‘Queen’ crowned in crowded frame

Mirren starrer sits atop indie throne

In an indie demolition derby in the latest fall frame that one distribution head with a new pic opening described as “terrifyingly competitive,” a number of titles managed to turn in socko perfs in limited release.

Also potentially cramping the indies’ style was Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed,” a widely released studio pic that had the potential to draw away sophisticated auds’ interest.

Despite the tough competish, Miramax’s “The Queen” was one clear winner over the frame: In its first full weekend following its bow at the New York Film Festival, pic saw a per-playdate average of $36,455 from 11 screens to take in $401,000.

The film, starring Helen Mirren, has been powered by positive reviews and is appealing to younger auds as well as the expected older crowd.

Also entering the arthouse fray over the frame, New Line bowed its awards hopeful “Little Children” on five screens.

Drama starring Kate Winslet and Jennifer Connelly, which also is playing the Gotham fest, bowed to $108,000 for a per-screen average of $21,680.

ThinkFilm, meanwhile, released its sexually explicit “Shortbus” on six screens in North America to $120,650. Pic by “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” helmer John Cameron Mitchell nailed a per-playdate average of $20,108.

“There are so many openings of high-quality and acclaimed films,” said Think distrib head Mark Urman of the heated fall competish. “Between films like ‘The Science of Sleep’ and ‘The Last King of Scotland,’ it’s very scary. And Martin Scorsese had a very well-reviewed movie with big stars.”

Despite its racy content, “Shortbus” could ultimately expand to more than 100 prints, and Think has been taking the high road in its marketing approach by avoiding the controversy the distrib courted for its successful dirty-joke doc “The Aristocrats.”

Holding over, Fox Searchlight’s “Scotland” played 30 screens in 14 markets and took in $300,000 for a per-screen average of $10,000. Forest Whitaker starrer has so far cumed $541,000 and will expand to 20 additional screens next frame.

Warner Independent’s “Sleep” took in another $680,000 on 221 screens, upping its cume to $2.7 million.

The Yari Group period drama “The Illusionist” continued to cling to the top 10 for a sixth straight week. In its eighth frame, pic added another $1.8 million to its bag of tricks and has cumed $34 million.

Searchlight’s “Little Miss Sunshine” finally dropped out of the top 10. The film is the distrib’s second highest earner ever at $55 million to date. It is still playing on 824 screens.

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