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Specialty films boost box office

'Juno,' 'No Country,' 'Atonement' make gains

The specialty biz came to life at the domestic box office as a trio of films –Focus Features’ “Atonement,” Fox Searchlight’s “Juno” and Miramax’s “No Country for Old Men” — made sizeable gains over the weekend.

Even opera did some business.

“Atonement,” which picked up the most Golden Globe nominations of any film last week, landed at No. 9 overall as it expanded it its second frame to 117 theaters. Film, directed by Joe Wright, grossed an estimated $1.9 million for a healthy per-screen average of $15,835, according to Rentrak.

“No Country for Old Men” moved up to No. 5, declining just 27% to an estimated $3 million from 1,348 runs; cume is $33.6 million in the film’s sixth weekend. That makes the Coen brothers’ pic the most successful limited release of the year.

“Juno” moved up to No. 11 and scored the best per-screen average — $36,018 — of the weekend for any film. Quirky laffer grossed $1.4 million as it expanded from seven to 40 theaters in its second weekend. Cume is $2.2 million.

The specialty biz may be enjoying a December surge after a fall slump, but auds may continue to shy away from films with political overtones.

Among new titles pics debuting over the weekend, Paramount Vantage-DreamWorks’ high-profile “The Kite Runner” posted a per-screen average of $12,886 as it opened on 35 screens, grossing an estimated $451,000.

That’s a solid number for that number of screens, but both “No Country” and “Atonement” debuted far stronger. “No Country” opened with an average of $43,898 from 28 locations, while “Atonement” posted an average of $25,014 when it opened in 32 theaters.

Vantage had delayed release of filmmaker Marc Forster’s “Kite Runner” from Nov. 2 in order to get three young boys who starred in the film out of Afghanistan out of fear for their safety. They have been relocated to the United Arab Emirates.

Vantage distrib topper Rob Schulze said initial reaction to the film has been strong, and word of mouth should translate into a strong holiday run.

In its debut, Sony Pictures Classics’ “Youth Without Youth,” directed by Francis Ford Coppola, grossed an estimated $27,815 from six screens for a per-screen average of $4,636.

Focus prexy of distribution Jack Foley said “Atonement” has become a genuine box office contender based on the business it has done this weekend and the fact that it landed on the top 10 list in only its second weekend in limited release.

“People have really found this film,” Foley said.

Another limited engagement posting strong grosses was the Metropolitan Opera’s live digital high-def simulcast of “Romeo and Juliette” Saturday on 475 screens in North America. Estimated gross is $1.4 million. Initiative, now beginning its second year, is part of a campaign to make opera more accessible and expand the Met’s audience.

“There is no question that this is the largest alternative cinema event ever,” Met general manager Peter Gelb said. “It’s the single greatest audience development tool we could employ.”

Exhibs investing in the installation of digital screens say they want alternative content as a means to lure new patrons. Also, they can charge far more for such a ticket.

The Met simulcasts also play on about 100 screens abroad; those grosses weren’t available Sunday.

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