Commercial appeal key for arthouse pics

Experimental Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There” scored director Todd Haynes’ best opening ever in the U.S., but the film enters the marketplace during a dicey time for arthouse fare.

Distributed by the Weinstein Co., “I’m Not There” debuted at an estimated $1 million over the five-day Thanksgiving frame from 130 theaters in key markets. Of that, it pulled in $757,385 over the three-day weekend for a per-screen average of $5,826, according to Rentrak.

TWC decided to open the film in 130 markets, not just L.A. and New York.

Specialty pics offering a degree of commercial entertainment appeal, such as the Coen brothers’ critically acclaimed “No Country for Old Men,” distributed by Miramax domestically, are having a far easier time making a mark at the box office.

The R-rated “No Country” came in No. 10 overall for the Thanksgiving sesh as the violent, modern-day Western went wide in its third frame, playing 860 theaters. Movie grossed an estimated $11 million over the five-day holiday stretch; for the three days, it grossed an estimated $8.1 million for a hearty per-screen average of $9,433. Cume is $16.6 million.

“Hopefully, we are here to stay,” Miramax topper Daniel Battsek said. “The point is, the film is entertaining enough that it is crossing over. And it has enormous critical acclaim.”

The only other specialized film to go wide successfully this fall is Warner Bros.’ moody legal thriller Michael Clayton, starring George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson. That pic has grossed more than $38 million to date.

At the same time, the awards race remains relatively wide open, as there still hasn’t been one picture that’s galvanized the masses.

“I’m Not There” marks Haynes’ first feature since “Far From Heaven,” released in November 2002. “Far From Heaven” debuted at $211,279 from six theaters for a per-screen average of $35,213. Film grossed $15.9 million domestically.

Haynes’ “Velvet Goldmine” debuted at $301,787 in 1998 for a per-screen average of $3,550. Pic grossed $1 million domestically.

“I’m Not There,” which includes various ruminations on the life and works of Bob Dylan, won best suppporting actress for Cate Blanchett at this year’s Venice Film Festival.

Among other limited openings over the Thanksgiving frame, Roadside Attractions’ Frank Langella starrer “Starting Out in the Evening” nabbed the best per-screen average of the weekend. Pic, which opened Friday, grossed an estimated $85,596 from seven theaters for a per-location average of $12,228.

Paramount Vantage’s “Margot at the Wedding” grossed an estimated $382,174 as it expanded to 35 theaters in its second frame for a per-screen average of $10,919 and cume of $573,796. Pic’s five-day holiday gross was $475,836.

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