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‘Juno’ jolts specialty box office

'Atonement' also sees strong premiere

The specialty biz lit up over the weekend as Fox Searchlight’s offbeat dramedy “Juno” and Focus Features’ period piece “Atonement” made strong debuts.

“Juno,” playing in seven theaters in Los Angeles and Gotham, scored a boffo per-screen average of $60,016, one of the best on record for that number of theaters and outperforming the openings of previous Searchlight hits “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Sideways.”

“Juno” grossed an estimated $420,113 over the weekend; pic opened Wednesday, and cume is $531,399, according to Rentrak.

Opening in 32 theaters, “Atonement” nabbed a per-location average of $25,528 and an estimated opening weekend gross of $816,883.

Others weren’t so fortunate. The Weinstein Co.’s John Cusack starrer “Grace Is Gone” opened to a paltry per-screen average of $3,500, grossing an estimated $14,000 from four theaters.

“Grace,” a 2007 Sundance hit that sparked an intense bidding war, is the latest in a number of films dealing with the larger implications of the Iraqi war that have failed to resonate with auds this fall. TWC acquired the film for $4 million at Sundance.

“Juno” and “Atonement” couldn’t be farther apart in storyline and style, but both debuted with high awards hopes.

In terms of box office potential, “Juno” is considered to have an edge over other fall specialty pics in that it’s relatively lighthearted. Directed by Jason Reitman from a script by Diablo Cody, film stars Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman.

Story revolves around a teen who becomes pregnant and decides to give the baby to a couple she finds in the classified section of a pennysaver.

“It’s one of the very best Searchlight numbers, and it’s a great sign. For our comedies, this is a tremendous opening,” Searchlight’s Steve Gilula said.

At the Regal Union Square Theater in New York, “Juno” beat out wide release “The Golden Compass.”

Gilula said “Juno” will open in an additional 13 cities on Friday, upping the total theater count to about 40. Another 17 cities will be added on Dec. 21, and the film will further expand on Christmas Day before going nationwide Jan. 4.

“Atonement,” toplining James McAvoy and Keira Knightley, is based on the book of the same name by Ian McEwan and directed by Joe Wright. Story, which begins in 1935, follows a young girl who makes a damaging accusation against her older sister’s lover.

Having bowed in several markets already, pic has grossed over $30 million abroad.

“The success ‘Atonement’ has enjoyed around the world has arrived in North America and we’re thrilled,” said Focus prexy of distribution Jack Foley. “I’m happy, because this marketplace is very, very tough.”

“Atonement” scored one of the best per-location averages for a film opening in 20-50 theaters, including “Schindler’s List,” which nabbed a per-screen average of $26,265 when debuting in 25 theaters.

Foley said “Atonement” is strictly an “arthouse, smarthouse” title, and that it mostly drew an audience aged 30 and above. Film enjoyed a significant 48% Friday-to-Saturday jump.

Friday “Atonement” will expand by an additional 12 markets and grow its footprint in the original markets.

Among other limited debuts, Code Black Entertainment’s “Dirty Laundry” scored a per-screen average of $7,695 in grossing an estimated $15,390 from two theaters.

Paul Schrader’s “The Walker” grossed an estimated $16,577 from three theaters in New York and L.A. for a per-screen average of $5,526. ThinkFilm will expand into the top 10 markets this weekend.

“The Amateurs,” from First Look, grossed an estimated $12,008 from three theaters for a per-screen average of $4,003.

Guy Ritchie’s “Revolver” posted a per-screen average of $2,315 in grossing an estimated $41,670 from 18 theaters.

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