A virtuoso performance by Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” which set the per-screen average record with $145,949 from five locations, was the weekend’s biggest box office success story. Meanwhile, wide opener “Resident Evil: Retribution” from Sony-Screen Gems topped the the charts with $21.1 million, helping B.O. scare up a 27% gain over last weekend’s low point.Yet three-day totals fell 18% behind last year, the second weekend in a row with a drop, even in view of September’s typically sluggish results. Disney-Pixar’s 3D re-release “Finding Nemo” landed at second place, but struggled to make major waves, collecting an estimated $17.5 million domestically.
But there were signs of a bountiful harvest in coming weeks, as none of the frame’s top 10-grossing films fell more than 40% — an impressive feat considering some pics (“The Bourne Legacy” and “The Campaign”) have been in theaters for as many as six weeks. “The Master” surpassed the previous per-screen record set earlier this year by Focus Features’ “Moonrise Kingdom,” with $130,749 at four locations. The Weinstein Co. pic, which stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, bowed at four 70mm-capable theaters in New York and L.A. — the fifth is a 35mm screen at the Angelika in N.Y. The retro-format presentation boosted appeal among cinephiles, helping sell out showtimes Friday and Saturday (especially at the Arc-light’s Cinerama Dome). “The clear leader of the five was the Arclight Hollywood,” said Weinstein distribution topper Erik Lomis. That theater is projected to have contributed more than $300,000 for “The Master” this weekend, putting it in the top five biggest Friday-to-Sunday grosses ever at the Arclight. “The film played a little younger there than I think we expected it might,” Lomis added. Also boosting the weekend’s specialty biz, Roadside Attractions’ Richard Gere thriller “Arbitrage” scored the biggest three-day opening for a theatrical/VOD simultaneous release, with $2.1 million from 197 playdates, as well as the weekend’s No. 2 spot on iTunes movies. Sony’s “ Resident Evil” franchise continued to display considerable worldwide stamina as its fifth installment grossed approximately $50 million from 65 international territories. “Retribution,” budgeted at $65 million, outdid its 2010 predecessor by 28% from roughly the same debut markets overseas. “It’s always a world play with ‘Resident Evil, ‘ ” said Sony worldwide distrib exec Rory Bruer. “Not only did we do well domestically, but we really hit it out of the park in Southeast Asia and Latin America.”