Adult dramas won enthusiastic audiences over the Thanksgiving weekend, with Alexander Payne's "The Descendants" gaining momentum and a wider audience, taking in $9.2 million at the box office over the five-day holiday.
But that was hardly the only drama to perform well as indie studios introduced their serious films of the awards season.
Michelle Williams' portrayal as America's most iconic actress debuted strongly over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, with the Weinstein Company's "My Week With Marilyn" opening to $2 million at 244 domestic locations.
Weinstein's "The Artist" also enjoyed a big premiere in limited release, taking in $210,414 at four theaters over three days — a huge per-theater average of more than $52,600 per screen.
The Sony Pictures Classics "A Dangerous Method" had a strong weekend as well, taking in $240,944 at four locations over five days (per screen average of $60,233).
But Fox Searchlight's "The Descendants" dominated the indie box office, grossing $9.2 million from Wednesday through Sunday while expanding from 29 to 433 locations.
Sheila DeLoach, executive VP of distribution for Fox Searchlight, told TheWrap that the studio was encouraged to see the age range for the film expanding.
"The audience has clearly crossed from older adults to an all-audience film for adults over 18," she said, adding that the studio planned to expand into another 200 theaters. "Based on demand, we will be looking to move as many of those theaters as possible up to Friday, Dec. 2," she said.
The movie, by director Alexander Payne, stars George Clooney as a hapless land baron who is selling off family property in Hawaii when his wife is injured in a boating accident. He is left to deal with two hard-to-tame daughters and the knowledge that his wife had taken a lover.
Its per-screen average was $16,628 over the five-day weekend.
"Marilyn," which is generating Oscar buzz for star Michelle Williams, had a solid per-screen average of $7,266 for the three days. The movie is about the interaction between Lawrence Olivier and Monroe during production of "The Prince and the Showgirl."
Its numbers were strong enough to make "Marilyn" the No. 12 movie in the country.
"The way it played throughout the weekend is an indication that word of mouth is building on the film, and that's what we thought, which is why we opened early — to get people talking," Erik Lomis, the Weinstein Company's head of distribution, told TheWrap.
The R-rated movie, directed by Simon Curtis, opened on 123 screens Wednesday and expanded to 244 screens on Friday.
"We're getting a more sophisticated audience, an older audience and people are responding really well," Lomis said. He said that 71 percent of the audience was 35 and older and 89 percent was 25 and older. Women especially liked the movie — 65 percent of its audience was female.
Lomis said the company will slowly increase the number of screens.
"We'll be judicious with it," he said. "We'll roll it out … through the awards season."
He said the company will be "even more careful and more judicious" with the rollout of "The Artist," which has garnered glowing reviews from the critics.
Michel Hazanavicius directed the silent, black-and-white, PG-13 movie about a silent movie star who worries about his future as talkies begin to catch on.
"We couldn't be happier," Lomis said. "It's like the little engine that could, this movie — it's a silent film, it's black-and-white and it's performing with the big boys. It's a great start."
Lomis said the movie's audience was evenly split between men and women, that 67 percent was 35 or older and that 91 percent was 25 or older.
Among holdovers, Paramount Vantage's "Like Crazy" grossed an estimated $609,000 over the five days and $449,000 over three days.
The PG-13 movie played at 150 locations. That's a per-screen average of just short of $3,000 for the three-day period.