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Specialty Box Office: Searchlight’s ‘Sessions’ Starts Very Strong (UPDATED)

Specialty Box Office: Searchlight's 'Sessions' Starts Very Strong (UPDATED)

Ben Lewin’s Sundance Film Festival Audience Award winner “The Sessions” went over very well its first weekend, topping all newcomers in a frame that also saw “Holy Motors,” “Brooklyn Castle” and “The Flat” open to solid numbers.

Full rundown below.

The Debuts:

“The Sessions” (Fox Searchlight)
Based on the true story of Mark O’Brien — a poet (played by John Hawkes) paralyzed from neck down due to polio who hired a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to lose his virginity — “The Sessions” managed a very strong start for distributor Fox Searchlight. The Oscar hopeful debuted on 4 screens to a $121,005 gross, which made for a $30,251 per-theater-average.

Though that number is a bit of a drop from the $42,426 earned by Searchlight’s other Sundance pickup-turned-Oscar hopeful, “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” it’s still a promising number for a film with a plot that’s difficult to market. Its true test will come when it expands further next weekend. Fox Searchlight will add 9 theaters in 5 new markets next week (San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Wash. DC, and Toronto), as well as expanding slightly in NY and LA.

READ MORE: ‘The Sessions’ Star John Hawkes On the Negative Side of Fame

“Holy Motors(Indomina)
One of the most buzzed-about films at the Cannes Film Festival made it to US screens this weekend care of Indomina. Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors” — starring Denis Lavant, Édith Scob and Kylie Minogue — opened on 2 screens and managed a decent $19,488 gross, averaging $9,744. Since opening last Wednesday, the film has totalled $28,302.

“We grossed $28,000 in the first 5 days, with weekend numbers growing to sold-out shows,” Indomina’s Rob Williams told Indiewire.  “Word of mouth, not just rave reviews, seems to be happening. It’s all very encouraging as we go to other markets end of the month.”

“Brooklyn Castle(PDA)
Katie Dellamaggiore’s documentary “Brooklyn Castle” — which premiered at SXSW — was released on two screens as well this weekend. John Sloss’s Producers Distribution Agency (which also released “Exit Through The Gift Shop” and “Senna”) found a solid $22,122 gross as a result, averaging $11,061.

“We are heartened by the solid beginning for ‘Brooklyn Castle,'” Sloss said. “We have a crowd- and critic-pleasing film and are establishing a base of enthusiastic viewers. Work of mouth is starting to kick in; we’ll be in this for the long haul.”

“The Flat” (Sundance Selects)
Sundance Selects released Arnon Goldfinger’s Israeli doc “The Flat” (which completes a quartet of different festivals represented here, as “The Flat” made its US debut at the Tribeca Film Festival) on 2 screens as well. The result was another solid number: $20,800 for a $10,400 average.

“‘The Flat’ played to sold out shows in uptown NYC as the incredibly gripping documentary received rave reviews for its opening weekend,” IFC’s Mark Boxer said.

“The Flat” will open in Los Angeles Wednesday and roll out to the top 20 markets within the next two weeks

“Nobody Walks” (Magnolia)
The weakest debut this weekend was Magnolia’s Sundance pickup “Nobody Walks.” Directed by Ry Russo-Young (from a script she wrote with Lena Dunham), the film grossed $7,500 from 2 screens in New York and Los Angeles, averaging only $3,750.

For a full report on more than a dozen holdover releases shortly — including “Middle of Nowhere,” “The Paperboy,” “The Master,” “Arbitrage,” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” — continue to the next page.

The Holdovers:

“Middle of Nowhere” (AFFRM)
 Ava DuVernay’s “Middle of Nowhere” — coming off two major Gotham Award nominations — expanded from 6 to 21 screens in its second frame.

Released by the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM) and Participant (after debuting at Sundance), the film grossed $54,395 for a $2,590 per-theater-average. That’s disappointing consider the film actually lost a good chunk of its gross despite more than tripling its screen count.

Tilane Jones of AFFRM remained optimistic: “With heavy competition among African-American moviegoers upon the release of ‘Alex Cross’ starring Tyler Perry and excellent new options in the independent space, we’re pleased with the consistency we saw over the weekend. ‘Middle of Nowhere’ continues to rank among the top 2 and 3 films at arthouse theaters like Sundance Sunset, Laemmle Pasadena and Landmark Midtown in Atlanta, while enjoying $7k per screen averages in urban centers like New York and Philadelphia. We will continue to expand the film next weekend.”

