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Box Office: Alexander Payne’s ‘The Descendants’ Soars In Massive Limited Debut

Box Office: Alexander Payne's 'The Descendants' Soars In Massive Limited Debut

After a successful mid-week launch on 5 screens, Fox Searchlight expanded Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” to 29 screens across the country this weekend and saw excellent results.

According to estimates, the film, which stars George Clooney as a land baron dealing with his wife’s tragic boating accident, grossed $1,222,344 over the weekend. That amounted to a stunning $42,150 per-theater-average and gave “The Descendants” a place in the overall top ten.  Considering its 29 theaters when all of the wide releases were playing In over 1300 – 4000 theaters, that’s pretty impressive.

“The weekend saw sellouts and crowds at all the theatres and was great counter programming for this adult comedy drama against kids films and teen films in the market,” Fox Searchlight’s EVP of Distribution, Sheila DeLoach, told Indiewire. “The terrific theatre average indicates strong awareness and a great start toward good word of mouth on the film stirred by tremendous publicity and critics praise.  The movie is positioned well as we go into the 4 day Thanksgiving Holiday next weekend expanding into over 60 markets and adding approximately 400 theatres.”

The number shouldn’t come as a surprise considering Payne and Clooney’s history. It acually has a lot to live up to considering their past with limited debuts: Clooney’s “Up In The Air” averaged $78,763 from 15 screens back in 2009, while Payne’s “Sideways” managed $51,760 per its 4 screens in 2004.

Including its mid-week grosses, the film has now taken in $1,301,544.

Other openers weren’t so lucky. Phase 4 released Ellen Barkin starrer “Another Happy Day” on 2 screens and saw a $9,200 gross, which made for a underwhelming $4,600 average.

Screen Media released Joshua Leonard’s “The Lie” on a sole screen, and saw a weak $3,000 gross.

As for holdovers, Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” expanded from 19 to 56 screens this weekend care of Magnolia Pictures, and the results were not so melancholic. The film grossed a respectable $350,000, averaging $6,250. Its new total stands at $721,682

The film has actually already surpassed the final gross of von Trier’s “Antichrist,” which ended up with $404,122 back in 2009.

The numbers are also impressive considering that “Melancholia” has been available via VOD for the last two weeks – although, of course, those revenue figures are unavailable. Magnolia will expand the film to roughly 100 screens for Thanksgiving weekend, likely becoming the first von Trier film to cross the $1 million mark since “Dogville” in the process.

Drake Doremus’s “Like Crazy” expanded from 70 to 109 screens in its fourth weekend and held up decently.  The Sundance pickup, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the festival, grossed $525,000 for distributor Paramount Vantage. That’s a 4% uptick from last weekend, leaving “Crazy” with a $4,817 per-theater-average and a new total of $1,770,006.

Sean Durkin’s “Martha Marcy May Marlene” – a fellow Sundance alum – crossed the $2 million mark this weekend. Though it did so while dropping its screen count from 183 to 180 screens and losing 20% of its gross, meaning the film has definitely peaked.   The Fox Searchlight release, which stars Elizabeth Olsen as a woman emerging from a abusive cult, grossed $385,000, averaging $2,139.   Its total now stands at $2,258,787.

Pedro Almodovar’s “The Skin I Live In” expanded from 91 to 113 screens in its sixth weekend, grossing $283,275 with an average of $2,507. The Sony Pictures Classics-released film’s total climbed to $2,109,272 as a result. Almodovar’s last film, “Broken Embraces,” ended up with a $5,014,305 final gross.  That numbers is out of reach for “Skin,” though it is not benefiting from the marketable presence of Penelope Cruz.

Another SPC release – Jeff Nichols’ critically acclaimed “Take Shelter” – dropped 8 venues to 74 screens in its eighth weekend and saw a 15% drop in grosses. “Shelter,” starring Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, grossed $101,826 for a $1,376 average. The film’s total is now $1,369,705.

Finally, two of the most impressive and somewhat unexpected success stories of the fall continued well on their way:

Emilio Estevez’s “The Way,” starring his father Martin Sheen, crossed the $3 million mark as it screened in 137 theaters this weekend via a unique partnership between Estevez, Elixir Films, Producers Distribution Agency and ARC Entertainment. The result was a $273,178 gross and a $1,994 average – the average impessively up from last weekend (the third weekend in a row its average has gone up). The film’s total now stands at $3,036,783. 

“It’s crossed the $3 million mark and this ‘Little Movie That Could’ is now perfectly positioned as the one truly cross-generational family film for the holidays,” John Sloss of Producers Distribution Agency said today.

Roadside Attractions also continued to find excellent news from JC Chandor’s Wall Street-set “Margin Call.” The went from 198 to 173 screens in its fifth weekend and took in $444,850. That made for a $2,510 average and a new total of $3,936,087.  The film is clearly turning into quite the success story, partially thanks to timing that couldn’t have been more appropriate given the Occupy Wall Street protests. The $5 million mark is definitely not out of the question.

Peter Knegt is indieWIRE 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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