'Torino' hits the ignition


Prestige films including Clint Eastwood's tour de force "Gran Torino" and Steven Soderbergh's revolutionary epic "Che" stormed the domestic boxoffice during the weekend in a thickening battle for adult moviegoers and industry kudos.

Warner Bros. opened the Eastwood-helmed and -toplined "Torino" in six theaters in New York and Los Angeles and registered $282,000. That represented a turbocharged $47,340 per playdate, though as an older-skewing release, "Torino" might take its time finding top gear once it hits wider distribution.

Positive reviews — particularly for Eastwood's performance — helped stoke must-see interest for the opening. Warners exec vp distribution Jeff Goldstein predicted that the film's theatrical run will also prove leggy.

"It looks like something that is very accessible, and it feels very commercial," Goldstein said.

Audiences skewed 56% male, with 67% of patrons over 35. "Torino" cruises into three additional markets with a total of 18 theaters starting Friday.

IFC Films' "Che" — which casts Benicio Del Toro in the title role — unspooled in single theaters in New York and Los Angeles but rung up a big $60,100 via sellouts of both venues.

IFC scheduled the one-week exclusive runs to qualify the four-hour-plus Che Guevara biopic for Oscar voting. "Che" is set to split into separate engagements starting Jan. 9 for the film's two parts: "The Argentine" and "Guerrilla."

IFC vp distribution Mark Boxer said execs may explore extending the exclusive for one more weekend because of the sellouts.

"We are thrilled with the results and the response to the film," Boxer said. "The film appealed to a wide range of filmgoers across various demographic segment: multicultural audiences in both New York and Los Angeles, along with avid art house patrons in all key age groups."

The Weinstein Co.'s post-World War II drama "The Reader" — directed by Stephen Daldry ("Billy Elliott") and starring Kate Winslet — opened in eight locations and grossed $170,000, or a showy $21,250 per site. Figuring among the most-nominated films in Golden Globes balloting, "Reader" totes a $181,000 cume since unspooling Wednesday.

"We really believe in the word-of-mouth for this picture," Weinstein Co. exec vp marketing Gary Faber said. "So the idea was to open on Wednesday and watch the word-of-mouth build over the weekend."

Miramax debuted "Doubt," starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep, in 15 theaters and grossed $25,030 per venue, or a glitzy $35,002 per playdate.

"I'm very excited and delighted by this," Miramax president Daniel Battsek said. "There is a lot of competition, but I think we came out very, very strongly."

"Doubt" will expand to 40-45 locations Friday and widen to 1,000 or more sites on Christmas.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, several films staged important expansions in the afterglow of Thursday's Globes nominations.

Fox Searchlight added 91 theaters for a total of 169 for Danny Boyle's Indian game-show drama "Slumdog Millionaire" and grossed $2.2 million, good for a winning per-venue average of $13,018 that pushed the cume to $8.1 million. "Slumdog" is set to reach wide distribution over its sixth weekend, with 600-plus engagements scheduled for Friday.

Focus Features' Sean Penn starrer "Milk" added 227 playdates for a total of 328 and grossed $2.6 million, or an impressive $8,035 per engagement. The ninth-place performance gave the period political drama a $7.6 million cume.

Universal's political drama "Frost/Nixon" added 36 runs for a total of 39 and grossed $630,240, or a nifty $16,160 per theater. That yielded an $877,699 cume ahead of plans to expand the film to about 350 locations on Christmas.

"When you see the jump between Friday and Saturday this past weekend, I attribute that to word-of-mouth," Uni distribution president Nikki Rocco said. "There's no question that this is a word-of-mouth, adult film, and we have momentum." (partialdiff)