‘Thor’ Who? ’12 Years a Slave’ Goes Nationwide in Box-Office Counter Play

It won’t catch the god of thunder, but the Oscar front-runner has built momentum and will expand into about 1,100 theaters this weekend

“12 Years a Slave” opens nationwide this weekend, which means it will be going up against Disney’s Marvel superhero sequel “Thor: The Dark World” — a likely blockbuster.

The powerful slavery drama, a front-runner in the Oscar Best Picture race, shouldn’t be hurt by the “The Dark World,” which targets teens and young adults, a very different demographic target than “12 Years.” And distributor Fox Searchlight is hoping the serious, awards-contending look at American history will provide an enticing alternative for those not drawn to the Thunder God, Loki, et al.

“There is obviously some momentum being generated, fueled by good word of mouth [96 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes] and the tremendous reviews we have been receiving,” Fox Searchlight sr. vice-president Frank Rodriguez told TheWrap. “While we will not be a challenge to ‘Thor,’ we will, I believe, have another impressive weekend as we start to spread out across North America.”

Also read: ’12 Years a Slave’s’ Steve McQueen Developing Drama With HBO

A strong response from art house and African-American moviegoers has “12 Years” off to a fast start in its first three weeks of limited release, and it will have brought in more than $10.5 million by Friday, when it will expand into roughly 1,100 theaters.

It averaged more than $48,000 when it opened in 19 theaters on Oct. 19. And it did $17,000 per-screen when it went to 123 theaters and cracked the top ten in its second weekend. Last week, when it expanded into 44 new markets and 410 locations, its per-screen average was a strong $11,200 and it moved up to No. 7.

“Our holdover from last week was terrific, and the new markets we opened were strong, and particularly strong in the South,” Rodriguez said.

Also read: ‘Gravity,’ ’12 Years a Slave’ Battle the Backlash From Film-Fest Raves

Written by John Ridley and directed by Steve McQueen, the movie is based on the true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from New York who in 1841, was abducted and sold into slavery. Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch and Brad Pitt, who also produces via his Plan B label, co-star in the film.

Also read: Josh Brolin Bakes a Pie in ‘Labor Day’ – The Sexiest Movie Scene Since ‘Ghost’?

It’s a brutal and unflinching movie that is hard to forget — and can be hard to watch. It’s been generating awards buzz since it screened at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals.

“Because of its subject matter, this movie is a challenging sell, particularly with mainstream audiences,” said Jeff Bock, Exhibitor Relations vice-president and senior analyst. “But it doesn’t really need to tear it up. It just needs to play steadily and maybe stay in the top ten until the awards season really kicks in with the nominations, and it will get a second wind.”

The film, based on the book by Northup, was produced and financed by New Regency. Additional co-stars include Paul Dano, Alfre Woodard, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson and Paul Giamatti.

It won’t be the only film targeting mature moviegoers this weekend. The CBS Films comedy “Last Vegas” is back for it second week and holdover Oscar hopefuls “Gravity” and “Captain Phillips” are still doing significant business.

Also going nationwide this weekend after a limited rollout is Universal’s “About Time.”

abouttimebanner.pngThe time-travel tale is the latest effort from writer-director Richard Curtis, the man behind romantic comedy hits “Love Actually,” “Notting Hill” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”

Also read: ‘About Time’ Director Richard Curtis: Not Every Love Story Begins with a Nazi and a Socialist

He’s reunited with Working Title producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner for “About Time,” which stars Rachel McAdams, Domhnall Gleeson and Bill Nighy.

Universal launched “About Time” on 175 screens last weekend and it brought in $1.1 million for a decent per-screen average of $6,045.