Los Angeles: Paul Thomas Anderson's cult drama The Master commanded a huge following in its opening weekend, smashing records on just a handful of screens.
The Weinstein Co. release made $729,745 in five theatres in New York and Los Angeles for a record-setting per-screen average of $145,949, according to Sunday studio estimates. The hugely anticipated film, which just won several of the top awards at the Venice Film Festival and will open in more cities in upcoming weeks, stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as a charismatic cult leader and Joaquin Phoenix as his wayward protégé.
The No. 1 film at the box office was Resident Evil: Retribution, which took in an estimated $21.1 million in its debut. This is the fifth film in the Sony Screen Gems action franchise, starring Milla Jovovich.
That topped the 3-D re-release of the Disney Pixar animated favorite Finding Nemo, which opened in second place with $17.5 million.
The 3-D Resident Evil: Retribution was directed by Jovovich's husband, Paul W.S. Anderson, who has made three of the five films. It features the actress once again as the warrior Alice, the last hope for the human race as an evil corporation unleashes a deadly virus that creates more flesh-eating undead on a worldwide scale. And fittingly, the film performed even better internationally, where it made a healthy $50 million.
"You have to give so much credit for that to Milla," said Rory Bruer, Sony's head of distribution. "She's such an incredible star and absolutely just works so hard in every country. Whether it's Russia or Japan, everywhere she's gone, she's worked so hard in regards to making the franchise a success."
The re-do of Finding Nemo follows in a recent tradition of Disney converting its classic animated movies into 3-D for a whole new audience. The 2003 underwater comedy about a tiny, lost fish named Nemo, featuring the voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres and Willem Dafoe, won the Academy Award for best animated feature.
Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com, said the No. 1-opening for the latest "Resident Evil" movie came as a bit of a surprise. He figured Finding Nemo would come out on top, given the track record of the Pixar brand and the strong opening a year ago of Disney's The Lion King in 3-D, which debuted at No. 1 with $30.1 million.
"The Screen Gems label, they know how to create a profit-making franchise," Dergarabedian said. "It's become so important if you have a star who resonates in the international marketplace - you can have a real winner worldwide."
1. Resident Evil: Retribution, $21.1 million ($50 million international).
2. Finding Nemo, $17.5 million.
3. The Possession, $5.8 million.
4. Lawless, $4.2 million.
5. ParaNorman, $3 million.
6. The Expendables 2, $3 million ($7.5 million international).
7. The Words, $2.88 million.
8. The Bourne Legacy, $2.875 million ($9.1 million international).
9. The Odd Life of Timothy Green, $2.5 million.
10. The Campaign, $2.4 million.