and approximately 75-100 theaters. Its total currently stands at $407,985.

Not faring as well in its second weekend was Sony Pictures Classics’ release of Oliver Schmitz’s South African drama “Life Above All.” The film went from 5 to 10 screens this weekend to disappointing results, grossing just $17,784 for an average of $1,778 and a new total of $41,381.

SPC had better news from the third weekend of Michael Rapaport’s doc “Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest” – went from 22 to 54 screens and held on to a decent gross. “Beats” took in $154,619 for a reasonable $2,863 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 strong new total of $515,091. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

Another Sundance doc, James Marsh’s “Project Nim,” went from 22 to 19 screens with a less promising result. The film grossed $50,331 for a $2,649 per-theater-average. Notably, that’s an actual increase in per-theater-average from last weekend, which suggests hope for the film in the next few weeks. But that said, the film’s total now stands at a disappointing $132,618.

After four weeks of aggressive expansion, Chris Weitz’s “A Better Life” dropped from 216 to 182 screens in its fifth weekend, and grossed an estimated $222,000 for a $1,220 per-theater-average. The film has now totalled a so-so $1,420,584 for distributor Summit Entertainment.

A different “Life,” Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” dropped just 11% as the film crossed the $11 million mark this weekend as distributor Fox Searchlight took it from 235 down to 230 theaters. The Palme d’Or winner grossed another $560,000, averaging a strong $2,435 taking its total to $11,042,577. The film should top the $12,712,093 Malick’s “The New World” took in back in 2005 within the next week or two.

Focus Features release of Mike Mills’ “Beginners” eased toward the $5 million mark as it dropped from 170 to 157 screens. The romantic drama, starring Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Melanie Laurent, grossed another $431,495 as a result (almost exactly on par with last weekend, despite the screen loss), making for a potent $2,748 average and a new total of $4,613,708. That’s five times the gross of Mills’ 2005 “Thumbsucker,” with a couple more million dollars likely en route.

Michael Winterbottom’s “The Trip” went from 41 to 46 theaters in its seventh 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 $142,600, averaging an excellent $3,100 (considerably up from last weekend) and bringing its total to a healthy $1,282,933 for IFC Films.

Finally, Woody Allen’s “Midnight In Paris” continued its momentous run, dropping from 706 to 621 theaters in its 10th weekend but managing to rise 1% in grosses anyway to become his highest grossing film ever (without adjusting for inflation, at least). The Sony Pictures Classics release’s count dropped from 819 to 706 screens, but “Paris” still only lost 28% of its grosses from last weekend. Taking in $1,899,246, Allen’s 42nd feature film averaged a strong $3,058 and took its total to $44,877,790. The $50 million mark is all but assured.

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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