Box Office Spotlight is a weekly column, appearing Monday mornings, that contains in-depth analysis of a single new release's (or, this week, two new releases') box office performance the previous weekend.
The Movies: Two high-profile limited releases: Big-time Oscar contender 'Black Swan,' directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie Portman as a ballerina losing her grip of reality, and two-year old controversy magnet 'I Love You, Phillip Morris,' directed by 'Bad Santa' screenwriters Glen Ficarra and John Requa, and starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor as lovers on the run from the law.
The Target Audience: 'I Love You, Phillip Morris' opened in six theaters in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, while 'Black Swan' bowed in eighteen theaters in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Washington, Dallas and Toronto. Both aimed largely at the plugged-in, savvy audiences who would seek these movies out, though 'Phillip Morris' likely hoped to sweep in some unsuspecting Carrey and McGregor fans as well.
The Competition: Competition from other films is less broadly relevant when it comes to limited releases like these, which people are likely to seek out, travel to watch, etc. Still, with only one semi-wide release (the misbegotten 'The Warrior's Way'), and the weekend dominated by family-oriented holdovers, this was a great time to launch some well-reviewed R-rated flicks and possible awards players. For the (largely uneventful) full weekend results, take a gander at Moviefone's Box Office Report.
The Number: When a movie opens in only a few locations, per-screen average is a much more helpful metric than total weekend gross. 'Black Swan''s $77,000 per theater, amounting to $1.4 million, is enormously promising – the kind of number you want to see if you're trying to build momentum for an Oscar contender and a platform release. (It is the year's second highest per-screen average, behind fellow awards hopeful 'The King's Speech,' which opened to $89,000 per theater last weekend, and largely maintained that momentum.)
'I Love You Phillip Morris' did well too, though with $18,000 per theater, it was not quite in the same league. It is the second minor success of the year for its indie distributor, Roadside Attractions, which also released the similarly well-reviewed 'Winter's Bone' over the summer. One might expect more from a Jim Carrey vehicle, but maybe not one this radioactively unsellable.
Staying Power: Both films hope to expand in the coming weeks. 'Black Swan' will roll out to 60 theaters and 13 more cities next weekend before opening wide on December 17. The freaky, disturbing film should be able to maintain some momentum going into awards season.
'Phillip Morris' will platform as well, though exactly where and when isn't clear. More so than 'Black Swan,' it's at risk of fading away in the coming weeks. Hopefully the right people saw it this weekend – and other markets are game for its... aggressive brand of comedy.