New Line’s “Boogie Nights” strutted its stuff in its New York debut Sunday, kicking up a one-day total of $50,168 in two locations.

The promising exclusive opening, at Manhattan’s City Cinemas 1, 2 and Third Avenue and Sony Lincoln Square theaters, followed the film’s U.S. premiere in the New York Film Festival on Wednesday.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s gritty disco-era porn industry epic has generated a tidal wave of publicity and is earning lavish praise from most key critics.

But while the powerful bow reflected the deafening buzz the film has generated in New York and L.A., the question remains how the R-rated film will play in smaller markets.

Last year’s “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” the Milos Forman-helmed biopic of the Hustler publisher, was also a critics’ favorite. But the Sony-distributed picture failed to find an audience outside the big cities. It finished with a limp $20.3 million.

“We know we’ve got a hit film,” said Mitch Goldman, New Line distribution and marketing president. “We did capacity business all day Sunday and the numbers so far today (Monday) are exceptional. What we can’t yet glean is how far this picture will go in terms of the smaller towns.”

Gradual release

Goldman said “Boogie Nights” fever had not yet hit the heartland. New Line hopes to build the film’s momentum by giving “Boogie Nights” a gradual platform release.

“We’re not going to add theaters that we’re not sure can gross,” Goldman said. “We believe you can go much too fast with a picture like this. We’re also conscious of the fact that you can go too slow.”

The picture adds exclusive runs in 10-20 markets Friday, including four or five spots in L.A. It also expands into a handful of additional Manhattan sites. The film expands again Oct. 24 and then again on the 31st.

A number of specialized films have been launched at the New York fest, though none came out of the blocks as fast as “Nights.”

After “The Ice Storm’s” Sept. 26 preem at the selective New York fest, the Fox Searchlight pic whipped up an impressive $75,183 in two days at three New York locations, where it continues to do strong business.

Buena Vista’s “Washington Square” took in $14,352 in two New York theaters on Oct. 6, the Sunday following its festival premiere.

And this Sunday, Kino Intl.’s “Happy Together,” from Hong Kong helmer Wong Kar-wai, picked up a felicitous $7,204 on a single New York screen.

In other specialized openings, Alliance’s “The Sweet Hereafter” bowed to $31,149 in two Toronto locations. The Atom Egoyan pic will be distributed by Fine Line in the U.S. beginning Nov. 21.

B.O. frame up

Business was good overall during the weekend, which was sandwiched between the Friday-night start of Yom Kippur and Monday’s Columbus Day in the U.S. and Thanksgiving in Canada.

Ticket sales for the top 60 films totaled $67.8 million, an improvement of about a half percent over the previous weekend. The box office was up 9% from the equivalent frame in 1996.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more