Critics are labeling “Boyhood” a masterpiece and those rave reviews are translating into strong ticket sales.

The Richard Linklater drama debuted to $359,000 from five locations in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, giving it the second biggest debut this year and of Linklater’s career from a per-screen average standpoint.

“The film seems to be being embraced as much by ticket buyers as it has been by critics and in my experience that’s a rare thing and a great thing,” said producer John Sloss.

It’s a reward that was more than a decade in coming. Linklater’s story of a young man navigating his way to adulthood, past broken homes, schoolyard bullies and failed romances, was shot over a 12-year period for $5 million. It’s a unique accomplishment that has few parallels in the history of movies — Michael Apted has attempted something similar with his “Up” documentary series, which checks in with its participants every seven years. That’s provided a nice marketing hook, analysts say.

“In the coming weeks as people leave the movie they’re going to be discussing it with friends and talking about it on social media and that’s going to create a conversation,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “It’s tough to impress today’s audiences because they’ve seen it all, but nobody has ever seen anything like this.”

The duration of the shoot was a leap of faith for Sloss and IFC, which is distributing the film Stateside. It also gives the film and the commercial and critical reaction added resonance for its backers.

“I love so many of the other movies that I’ve been involved with, but professionally, I have to say that this is one of the highlights, if not the highlight of my career,” said Jonathan Sehring, president of IFC Films. “I lived with the project for so long and worked shoulder to shoulder with friends who became like family for 12 years, so this is like asking how I feel about family home movies.”

Linklater is a cinephile favorite, but he has not received the mainstream embrace or the awards attention of peers such as Quentin Tarantino or Paul Thomas Anderson. With in-depth profiles in publications such as the New Yorker and some of the strongest reviews of this or any year, the ground may be shifting.

“He’s a filmmaker we feel really doesn’t get his due, but he’s one of America’s great filmmakers and he’s done something really extraordinary,” said Sehring. “We hope that not only will a wider audience discover Rick’s work, but that the industry recognizes him as well.”

IFC will roll out the picture in the top 10 major film markets next weekend in between 30 to 60 theaters. The plan is to gradually capitalize on growing word-of-mouth rather than to expand rapidly.

Mounting awards buzz will be critical and, to that end, there will be an Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences screening in Los Angeles next weekend. Linklater’s previous films have averaged $10 million at the box office, so for “Boyhood” to break out of the pack it will need to be viewed as an Oscar contender, analysts say.

“It will gamble on momentum,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “It would be so great to see this film take off, but I have some reservations about the American public and what they want to see.”

Linklater has largely eschewed the Hollywood scene, preferring to make quirky projects such as “Bernie” and “Dazed and Confused” from his home base of Austin, Texas. He may be finally be earning recognition as one of the preeminent filmmakers of his generation, but his collaborators say that Linklater remains untroubled about the lack of popular attention for his deeply personal projects.

“Rick is probably the most under-appreciated first-tier filmmaker on the planet,” said Sloss. “It hasn’t bothered him that he hasn’t gotten his due. It bothers the people around him more.”