The film’s total stands at $127,137.

READ MORE: Gotham Awards Announce 2012 Nominations

“Smashed(Sony Pictures Classics)
Another Sundance alum also struggled this weekend as James Ponsoldt’s “Smashed” went from 4 to 20 screens care of Sony Pictures Classics. The acclaimed film — which Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul as a couple dealing with alcoholism — grossed $48,852 in its second frame for a disappointing $2,443 per-theater-average.

“Simon and the Oaks(The Film Arcade)
Lisa Ohlin’s “Simon and the Oaks” — a Swedish film about two boys coming of age during World War II — grossed $21,621 from 7 screens (up from just one) in its second weekend. It marks the second release from newbie distributor The Film Arcade after “The Other Dream Team” a few weeks back. The film’s total stands at $35,893

“The Paperboy(Millennium)
Lee Daniels’ Southern gothic flick expanded from 49 to 74 screens in its third weekend care of Millennium Entertainment and found more disappointing numbers.  Rising 22% in grosses, “The Paperboy” grossed $116,921 for a weak $1,580 average. Considering its starry cast (Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, John Cusack and Nicole Kidman), one might have thought it could manage a lot better, even with its generally negative reviews. After 17 days, the film’s total stands at $399,475.

READ MORE: REVIEW: Is Lee Daniels’ ‘The Paperboy’ So Bad Its Good? Only If That’s What You Want From It.

“The House I Live In(Abramorama)
Also in its third weekend was Eugene Jarecki’s highly acclaimed doc “The House I Live In.”  Going from 8 down to 4 screens, the film — which looks at the profound human rights implications of U.S. drug policy — grossed $15,912, averaging $3,978. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize for a U.S. doc at Sundance, the film has now totalled $76,875.

“Wuthering Heights(Oscilloscope)
Oscilloscope expanded Andrea Arnold’s adaptation of “Wuthering Heights” from 4 to 11 screens in its third weekend. The result was a $16,765 gross for a weak $1,524 per-theater-average. Its total now stands at $44,741.

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower(Summit)
Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” — adapted from Chboksy’s own 1999 novel — had a healthy fifth weekend in expansion.

Starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller as a trio of teenage misfits in 1990s Pittsburgh, Summit Entertainment expanded the film from 726 to 745 screens and saw the film not lose any of its grosses. That meant a $2,150,000 weekend count, making for a very respectable $2,886 per-theater-average. The film’s total so far stands at $9,120,625, and Summit should easily see the film pass the $10 million mark this week.

READ MORE: Ezra Miller On His New Role, Queer Representation in Cinema and the ‘Perks’ of Being Honest About Your Sexuality

“The Master(The Weinstein Company)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s veiled take on Scientology — which stars Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams — dropped from 682 to 412 theaters in its sixth weekend and took another hit.

Falling 34% in grosses, “The Master” took in $535,000. Its $1,299 average helped make it clear that “The Master” has peaked at the box office. Its total gross so far — $14,752,536  — makes competing with the $40.2 million Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” grossed (or half that) seem unlikely.

“Arbitrage” (Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate)
Also in its sixth weekend, was “Arbitrage.” Going from 195 down to 167 screens across North America, the film — which stars Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon — grossed $318,000 and crossed the $7 million mark in the process. It also made for a $1,891 average and an official new cume of $7,092,126 (impressive considering it was release day and date on VOD).

Finally, the ninth weekend of “Samsara” continued to impress. The non-narrative film — created by Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson — is a sort of sequel or continuation of the acclaimed 1993 “Baraka,” which also was directed by Fricke and produced by Magidson. “Samsara” was shot in about 100 locations in 25 countries and took four years to make. As described on the film’s website, it “explores the wonders of our world from the mundane to the miraculous, looking into the unfathomable reaches of man’s spirituality and the human experience. Neither a traditional documentary nor a travelogue, ‘Samsara’ takes the form of a nonverbal, guided meditation.”  

While that synopsis definitely doesn’t scream “blockbuster,” it has clearly appealed to many folks. Jumping from 48 to 70 screens, “Samsara” managed an impressive $136,111, averaging $1,945 per screen. The film’s total now stands at $2,002,793, making it the first Oscilloscope release to cross the $2 million mark. Back in 1993, “Baraka” grossed $1,254,237. “Samsara” should easily end up doubling that. 

Peter Knegt is Indiewire’s Senior Editor and box office analyst. 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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