‘Country’ corners niche

'Old Men' sees lively bow

Ethan and Joel Coen found plenty of B.O. range for “No Country for Old Men,” enjoying their best limited opening ever.

“No Country,” a co-production of Miramax Films and Paramount Vantage, debuted at an estimated $1.2 million from 28 theaters for a boffo per-screen average of $42,929, according to Rentrak.

Overall, “No Country” came in No. 14 for the weekend. Miramax is domestic distrib.

Sony nabbed the second highest per-screen average among specialty debuts with the bow of Bollywood title “Saawariya.” Film grossed an estimated $600,000 from 85 theaters for a per-location average of $7,059 as it debuted day-and-date in the U.S. and India, where it grossed an estimated $14.2 million. Film was produced by Sony’s local-language unit.

“No Country,” starring Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin is quintessential Coen brothers material. Stark and violent, it’s based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy and was adapted for the bigscreen by the filmmaking sibs.

Fall 2007 has been one of the toughest on record for the specialty biz, with a record number of releases filling the distribution pipeline and creating fierce competition for screen time. That’s led distributors to tweak and even rethink distribution strategies.

In the case of “No Country,” Miramax decided to open the film in 28 theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco and Washington, as opposed to doing a more traditional limited release in just Gotham and L.A.

Move seems to have paid off. For that number of locations, “No Country” nabbed the best per-screen average of the fall for a limited release.

“These are incredibly strong numbers,” said Miramax topper Daniel Battsek. “I think they show that independent movies are still alive and kicking. I’m not counting any eggs here and, of course, we have a long way to go, but I do think it’s exciting.”

Fox Searchlight’s Wes Anderson dramedy “The Darjeeling Limited” debuted to a per-screen average of $67,469, the best of the fall, when it opened in two theaters. Per-location average dropped to $29,559 in the second weekend when expanding to 19 theaters.

Focus Features’ “Lust, Caution” enjoyed a per-screen average of $63,910 when it opened on one screen, and in its second weekend, a per-screen average of $21,342 when it expanded to 17 theaters.

Vantage’s “Into the Wild” opened to a per-screen average of $53,110 when debuting on four screens, and its per-location average dropped to $19,135 in the second weekend when it expanded to 33 theaters.

For the Coen brothers, “No Country” brought their best opening gross, as well as their best per-screen average, for a limited release, although many of their films opened on far fewer screens. “Fargo,” however, was released in 36 theaters in 1996, grossing $730,265 for a per-screen average of $20,285.

“O Brother, Where Art Thou?” opened to $142,139 from five theaters in 2000 for a per-screen average of $28,428.

Battsek said “No Country” played well in all markets, not just New York and L.A.

In other specialty openings, ThinkFilm’s docu “War/Dance,” about a refugee camp in Uganda, grossed an estimated $17,070 from three theaters for a per-screen average of $5,690.

Among holdovers, Sidney Lumet’s dark family drama “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” grossed an estimated $689,903 as it expanded to 122 theaters for a cume of $1.3 million. Pic, in its third frame, was up 72%.

Roadside Attractions’ Christian-themed title “Bella” grossed an estimated $1 million in its third weekend from 276 theaters for a per-screen average of $3,645 and a cume of $3.9 million.

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