Smaller flicks feel the pinch

The holiday offered little help for specialty films hoping for a Christmas goose in an intensely competitive niche market.

Clouding the picture is the host of major studio product that’s eschewed wide release for more gradual rollout.

Leading this fish-nor-fowl pack was Disney’s “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.” After playing two weeks on just two screens, the Wes Anderson pic widened to 1,105 on Christmas. The two days of barely wide release helped the Bill Murray starrer gross $4.9 million over the holiday weekend, a theater average of $4,395 (cume: $5.3 million).

Likewise, Warner Bros. brought out its musical “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera” to 622 screens on Wednesday, grossing $6.52 million in its first five days. For the three-day span, pic put up $4.2 million, averaging $6,752 per engagement.

Also in this club, Sony’s “Closer,” which has the cast and budget of a major release, played its third week, now with 1,069 engagements, and grossed $1.7 million. Mike Nichols-helmed pic has cumed just shy of $22.6 million and averaged $1,590 per screen. Three-day perf was down 49% from the prior week.

Among the new pics, MGM/UA saw good initial results for “Hotel Rwanda,” which grossed $111,240 on seven screens, averaging $15,892. Newmarket fared well with “The Woodsman,” which bowed Friday and grossed $61,200 in its first frame, for an average of $10,200.

And Warner Bros.’ “Million Dollar Baby” stayed strong on its first eight runs, grossing $212,103 in its third frame, an average of $26,513. Pic was actually up 18% from its opening; cume is $551,293.

But the first wave of awards biz for Fox Searchlight’s “Sideways” seems to be finished. Pic grossed $1.175 million over three days from 356 screens, an average of $3,301 per screen. Pic, down 22% this week, has cumed $18.5 million.

Searchlight’s “Kinsey” got little traction as it expanded slightly to 234 screens. It grossed $325,000 over the three-day span, an average of $1,389 (cume: $5.7 million).

Lions Gate’s “Beyond the Sea” picked up $39,000 in its second weekend, an average of $6,500 on its six screens. Cume on the Kevin Spacey starrer is now $105,000.

Fine Line’s “The Sea Inside” floundered some more in its second week. Pic grossed $15,700 over three days, averaging $2,617 on its six screens (cume: $101,000).

Sony Pictures Classics’ “Bad Education,” now in its sixth week, grossed $252,276 on 50 screens, an average of $5,046. Perf brings cume to a hair over $1.2 million.

Label’s martial arts romancer “House of Flying Daggers” continued in its fourth week, earning $668,070 on 166 screens, averaging $4,025 (cume: just below $2.8 million).

Warner Independent Pictures also continued to widen “A Very Long Engagement,” which was also on 166 screens. Over the weekend the wartime romancer grossed $420,000 for an average of $2,530 per screen. Cume is $1.3 million.

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