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Box Office: Hurricane Irene Pounds Specialty Market As “Cirumstance” and “Ground” Debut (UPDATED)

Box Office: Hurricane Irene Pounds Specialty Market As "Cirumstance" and "Ground" Debut (UPDATED)

There was much talk surrounding the effect Hurricane Irene would have on the studio box office this weekend, as many theaters in major East Coast cities shut down. However, studio films still had the rest of the country to make up for those losses; for many specialty films, that wasn’t the case.

Opening titles like “Circumstance” and aptly titled “Higher Ground” saw a large percentage of their screens evaporate on Saturday and Sunday. Still, according to estimates provided by Rentrak earlier today, both “Ground” and “Circumstance” have reason to look to their second weekends for some post-Irene redemption.

Vera Farmiga’s directorial debut “Higher Ground” opened in three theaters on Friday, but two were in New York and closed down for Irene both Saturday and Sunday. That severely weathered the potential for “Ground” as the film ended up grossing $22,905, averaging what would normally be a so-so $7,635. However, considering its Irene-related disadvantage, that’s a pretty impressive number for distributor Sony Pictures Classics.

Roadside Attractions released Maryam Keshavarz’s Iran-set drama “Circumstance” on 7 screens, 3 of which were in New York and thus closed down for two-thirds of the weekend. As a result, the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award winner (released in partnership with Participant Media) took in in $43,586 for a $6,226 average. Though if one only looks at the four LA screens, that average bumps up to a much more respectable $9,400.

A few indies opened in wide release this weekend as well. Troy Nixey’s Guillermo del Toro produced “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” went to 2,760 theaters care of FilmDistrict. The result was a $8,689,000 gross and a $3,148 average. Clearly hindered by East Coast markets, the

“Our key large urban East Coast markets were really killed and many theatres closed or were dead even if they remained open,” says Bob Berney, President, Theatrical Distribution said. “For example, I went to Ridge Hill in Westchester County, NY for the 7:30 shows and even though it was open, there were only about 25 brave people in the entire complex. The E-Walk on 42nd St in Manhattan gross was $20,800 on Friday and $0 on Saturday.”

The Weinstein Company also went wide with their Sundance pickup “Our Idiot Brother.” On 2,555 screens, the film took in a mild $6,588,000 for a $2,578 average. Though notably the film only cost $5 million to make, and TWC paid $6 million to acquire it.

Limited holdovers that significantly expanded outside of New York had an easier ride, but were far from unaffected given the weather conditions in Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, DC.

In its third weekend, Asif Kapadia’s acclaimed documentary “Senna” went from 14 to 28 screens for the Producers Distribution Agency (the company’s second release after forming for “Exit Through the Gift Shop”). After a record breaking debut two weekends back, the film took in $227,452 for a third weekend average of $8,123. This is very impressive considering Hurricane Irene, and helped take “Senna”‘s total to $565,487.

Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s French import “Sarah’s Key” had a great sixth weekend for distributor The Weinstein Company. Expanding from 201 to 272 theaters, the French-language film starring Kristin Scott Thomas took in another $636,000 for a per-theater-average of $2,338. The total for “Key” now stands at $4,086,507. The film stands to be a sizable late-summer hit for the Weinsteins and one of the highest-grossing foreign language films of the year.

Also doing well was Sony Pictures Classics’ release of John Michael McDonagh’s “The Guard.” The Irish black comedy starring Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle expanded from 83 to 107 theaters in its fifth frame and took in $404,295 for a $3,778 per-theater-average. The film’s total is $1,797,496.

Lionsgate’s release of Lee Tamahori’s “The Devil’s Double,” which dropped from 83 to 78 screens in its fifth weekend and managed a $88,000 gross, averaging $1,128. The film’s total now stands at $1,173,732.

Samuel Goldwyn’s release of political thriller “The Whistleblower” expanded from 44 to 68 screens in its third weekend (though like all films in this report, many of them only opened Friday night). As as result, the film, which stars Rachel Weisz, pulled in $136,000 for a $2,000 per-theater-average. Its total now stands at $617,731.

Rashaad Ernesto Green’s “Gun Hill Road” dropped from five theaters to three its fourth weekend and grossed $4,500. The film averaged $1,500 and now has a total of $120,000. Distributed by Motion Film Group, “Road” is reportedly set for a national launch September 16 to the top 20-40 markets.

Dropping from 44 to 30 theaters in its fifth weekend was Joe Cornish’s acclaimed British science-fiction horror film “Attack The Block.” The film, which follows a London street gang that must defend themselves from rowdy alien invaders, dropped 28% in grosses as it took in another $60,000, averaging $2,000. The film premiered at SXSW earlier this year and is being released through Screen Gems. So far, the film’s total take is $714,438.

Meanwhile, Mike Cahill’s “Another Earth” expanded from 87 to 94 screens via distributor Fox Searchlight in its sixth weekend and crossed the $1 million mark. This weekend, the film took in a $92,000, averaging a weak $979 per theater. The film’s total now stands at $1,100,243.

In its 15th weekend, Woody Allen’s “Midnight In Paris” made an aggressive late-run expansion, going from 258 to 652 theaters. Despite Irene, it still managed a $741,054 gross, averaging $1,137 (and rising 34% in grosses). That gave the SPC release a new total of $51,640,541. In the end, “Paris” should wind up with a domestic gross around the $60 million mark. It’s the second-highest grossing film in distributor SPC’s history, behind only “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

Finally, Focus Features’ wide release of Lone Scherfig’s UK-set romance “One Day” continued to struggle. On 1,725 screens, the Anne Hathaway-Jim Sturgess starrer dropped 53% from last weekend and took in another $2,382,000, averaging just $1,381. “One Day”‘s total now stands at $9,638,000.

Check back with indieWIRE for an updated version of this story as many films did not report estimates in large part due to Irene, including “Chasing Madoff,” “The Future” and “Amigo.”

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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