'Tree of Life' Gets Box-Office Boost from Palme d'Or

 Cannes Film Festival

Did winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival do the trick for Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life?

Over the weekend, the Brad Pitt-Sean Penn starrer debuted in the U.S. to a per screen average of $93,320—a record for a Fox Searchlight title. Searchlight’s previous best was $80,000 for Black Swan.

Opening Friday in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles, Tree of Life grossed an estimated $372,920 through Sunday. Including Monday--the Memorial Day holiday--the moody drama grossed an estimated $488,920 for a per screen average of $122,230.

Searchlight senior vice president for distribution Sheila DeLocahe said the film’s performance was all the more impressive considering its running time is two hours and eighteen minutes. And Searchlight relied almost entirely on publicity to generate interest in the drama, versus an expensive media campaign.

“Winning the Palme d’Or really pushed it forward,” said DeLoache, adding that Tree of Life has become a must-see event title.

The last American film to walk away with the top honor was Michael Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 seven years ago.

Tree of Life isn’t the only film feeling the Cannes glow. Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, the festival’s opening night film, continued to do strong business in its second weekend at the domestic box office.

Released in the U.S. by Sony Pictures Classics, Midnight in Paris grossed $2.6 million over the four-day holiday weekend from 58 theaters, bringing its cume to a stellar $3.5 million. The film placed No. 7 overall.

Last weekend, Midnight scored the third best location averages of all time--$99,834--when opening in six theaters.

Both Midnight in Paris and Tree of Life should do good business on Monday, since it’s the Memorial Day holiday.

Tree of Life had a long and twisted journey to the big screen. Producer Bill Pohlad, whose River Road Entertainment made Tree of Life, originally intended to open the movie in late 2009, but Malick wasn’t done in time.

And Tree of Life still wasn’t ready to play at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010. Simultaneously, the distribution company Pohlad founded with Bob Berney folded, which meant Tree of Life needed to find a new home. Several months later, Tree of Life landed at Searchlight.

DeLoache said evening shows were sold out in all four theaters. And Tree of Life is setting a house record at the Sunshine Cinema in New York, where it grossed $70,227 in its first two days, all but matching the three-day weekend record of $71,300 for Searchlight’s The Wrestler.

Searchlight said Tree of Life must be handled carefully, and that Searchlight is planning a slow and deliberate rollout. This coming Friday, the film moves into eight new markets, playing in a total of 18 theaters.

On July 1, Searchlight is planning a national release for Tree of Life, meaning a total theater count of 200 to 300.

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