'Juno,' 'Atonement,' 'Blood' bubbling

The awards race has just gotten more exciting — at least in terms of box office.

In a year-end surge, a handful of awards hopefuls found their stride at theaters during the extended holiday frame, including Fox Searchlight’s “Juno,” which was the fifth highest grossing film of the long New Year’s weekend.

Meanwhile, “Atonement” remained strong and “There Will Be Blood” had a great bow on only a few screens, while “The Bucket List,” “Persepolis” and “The Orphanage” also had good per-screen averages.

“Juno” saw an estimated three-day weekend gross of $10.6 million and a five-day gross of $15.7 million from 998 runs, according to Rentrak. Cume is $31 million through New Year’s Day. Pic registered an impressive weekend-to-weekend bump of 209% on the same theater count.

According to Searchlight topper Peter Rice, the film recorded the best weekend haul ever for a crossover specialty release, besting “Brokeback Mountain,” “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Sideways.”

“It’s playing well all over the country,” Rice said. “Two of our highest-grossing theaters are in Ohio and Minneapolis.”

Searchlight will add another 900 theaters or so this weekend.

Another specialty title keeping up its momentum is Focus Features’ “Atonement,” which posted a per-screen average of $10,058 over the weekend, grossing an estimated $3.1 million from 310 runs.

Pic grossed an estimated $4.9 million for the five days; cume is $13 million.

Meanwhile, Paramount Vantage reported strong opening numbers for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Daniel Day Lewis starrer “There Will Be Blood.”

Film, co-produced by Vantage and Miramax, opened in two theaters in New York and Los Angeles and logged a whammo per-location average of $95,370 — the highest of 2007 — as it grossed an estimated $190,739 over the weekend.

Pic’s five-day gross is an estimated $297,655; cume is $421,833 in its first seven days. (It opened Dec. 26.)

Vantage distribution topper Rob Schulze said the specialty unit also held sneaks of the movie over the weekend in 14 markets, garnering strong reaction. This weekend, the film will expand to 50 theaters in 10 markets.

Warner Bros. also saw promising numbers for Rob Reiner’s Jack Nicholson-Morgan Freeman starrer “The Bucket List,” which posted a per-location average of $21,000 over the weekend in grossing an estimated $336,000 from 16 locations. Over the five days, the film — which goes wide Jan. 11 — grossed $589,000 for a cume of $884,000. It opened Christmas Day.

Sony Pictures Classics’ “Persepolis,” which also bowed Christmas Day, posted a per-location average of $13,015 over the weekend in grossing an estimated $91,107 from seven theaters. Five-day gross was an estimated $142,123 for a cume of $217,669.Picturehouse’s Spanish horror title “The Orphanage” posted a per-screen average of $12,791 in grossing an estimated $233,323 from 18 theaters in its debut over the weekend. Five-day cume was an estimated $313,771.

Among other specialty holdovers, Paramount Classics and DreamWorks’ “The Kite Runner” reported a per-location average of $4,979 in grossing $1.9 million from 377 theaters over the weekend. Pic’s estimated five-day gross is $2.9 million for a cume of $6.5 million.

The Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men” passed the $40 million mark over the weekend, marking the brothers’ highest gross to date. The film, in its eighth frame, grossed an estimated $2.2 million from 960 theaters. Five-day take is an estimated $3.4 million; cume is $42.2 million.

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