After strong reviews following its debut as the opening night film at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" ruled the box office in New York and Los Angeles this holiday weekend. The Focus Features release grossed $509,000 on just four screens in New York and Los Angeles for a remarkable $127,500 per screen. That breaks the art-house record for another Focus Features classic, "Brokeback Mountain." The Ang Lee phenomenon averaged $109,485 in Dec. 2005.
Last year, Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" also sent the May limited release world in a tizzy with a $599,003 debut and a $99,834 per screen in six theaters. "Paris" played incredibly well in expansion and turned out to be Allen's biggest hit of his career ending up with $56.8 million domestically, a best picture nomination and a best original screenplay Oscar win.
Comparatively, you could argue that Lee Daniels' "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" is the most impressive limited debut of all-time. It averaged a remarkable $104,025, which was second to only "Brokeback" until this weekend, but in a stunning 18 theaters back in Nov. 2009. For those playing at home, the more theaters you add to a film's release pattern the more you usually dilute the per screen average. So, that high a number on 18 is somewhat astounding.
Considering the lackluster performance of any wide release this month besides "The Avengers," Hollywood can happily look at "Moonrise's" performance as a sign that audiences are eager for quality films in their local multiplex. Well, perhaps just in New York and Los Angeles at the moment, but any good news is welcome at this point. The performance should also provide some optimism for Fox Searchlight who is opening another Cannes screener, "Beasts of the Southern Wild," in limited release on July 5.
As for "Moonrise Kingdom's" long term prospects, the period charmer will expand to San Francisco, Dallas, Washington, D.C. and Chicago on Friday. Further expansion will take place on June 8. Anderson's highest grossing picture to date is 2001's "The Royal Tenebaums" which made $52.3 million thanks to some major star-power and producer Scott Rudin hurricane-like will. At a minimum, "Moonrise" should easily beat the $21 million 2009's "Fantastic Mr. Fox" found. Still, it will be interesting to see how the film plays across the country in the weeks to come.
On the awards side, it's hard to see "Kingdom" not being recognized in the original screenplay and art direction categories.