Specialty Films Off to Strong Start at Holiday Box Office

4:52 PM PST 12/22/2010 by Pamela McClintock
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In a reversal of fortune, specialty films are off to a strong start at the holiday box office after a tough fall season for the indie sector. They're even making a better showing 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, Black Swan placed No. 7 for the frame, beating out wide studio players including How Do You Know.

Out of the gate, King's Speech is proving one of the most successful limited releases from Harvey and Bob Weinstein in recent times (it was Harvey Weinstein who perfected the platform release pattern in the late 1990s).

The historical drama is now playing in 43 theaters but makes a major expansion Friday into a total of 600 or 700. By early January, it will be playing nationwide.

Fox Searchlight's Black Swan and Paramount/Relativity Media's The Fighter weren't originally going to expand so fast, but execs saw an opportunity in the marketplace and broke wide earlier than expected.

Usually, companies wait until after the year-end holidays to make a major play in order to avoid colliding with holiday studio titles. Two years ago, for instance, Searchlight's Slumdog Millionaire played in only 500 theaters over Christmas.

But this year, audiences are embracing specialty fare.

On Tuesday, Black Swan moved up to No. 6 on the day's box office chart, grossing $1.6 million from its 959 runs for a cume of $18.9 million. On Wednesday, the psycho-sexual drama expanded into a total of 1,461 theaters.

Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan is that rare specialty hybrid that is playing to two distinctly different audiences; urban sophisticates (many of them women in this case) and suburban genre fans, much as Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds did last year. It's a big reason why Black Swan is doing well in markets like Miami and Columbus, Ohio.

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

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