Ray of ‘Sunshine’ hits niche biz

'Little' looks for big play

“Little Miss Sunshine” continued to bloom in limited release this weekend, and Fox Searchlight is significantly expanding its plans for the indie comedy.

Pricey Sundance acquisition will go nationwide at more than 1,500 theaters on Aug. 25.

“Little Miss Sunshine” held very strongly in the third week of what could turn out to be the most successful platform release of the year.

Pic grossed a fantastic $2.6 million over the weekend as it more than doubled its print count to 153 and expanded to 17 more cities. Per-theater take was $16,993; cume is already $5.6 million.

Sundance pickup was one of two to do boffo biz this weekend. “Half Nelson” also had a very strong start at two theaters in New York.

“Sunshine” looks like it may be the indie success story of the year. After just three weeks, it is in more theaters and has a bigger cume than other summer platform hits like “March of the Penguins,” “Garden State,” “Napoleon Dynamite” and “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Perf isn’t far behind that of “Brokeback Mountain,” which made $6.8 million by the end of its third frame, when it was at 217 playdates.

Pic is still No. 1 at top theaters like the ArcLight in L.A. and Gotham’s Regal Union Square and AMC Loews Lincoln Square. Holdover theaters in those cities declined about 17%, while bows in cities like Atlanta and Indianapolis were strong this frame.

As a result, Fox Searchlight significantly upped expansion plans. On Friday, it will play more than 600 theaters and debut in a number of small cities like Albany, N.Y.; Cincinnati; and Birmingham, Ala., before going national during the next frame.

“We had thought we might get to 800 or 1,000, but the momentum has been great everywhere it plays,” said Fox Searchlight chief operating officer Steve Gilula.

Al Gore’s global-warming docu “An Inconvenient Truth” had been the summer’s lone breakout indie success. It became the third-highest grossing documentary ever this weekend as its cume passed $21.9 million, putting it ahead of “Bowling for Columbine.”

ThinkFilm bowed “Half Nelson” to a very strong, albeit not quite “Sunshine”-size $54,950 at two plays in Gotham. Per-play take was $27,745. It expands to L.A., San Francisco and D.C. on Aug. 25.

Sony Pictures Classics opened Brazilian import “House of Sand” to a so-so $33,104 at five theaters, averaging $6,621.

SPC played “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” as part of the new Pedro Almodovar retrospective “Viva Pedro!” at one theater in Gotham and grossed a solid $13,779.

Indie expanded its Sundance buy “Quinceanera” from eight to 27 theaters and grossed $138,036, or $5,112 per play. Cume is $277,554.

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