By Todd Cunningham
LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - "Salinger," Shane Salerno's long-awaited documentary about reclusive author J.D. Salinger, got off to a strong start at the specialty box office.
The Weinstein Company opened it in two theaters in New York and two in Los Angeles, and it brought in $90,969 for a $22,742 per-theater average. That was the best opening among a slew of small films that were released seeking to capitalize as Hollywood's summer blockbusters faded, and TWC plans to expand it into around 175 theaters in 60 markets next weekend.
TWC had hoped to release "Salinger" prior to the release of the Salerno's nine-years-in-the-making book of the same name, but it wasn't completed in time. That may actually have helped, as the docu has received a ton of publicity following its premiere in Telluride last weekend. Most of that centered on the movie's explosive claim that the reclusive author wrote five more books after going into seclusion.
"Winnie Mandela," starring Jennifer Hudson as the wife of South African icon Nelson Mandela (Terrance Howard), took in a soft $2,174 per-theater average with $69,584 from 32 locations for RLJ Entertainment.
It's the first of two films about the Mandelas scheduled to arrive in theaters this year. The Weinstein Company has set "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," which features British actors Idris Elba as Nelson and Naomie Harris as Winnie, for November 29.
It was a busy weekend for TWC at the specialty box office. It also opened the French romantic comedy "Populaire" - about competitive speed typing - and it brought in $16,662 from three theaters for a $5,554 per-locations average.
"Good Old Freda," Magnolia Pictures' documentary in which Freda Kelly looks back at her career as lifelong secretary for The Beatles, took in $8,000 from a single theaters in New York.
Magnolia also rolled out "Touchy Feely," about a massage therapist unable to do her job when stricken with a mysterious and sudden aversion to bodily contact, in two theaters. It took in $4,000.
Writer-director Lynn Shelton's R-rated comedy premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival and is her follow-up to last year's "Your Sister's Sister," which also starred Rosemarie DeWitt.
Both the Magnolia releases were also available on video on demand.
"The Ultimate Life," a faith-based drama from High Top Releasing, brought in $650,000 from 412 mainly Heartland theaters for a $1,578 per-screen average. It's director Michael Landon Jr.'s follow-up to the "The Ultimate Gift" and stars Jason Bartholomew as a billionaire with questionable priorities who re-examines his life after discovering his grandfather's journal.
(Editing by Chris Michaud)