'Fighter' Leads Prestige Pictures' Rollouts to Box Office Success, Awards Buzz

12:00 PM PST 12/12/2010 by Carl DiOrio

Weekend draw indicates promising prospects for continuing expansions of Mark Wahlberg's boxing drama, "Black Swan," "Tempest" and "King's Speech."

Adult-targeted art films and awards-seeking prestige pictures mostly found their targets during the weekend, including a bloody good bow by Relativity's facts-based boxing drama The Fighter.

Paramount unspooled Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, with four playdates in New York, L.A. and Boston to collect $320,000, or an eye-popping $80,000 per engagement. Already attracting good buzz about its awards-season prospects, Fighter is set to expand into wide release on Friday.

"Paramount decided it would be good to build word of mouth for the film, and thus far it seems to be working well," said David Hoberman of Mandeville Films, which produced with Relativity. "I don't know if this is indicative of what the ultimate gross is, but I do know from what I've seen in previews that audiences love the movie. I've always said that the best selling tool for the film is the film itself. It has great playability."

Relativity covered all production costs on the picture, which were kept under $25 million.

"This weekend was terrific, and it was a small indication -- but a very good one -- that the film plays well," Mandeville co-topper Todd Lieberman said. "Hopefully that translates into big business next weekend and the week after."

Fighter is expected to reach roughly 2,500 locations starting Friday.

Among the latest session's notable expansions, Fox Searchlight's Natalie Portman starrer Black Swan added 72 playdates for a total 90 to fetch $3.3 million, or an incredible $37,024 per engagement with $5.6 million in cumulative box office through two sessions of limited distribution. Grabbing sixth place in domestic rankings during its latest outing, Swan's auspicious start to its incremental rollout has spurred positive buzz about its awards prospects and expectations of broad commercial appeal ahead of the ballet-themed suspense thriller's move into wide distribution next weekend.

"We'll be over 800 theaters on Friday," Searchlight senior vp distribution Sheila DeLoach estimated. "I can't say exactly how many, because we still have to make that decision."

By contrast, Searchlight's mountain-climbing survival drama 127 Hours won't go wide until at least Jan. 28, giving time for potential awards-nominations to reignite interest in the Danny Boyle-directed James Franco starrer.

Hours lost 17 theaters during the most recent session to ring up $985,000 from 416 venues. That was a soft $2,368 per playdate, as cume climbed to $8.2 million.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Julie Taymor's The Tempest -- a Disney adaptation of the William Shakespeare tragedy starring Helen Mirren, Djimon Hounsou and Russell Brand -- bowed in five locations and grossed $45,000, or a solid $9,000 per site.

And the Weinstein Co.'s period drama The King's Speech added 13 locations for a total 19 and grossed $591,685, or a terrific $31,141, with cume reaching $1.5 million.

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