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Awards Box Office: A Proud 'Shame' Beats NC-17 Rating, 'The Artist' Continues to Shine

Abbot Genser/Fox Searchlight Pictures

"Hugo," "The Descendants," "My Week with Marilyn" and "A Dangerous Method" also enjoy strong business.

Opening in six cities over the weekend, Steve McQueen's sex-fueled Shame scored one of the top debuts ever for a film slapped with the dreaded NC-17 rating.

Fox Searchlight is planning an aggressive awards campaign for Shame, and decided to first test the appetite for the film in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. The move paid off, with Shame grossing a stellar $361,181 from 10 theaters for a location average of $36,118.

Brooding and dark, Shame stars Michael Fassbender as a sex addict who must also cope with his equally lost sister, played by Carey Mulligan.

"In a dismal down weekend at the box office, Shame delivered the highest per screen average of any film in this post holiday period," said Fox Searchlight's Sheila DeLoach, who is executive vice president of distribution. "More and more people will jump on the bandwagon of Fassbender's performance."

Searchlight acquired Shame out of the Telluride Film Festival, and believes the film will play well throughout awards season, despite the challenges associated with the NC-17 rating. Still, the trick will be to attract sustained business, particularly outside of New York and Los Angeles, where the film did the best.

Two awards contenders landed on the top 10 box office chart, led by Martin Scorsese's Hugo, which expanded into an additional 500 theaters over the weekend. The 3D family friendly movie--named best film of the year by the National Board of Review last week--grossed $7.6 million from 1,840 locations for a cume of $25.2 million.

Paramount decided to roll out Hugo more slowly to take advantage of awards buzz. GK Films produced and fully financed the big-budget pic.

In another victory for Searchlight, Alexander Payne's The Descendants climbed to No. 7 on the box office chart, grossing $5.2 million as it added 141 locations for a total theater count of 574 (this Friday, it will be playing in 850 theaters).

Descendants, starring George Clooney, has now grossed $18.1 million and is the first limited release to ever cross $10 million in 12 days. And Descendants is already the No. 2 limited release of the year after Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, which has taken in a total $56 million.

Midnight in Paris' tally includes $274,518 million grossed over the weekend as Sony Pictures Classics made one last push before the DVD comes out on Dec. 20 and re-released the film in nearly 300 theaters.

The Weinstein Co. likewise had a prosperous weekend at the domestic box office with two award contenders, The Artist and Michelle William-starrer My Week with Marilyn.

My Week with Marilyn came in No. 12 for the weekend, even though its only playing in 244 theaters. The film grossed $1.2 million for a 12-day cume of $3.9 million. The film had a stellar hold, falling only 33 percent from Thanksgiving weekend (most other titles fell off steeply from the holiday).

In its second weekend, The Artist grossed $205,580 from four carry-over theaters in New York and Los Angeles and two new theaters in San Francisco. The black-and-white silent film was up a whopping 60 percent from Friday to Saturday, and posted a per theater average of $34,263, the second best of the weekend after Shame

David Cronenberg's awards contender A Dangerous Method, from Sony Pictures Classics, followed with a per theater average of $30,627 after grossing $122,517 in its second weekend from four theaters in New York and Los Angeles. 

Roadside Attractions' awards favorite Margin Call grossed $255,570 from 150 theaters in its seventh weekend for an impressive cume of $4.7 million (the film debuted day and date on VOD).