Specialty films off to strong start at box office

Wed Dec 22, 2010 11:21pm EST
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By Pamela McClintock

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - In a reversal of fortune, specialty films are off to a strong start at the holiday box office after a tough fall for the indie sector. They're even doing better than bigger studio titles.

Awards favorites "Black Swan," "The Fighter" and "The King's Speech" are leading the charge.

Although playing in only 959 theaters last weekend (vs. 3,451 for box office champ "Tron: Legacy"), "Black Swan" placed No. 7 for the three-day period with $8.4 million, beating major studio entries including "How Do You Know." On Wednesday, the psycho-sexual drama expanded into a total of 1,461 theaters.

"The King's Speech" is playing in just 43 theaters, but will expand to a total of 600 or 700 on Friday. By early January, the royals drama will be playing nationwide. The film has grossed about $3 million to date.

"The Fighter" opened December 10 in New York and Los Angeles before expanding nationwide into more than 2,500 theaters last Friday. The film came in a strong No. 4 for the weekend, grossing $12.6 million.

Usually, art-house studios wait until after the holidays to make a major play in order to avoid colliding with major studio titles. But this year, audiences are embracing specialty fare.

"Black Swan" is playing to two distinct audiences, much as Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" did last year: urban sophisticates (many of them women in this case) and suburban genre fans. It's a big reason why "Black Swan" is doing well in markets like Miami and Columbus, Ohio.

"The Fighter" is appealing more heavily to women than anticipated; they made up 53% of the audience turning out to see the boxing movie during the December 17-19 weekend.

Another specialty film, Sofia Coppola's father-daughter drama "Somewhere," opened in a limited run on Wednesday, two days ahead of "The Illusionist." On December 29, three more indie films engter the ring: "Another Year," "Blue Valentine" and "Biutiful."