"The Iron Lady" proved her mettle this weekend.
The Weinstein Company's biopic of Britain's former prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, opened to a remarkable $280,409 at four theaters — a per-screen average of $70,102.
Meanwhile, Fox Searchlight's "The Descendants" continued to dominate the indie box office, crossing the $40 million mark, while Angelina Jolie's directorial debut, "The Land of Blood and Honey," has flopped and appears to be on its way out of theaters.
"Iron Lady's" opening is the third-highest specialty opening of the year (2011, that is), after "Midnight in Paris," "The Tree of Life" and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." The PG-13 movie, starring Meryl Streep, will expand to more theaters Jan. 13.
"We couldn't be happier with the results," Erik Lomis, the Weinstein Company's distribution chief, told TheWrap on Monday. "Obviously it's the number one screen average by a mile for the weekend."
Also opening over the weekend were Focus Features' "Pariah" and Sony Pictures Classics' "A Separation," an Iranian drama that was written, directed and produced by Asghar Farhad.
"Separation," already nominated for a Golden Globe, is a strong contender for the Academy Award for foreign language picture. The PG-13 movie enjoyed a solid opening weekend, taking in $79,481 at three locations — a per-location average of $26,494.
The R-rated "Pariah," written and directed by Dee Rees, grossed $65,093 over the four-day weekend. The movie, which screened at four locations, had a per-location average of $16,273. "Pariah" is a coming-of-age tale about Alike, a 17-year-old African-American lesbian who lives with her parents and younger sister in Brooklyn.
Two other noteworthy items among indie films: Steve McQueen's NC-17 "Shame," from Fox Searchlight, is expected to pass $2 million today. The movie grossed $266,000 over the past four days — a per-location average of $4,800.
The movie, starring Michael Fassbender, is playing in 55 theaters in its fifth week of release.
Another Fox Searchlight movie, Alexander Payne's "The Descendants," crossed the $40 million mark over the weekend and returned to the top 10 at the domestic box office. The R-rated movie starring George Clooney is in its seventh week of release and is playing at 758 locations. It grossed $3.4 million over the weekend — a per-location average of $4,485.
"This is a terrific weekend for the film, which is up 30 percent over last week’s four-day average," Sheila DeLoach, Fox Searchlight's executive VP of distribution, said in a statement. "It’s the only film that opened prior to Thanksgiving and is playing in less than 1,000 theatres in the Top 10. It indicates the movie has crossed over to the general audience."
Among other holdovers, FilmDistrict's "In the Land of Blood and Honey," a love story set in the Bosnian War, dropped from three to two locations in its second week and grossed just $12,539 for a total box office of $52,202.
Also in its second week is Wim Wenders' well-received "Pina," a 3D documentary about the dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch. The movie, showing at three locations in New York, took $93,000 — a per-location average of $31,000. In its 11 days in release, "Pina" has grossed a solid $316,000.
In its third week, Roman Polanski's "Carnage" expanded from seven locations to 12, and grossed $124,151 — a per-location average of $10,347. The R-rated Sony Pictures Classics film has taken in a total of $379,605.
In its fourth week of release, Focus Features' "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" expanded by two locations, to 57, and grossed $1,428,726. That works out to $25,065 per location.
The R-rated thriller, set in England during the Cold War, has a total gross of $4,298,998.
In their sixth week in release, the Weinstein Company's "The Artist" and "My Week With Marilyn" held strong.
"The Artist," a PG-13 rated silent, black-and-white film that has heavy Oscar buzz, grossed $1,664,500 at 167 locations. That's a per-location average of $9,967 for the movie, which has taken in a total of $5.4 million.
Lomis said the company plans to expand the number of locations showing "The Artist" on Jan. 20.
"It's doing fantastic," he said. "I think 'The Artist' is going to play and play and play and play."
His company's other release, "My Week With Marilyn," which is is generating Oscar talk for star Michelle Williams, took $1,173,933 at its 630 locations over the weekend. That works out to a per-location average of $1,863.