Paul Thomas Anderson's Scientology-inspired tale "The Master" debuted to $242,127 from five theaters in New York and Los Angeles Friday.
That’s an impressive $48,425 per-screen average for the Weinstein Company release, and puts it on pace to be the year’s best specialty opening.
If Saturday and Sunday are as strong, it would top the debut of "Moonrise Kingdom," Wes Anderson's quirky 1960s tale of tween love, which rolled up a per-location average of $130,752 while playing in four theaters over three days on Memorial Day weekend.
Members of the Church of Scientology had condemned the movie and e-mailed and sent letters to the Weinstein Company prior to its opening, but last week's premeire was protest-free and Friday's box office clearly wasn't affected.
“The Master” was screened at the Venice and Toronto film festivals and is drawing major buzz over its subject matter and the return of Joaquin Phoenix to the big screen. He was last seen in the 2010 mock documentary “I’m Still Here.”
“The Master” tells the tale of a World War II Naval veteran (Phoenix) who arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future -- until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Scientology and its founder L. Ron Hubbard provided inspiration for the film, Anderson (“There Will Be Blood”) has said in interviews.
Other top specialty opening this year include Woody Allen’s “To Rome With Love,” which averaged $75,874 on five screen when it bowed in June and Mike Birbiglia's semi-autiobiographical "Sleepwalk With Me," which took in $65,000 at a single New York engagement.