Awards Box Office: 'Darkest Hour,' 'The Post' Conquer Year-End Holidays

Darkest Hour Gary Oldman - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Focus Features

Among other specialty offerings making an aggressive play over the holidays, 'The Shape of Water' and 'Phantom Thread' also impress, while 'I, Tonya' hopes to skate to glory.

Filmmaker Joe Wright's Darkest Hour — starring Gary Oldham as the iconic Winston Churchill — is showing notable strength at the U.S. box office, beating out several major studio offerings during the Christmas-New Year corridor.

The Focus Features title is the latest awards contender to succeed despite the overall strain facing the indie marketplace, which is essentially flat year-over-year. Fall releases Lady Bird ($31.9 million), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ($24.5 million), Victoria and Abdul  ($22.2 million), The Disaster Artist ($18.2 million) have all done well, while summer entry The Big Sick is the top-grossing specialty of the year so far with $42.9 million in ticket sales. Wind River was another summer indie hit, grossing north of $33 million domestically.

Darkest Hour and Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water, from Fox Searchlight, both waited until the year-end holidays to expand nationwide, timed to the Golden Globe ceremony Jan. 7 and Oscar nominations Jan. 23, while another group of specialty films used the corridor to launch in select theaters for the first time, including Steven Spielberg's The Post and Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread. Elsewhere, I, Tonya, starring Margot Robbie, skated into 49 theaters.

Darkest Hour, initially launched Nov. 22 in four cinemas, looks to come in No. 7 over the four-day New Year's weekend with $7.5 million from 943 locations for a domestic total of nearly $20 million through Monday. The critically acclaimed film — earning Oldham a Golden Globe and SAG nomination for best actor — will do bigger business this weekend than wide studio releases Downsizing, from director Alexander Payne, and comedy Father Figures. And it could even beat Ridley Scott's All the Money in the World.

Darkest Hour is resonating with moviegoers on both coasts and across Middle America. The top 10 theaters include cinemas in Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Jacksonville and Fort Meyers, Fla., Atlanta and Nashville, Tenn., in addition to New York City, Washington, D.C., and Seattle.

The biographical drama should soon pass up Fox Searchlight's Three Billboards ($24.5 million), and has a shot at ultimately earning as much as $35 million-plus if it nabs an Oscar nom for best picture.

The Shape of Water, starring Sally Hawkins, likewise advanced into the top 10 as it expanded into a total of 756 cinemas over the holidays after first launching in two theaters in early December. The adult fairy tale is on course to gross $5 million this weekend for a domestic total of $17 million through Monday. Shape of Water is up for seven Globe noms, the most of any film.

Awards hopeful I, Tonya, starring Margot Robbie as infamous ice skater Tonya Harding, also used the holidays to grow its footprint, albeit more slowly. The film is projected to post a moderate screen average of roughly $17,000 this weekend for an early domestic total of $2.6 million. Neon and 30West, which partnered in acquiring rights to I, Tonya, won't take the picture nationwide until Jan. 19, just before Oscar nominations are announced. Directed by Craig Gillespie, the movie is up for a Globe for best picture (musical/comedy), best actress (Robbie) and best supporting actress (Allison Janney).

Among new specialty offerings, director Steven Spielberg's The Post, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, is soaring in its holiday debut in nine theaters. Now in its second weekend, the Pentagon Papers drama — up for six Globes — is tipped to post a stellar location average of $86,111 for a cume of $2 million through Monday. Fox expands The Post nationwide Jan. 12.

Paul Thomas Anderson's and Focus Features' Phantom Thread, debuting Christmas Day, should post a hefty location average of $72,000 from four theaters over the long New Year's weekend. Actor Daniel Day Lewis says Phantom Thread, a magnet for critics, will be his final film.

STXfilms also opted to debut director-writer Aaron Sorkin's Molly's Game on Dec. 25, but decided to go out in 251 theaters. The movie, earning a Globe nom for best screenplay and best actress (Jessica Chastain), is projected to finish New Year's weekend with $6 million. The true test for the film, which marks Sorkin's feature directorial debut, will come when it expands nationwide Jan. 5.

And launching in four theaters this weekend is Sony Pictures Classics' Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, starring Annette Bening. Facing plenty of competition, the film's location average for the weekend should be about $12,000.

Sony Classics is also handling awards contender Call Me by Your Name, which continues to roll out slowly after debuting over Thanksgiving weekend. Now playing in 115 theaters, the film's domestic total through Monday is a projected $4.8 million. Call Me by Your Name is up for a Globe for best picture (drama), best actor (Timothee Chalamet) and best supporting actor (Armie Hammer).

One holiday specialty release that is struggling to find its stride is Scott Cooper's period Western Hostiles, starring Christian Bale. The movie, which Entertainment Studios debuted in three theaters Dec. 22, looks to post a screen average of roughly $9,500 this weekend from five theaters for a domestic total of $100,000 through Monday.