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Specialty Box Office: ‘Theory of Everything’ Thrives and ‘Birdman’ Soars As Oscar Race Heats Up

Specialty Box Office: 'Theory of Everything' Thrives and 'Birdman' Soars As Oscar Race Heats Up

The two men most likely to be battling it out for this year’s best actor
Oscar — Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne — saw their respective
films “Birdman” and “The Theory of Everything” dominate the specialty
box office this weekend. 

Here’s our break down:

The good news:

Focus Features’ best bet at this year’s Oscars started off very strong this weekend as James Marsh’s “The Theory of Everything” grossed $207,000 from just 5 theaters.  That made for a $41,400 per-theater-average —  the fourth best of 2014, after “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Birdman” and “Boyhood.” Not bad company.

“Theory” stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones (both all but locks for Oscar noms) as renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and his first wife Jane, and is based on Jane’s memoirs of her marriage to Stephen. It debuted to strong reviews at the Toronto Film Festival, and clearly Focus has golden dreams for the film in its near future.

The distributor said that the film played well ” to the traditional smart adult audience,” skewing female by 62% and finding exit scores at least double the norms across all gender and age demographics.

“Theory” will expand next weekend.

Fox Searchlight sent Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Oscar hopeful “Birdman” from 231 to 462 theaters on Friday to more success.  Grossing $2,300,000 the film managed a $4,978 average — just missing the overall top 10 (it placed 11th despite playing on under half of the theaters of any film in the top 10). Notably the grosses jumped a huge 143% on Saturday, suggesting the film suffered from the typically low moviegoing that occurs on Halloween. Either way, it has now totaled $8,086,000 — outgrossing both “Biutiful” and “Amores Perros” to fall in the middle as far as Iñárritu’s top grossers go. “21 Grams” took in $16.3 million, while “Babel” grossed $34.3 million. It seems all but certain “Birdman” will at least fall somewhere in the middle of those films when all is said and done.

“Birdman” stars Michael Keaton as a washed-up Hollywood actor who once played a superhero. Aiming to reinvent his career, he tries adapting Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” as a play.

The film has received glowing reviews, and Keaton is likely to be facing off with “Theory” star Redmayne in this year’s best actor Oscar race. Neither has ever been nominated before.

Next week, “Birdman” will find its way to a total of 100 markets as they open in another 45 new cities. It will also expand in already opened markets. Searchlight’s plan is to get to between 425-450 theaters for November 7.

A less certain shot in this year’s awards race (but still a contender), The Weinstein Company continued to push Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy-led
comedy “St. Vincent” out into the mainstream, holdoing it on 2,281 theaters.  The result impressively saw the film drop less than 25% as it took in $5,600,000 and brought its total to $27,249,031.  That makes it only the third specialty release of 2014 to cross the $25 million mark, after “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (which notably also featured Murray) and “Chef.”

Jean-Luc Godard, meanwhile, had a strong weekend too. The filmmaker has become known for many remarkable things over his
nearly 60 year career, but U.S. box office sensation has never quite
been one of them. His last film released here, 2011’s “Film Socialisme,”
grossed $32,977 over its 20 week run. But this weekend saw Godard’s 3D
“Goodbye To Language” — which debuted at Cannes earlier this year — more than double that number after just 12 days.  Grossing $21,000
over the weekend thanks at the IFC Center and Film Society of Lincoln
Center in New York (where it held over from last weekend), the film averaged $10,500 as it took the overall
total to $83,827.

Thompson on Hollywood had reported
that the film had been having trouble booking 3D theaters.  Distributor
Kino Lorber is hopeful this weekend’s performance might change that, and does have runs set up in Minneapolis, Toronto and San Rafael this coming weekend. They are currently negotiating LA, Chicago, Boston and other major markets.

Other notably holdover performers this weekend included RADiUS-TWC and Participant Media’s “CITZENFOUR” and Sony Pictures Classics’ “Whiplash.”

In its third weekend, Laura Poitras’ critically lauded documentary “CITIZENFOUR” went from 37 to 59 theaters and jumped 7%. Offering remarkable insight Edward Snowden and the NSA spying scandal,
the film grossed $207,834 to average a very healthy $3,525 as it continues its expansion. After 17 days, the film has grossed $667,293 and it seems already poised to become one of the few 2014 documentaries to cross the $1 million mark.

