Auds love ‘Company’

Limited releases find footing at holiday B.O.

With boffo results spread throughout the marketplace, specialty films, which have had a tough time finding traction outside big cities like L.A. and Gotham, saw refreshingly strong results over the New Year’s weekend.

Leading the pack of new limited entrants into the market (all of which opened on Wednesday) was Universal’s “In Good Company,” which grossed $156,000 over the weekend in its first three playdates (one screen each in L.A., New York, and Toronto) for a screen average of $52,000.

Cume since its Wednesday opening is $229,000. Pic is headed for release on 1,600-plus screens on Jan. 14.

Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Merchant of Venice,” starring Al Pacino, started off with $73,168 on four screens, averaging $18,292. Cume since Wednesday is $106,536.

Thinkfilm’s Sean Penn starrer “The Assassination of Richard Nixon” debuted with $43,750 over the weekend, an average of $8,750 on each of its five screens. Cume since Wednesday is $61,386.

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Lions Gate opened “A Love Song for Bobby Long” to $30,472 from eight theaters, averaging $3,809. Cume since Wednesday is $44,000.

Holdovers reheated

In addition to the new pics, some holdovers showed signs of being reinvigorated as the heart of awards season approaches.

Fox Searchlight’s “Sideways,” which has been showered with early kudos and best-pic critics picks, saw its grosses improve 84% over its 11th weekend to $2.15 million. The Alexander Payne wine tale played on 373 screens, 14 more than last weekend, and averaged $5,764. Cume stands at $22.4 million.

Miramax’s “Finding Neverland,” in its eighth week, surged 80% to $2.45 million from 1,054 screens, up 121 from the last frame. Pic averaged $2,327 per engagement and now has a cume of $24.4 million.

Warner Bros.’ “Million Dollar Baby” had its best weekend yet of its three-week run, grossing $257,733 from nine screens, averaging $28,637 and pushing cume to a hair over $1 million. Warner distrib prexy Dan Fellman said pic was boosted by a particularly strong New Year’s Day, with $114,157 on Saturday alone.

Fellman added that plans for the Clint Eastwood boxing drama are to add 12 more markets on Friday and then finally go wide on Jan. 28.

“Million Dollar Baby” is one of a handful of studio-backed (and budgeted) pics that are appealing to the same auds that arthouse distribs, including those owned by the studios, normally chase. Along with “Baby,” Warners is also playing “The Phantom of the Opera” in a limited release of 622 before going wide later this month. The musical did $4.8 million this weekend, its second frame, averaging $7,741 per theater and up 20% from the previous frame.

‘Aquatic’ strategy

Disney has had a similar strategy for “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” which played its second week at 1,105 theaters. Wes Anderson-helmed oceanographer pic grossed $4.3 million, down 5% from last weekend and posting $3,915 per engagement. Cume is now $14.7 million.

And Sony’s Mike Nichols pic “Closer,” in its fifth week, played 1,094 locations and grossed $2.3 million, a 36% improvement from the Christmas weekend, bringing its cume to $27.5 million.

Some specialty distribs have cited the studio competition for auds as one of the reasons their fare has struggled to break out this season.

“In any Christmas or New Year’s season, the big studio pictures normally cater to the young teenage audience,” Sony Classics co-prexy Michael Barker said. “When you have the studios releasing pictures that cater to the upscale audience as well as that younger audience, that’s when the independent pictures suffer because the small independent film is going to go down a few notches on their list of movies they want to see.”

Still, those smaller films did well over the weekend. In addition to the opening of “Venice,” which Barker called “proof that this film is very accessible,” Sony Classics saw “Bad Education,” playing on 47 screens in its seventh week, gross $288,759, up 18%. Pic averaged $6,144 per screen and now has a cume just shy of $1.8 million.

Shingle’s martial arts romancer “The House of Flying Daggers” grossed $805,149 on 161 screens in its fifth week, a gain of 22%. Pic averaged $5,000 per screen and its cume stands at $4.25 million.

‘Hotel’ full

MGM and United Artists’ “Hotel Rwanda” nearly equaled its opening this weekend, taking $141,000 off seven screens, an average of $20,143 per engagement. Cume on the genocide drama is now $425,000.

Newmarket’s “The Woodsman,” also in its second week, saw its receipts total $81,175 from 13 screens, an average of $6,244. Cume is now $195,721 on the pedophile profile.

“Saturday was really good,” Newmarket topper Bob Berney said. “We had $16,000 on Friday and went to $40,000 on Saturday. It’s really encouraging. I think we’ve broken through.” Kevin Bacon starrer plans to add 30 more runs Friday.

Warner Independent Pictures’ “A Very Long Engagement” held in there with $600,000 from 167 screens in its sixth week, for an average of $3,593. Cume is now just over $2.5 million. Distrib chief Steven Friedlanders said pic is prepping to expand to around 300 runs on Jan. 14.

Lions Gate expanded its Kevin Spacey starrer “Beyond the Sea” this weekend to 383 screens and saw results of $1.2 million, which averages to $3,225 per screen. Cume now stands at $1.8 million.