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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Prestige films including Clint Eastwood's tour de force "Gran Torino" and Steven Soderbergh's revolutionary epic "Che" stormed the domestic box office this weekend in a thickening battle for adult moviegoers and industry kudos.
Warner Bros. opened actor/director Eastwood's "Gran Torino" in six theaters in New York and Los Angeles, and registered $282,000. That represented a turbocharged $47,340 per playdate, though as an older-skewing release, "Torino" may take its time finding top gear once it hits wider distribution.
Positive reviews -- particularly for Eastwood's performance -- helped stoke must-see interest for the opening. "Torino" cruises into three additional markets with a total of 18 theaters starting Friday.
IFC Films' "Che" -- which casts Benicio Del Toro in the title role -- unspooled in single theaters in New York and Los Angeles but rang up a big $60,100 via sellouts of both venues.
IFC scheduled the one-week-only exclusive runs to qualify the four-hour-plus Che Guevara biopic for Oscar voting. "Che" is set to split into separate engagements starting January 9 for the film's two parts: the Cuba-centered "The Argentine" and the Bolivia-based "Guerrilla."
The Weinstein Co.'s post-World War II drama "The Reader" -- directed by Stephen Daldry ("Billy Elliot") and starring Kate Winslet -- opened in eight locations and grossed $170,000, or a showy $21,250 per site. Figuring among the most-nominated films in Golden Globes balloting, "Reader" totes a $181,000 haul since opening on Wednesday.
Miramax debuted "Doubt," starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep, in 15 theaters and grossed $25,030 per venue, or a glitzy $35,002 per playdate. "Doubt" will expand to 40-45 locations on Friday and widen to 1,000 or more sites on Christmas.
Elsewhere in the specialty market, several films staged important expansions in the afterglow of Thursday's Globes nominations.
Fox Searchlight added 91 theaters for a total of 169 for Danny Boyle's Indian game-show drama "Slumdog Millionaire" and grossed $2.2 million, good for a winning per-venue average of $13,018 that pushed the total to $8.1 million. "Slumdog" is set to reach wide distribution over its sixth weekend, with 600-plus engagements scheduled for Friday.
Focus Features' Sean Penn starrer "Milk" added 227 playdates for a total of 328 and grossed $2.6 million, or an impressive $8,035 per engagement. The ninth-place performance gave the period political drama a $7.6 million total.
Universal's political drama "Frost/Nixon" added 36 runs for a total of 39 and grossed $630,240, or a nifty $16,160 per theater. That yielded an $877,699 total ahead of plans to expand the film to about 350 locations on Christmas.