“Whiplash,” meanwhile, continued a slow expansion this weekend as Sony Pictures Classics took the potential Oscar contender from 61 to 88 theaters in its foifth weekend. The film has slowly been improving its overall box office potential each weekend, as this was no exception as it jumped a promising 35% in grosses, taking in $346,732 for a $3,940 average. The film’s total stands at $1,556,293. If Sony Classics can keep the films’ ball rolling long enough for it to benefit from some awards season love, the film could end up doing quite nicely.

And finally, Zipporah Films found a decent debut number from Frederick Wiseman’s documentary “National Gallery.” The legendary documentary filmmaker saw his latest film gross $9,650 from a single theater, taking in $12,766 since opening Wednesday.

The bad news:

RADiUS-TWC might have continued to find success with “CITIZENFOUR,” but that wasn’t the case for the second weekend of Alexandre Aja’s “Horns.” It’s quite possible it did much better on VOD (where it was also released), but theatrically it took in only $7,928 from 22 theaters (down from 103), averaging just $360 per theater. Starring Daniel Radcliffe as a man who wakes up with two magical horns on his forehead, the fantasy thriller marks another somewhat disappointing attempt from Radcliffe to draw specialty audiences. “What If” and “Kill Your Darlings” — while both finding very strong reviews — underperformed recently as well. Though they at least both crossed the $1 million mark. “Horns” now stands at $164,146 — and probably won’t get too much farther than that.

Head over to the next page for a chart of the weekend’s 10 best per-theater-averages.

The Weekend’s Specialty Top 10 (ranked in order of
per-theater-average, and only including films that both submitted
estimates and initially opened in under 500 theaters):

1. The Theory of Everything (Focus)
Week: Debut
Weekend Gross: $207,000
Theaters: 5
Per-Theater-Average: $41,400
Total Gross: $207,000
Criticwire Average: B
Read more about “Theory”

2. Goodbye To Language 3D (Kino Lorber)
Week: 2
Weekend Gross: $21,000
Theaters: 2 (even)
Per-Theater-Average: $10,500
Total Gross: $83,927
Criticwire Average: B+
Read more about “Goodbye To Language”

3. National Gallery (Zipporah)
Week: Debut
Weekend Gross: $9,700
Theaters: 1
Per-Theater-Average: $9,700
Total Gross: $12,800
Criticwire Average: A-
Read more about “Gallery”

4. Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain (Revolver/Vitagraph)
Week: Debut
Weekend Gross: $6,150
Theaters: 1
Per-Theater-Average: $6,150
Total Gross: $6,150
Criticwire Average: N/A

5. Birdman (Fox Searchlight)
Week: 4
Weekend Gross: $2,300,000
Theaters: 462 (up from 231)
Per-Theater-Average: $4,978
Total Gross: $8,086,252
Criticwire Average: A-
Read more about “Birdman”

6. Point and Shoot (The Orchard)
Week: 2
Weekend Gross: $4,389
Theaters: 1 (even)
Per-Theater-Average: $4,389
Total Gross: $12,205
Criticwire Average: A-
Read more about “Point and Shoot”

7. Awake: The Life of Yogananda (Counterpoint Films & Self-Realization Fellowship)
Week: 4
Weekend Gross: $86,100
Theaters: 21 (up from)
Per-Theater-Average: $4,100
Total Gross: $447,442
Criticwire Average: N/A

8. Whiplash (Sony Pictures Classics)
Week: 5
Weekend Gross: $347,000
Theaters: 88 (up from 61)
Per-Theater-Average: $3,943
Total Gross: $1,557,000
Criticwire Average: A-
Read more about “Whiplash”

Week: 3
Weekend Gross: $207,834
Theaters: 59 (up from 37)
Per-Theater-Average: $3,525
Total Gross: $667,293
Criticwire Average: A-
Read more about “CITIZENFOUR”

10. St. Vincent (The Weinstein Company)
Week: 5
Weekend Gross: $5,707,202
Theaters: 2,455 (down from 2,552)
Per-Theater-Average: $2,325
Total Gross: $27,356,000
Criticwire Average: B
Read more about “St. Vincent”

Peter Knegt is a contributing editor at Indiewire and our box office columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

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