Box Office Report: Scientology-Inspired 'The Master' Shatters Art House Records

8:38 AM PST 09/15/2012 by Pamela McClintock

UPDATED: Mila Jovovich starrer "Resident Evil: Retribution" tops weekend box office with $21.1 million; Disney's 3D rerelease of "Finding Nemo" debuts at No. 2 with $17.5 million.

TORONTO -- Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master broke records for an art house release at the Friday box office, grossing $242,127 for a massive per-location average of $48,425. For the full weekend, it went on to gross $729,745, for a per-location average of a whopping $145,949.

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From The Weinstein Co., the movie -- starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams -- could enjoy a record weekend as well if traffic holds for a three-day theater average of $135,000 to $140,000.

Earlier this year, Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom scored the highest theater average of all time for an art house title, posting a weekend gross of $522,996 from four theaters for a location average of $130,749. Moonrise's Friday average was $43,082,, less than The Master's.

Anderson has said that his movie was inspired in part by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard but continues to insist it's not a Scientology film per se. The Master, which played at both the Venice and Toronto film festivals, already is considered an awards contender.

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Also debuting at the specialty box office this weekend is Nicholas Jarecki’s Arbitrage, a financial drama starring Richard Gere as a hedge fund manager. Released by Roadside and Lionsgate, which had success last year with another financial thriller Margin CallArbitrage will also be debuting as a cable VOD offering.

Arbitrage had a great Friday as well, averaging $3,054 per screen on 197 screens for a $601,638 gross -- basically the same per-screen average Margin Call had on its 56-screen opening. The film is on track to be the biggest opening of a theatrical-and-VOD release. For the full weekend, Arbitrage took in $2.1 million, for a per-screen average of $10,505.

Screen Gems and Sony's Resident Evil: Retribution -- the fifth title in the Milla Jovovich zombie-fighting franchise -- topped the domestic box office overall on Friday, grossing $8.4 million range for a weekend debut of $21.1 million, in line with other installments.

Retribution, produced in 3D at a cost of $65 million and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who directed two of the previous films in the series, is off to a strong start overseas and particularly in Japan. Sony believes the film could be the franchise's biggest earner yet worldwide.

Disney's 3D rerelease of Pixar's Finding Nemo wasn't able to edge past Retribution and win the weekend. It grossed $5.1 million on Friday and $17.5 million for the weekend. By comparison, Lion King 3D opened to $30.3 million on the same weekend a year ago, earned $8.9 million on Friday alone.

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The Oscar-winning Nemo, directed by Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich, is the latest movie from the Disney and Pixar vaults to undergo a 3D makeover. Beauty and the Beast, also freshened up with 3D, returned to theaters in January, taking in $17.8 million on its first weekend.

Pixar and Disney spent just under $5 million to convert Finding Nemo to 3D.

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