TORONTO -- Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master broke records for an art house release at the Friday box office, grossing $242,127 for a massive per location average of $48,425.
From The Weinstein Co., the movie -- starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams -- could enjoy a record weekend as well if traffic holds for a three-day theater average of $135,000 to $140,000.
Earlier this year, Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom scored the highest theater average of all time for an art house title, posting a weekend gross of $522,996 from four theaters for a location average of $130,749. Moonrise's Friday average was $43,082, less than The Master's.
Anderson has said that his movie was in part inspired by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, but continues to insist it's not a Scientology film per se. The Master, which played at both the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals, is already considered an awards contender.
Screen Gems and Sony's Resident Evil: Retribution -- the fifth title in the Mila Jovovich zombie-fighting franchise -- topped the domestic box office overall on Friday, grossing $8.4 million range for a weekend debut in the $22 million to $23 million range, in line with other installments.
Retribution, produced in 3D at a cost of $65 million and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who directed two of the previous films in the series, is off to a strong start overseas and particularly in Japan. Sony believes the film could be the biggest earner yet worldwide.
The big question mark is whether Disney's 3D rerelease of Pixar's Finding Nemo will be able to edge past Retribution and win the weekend. Based on Friday's gross of $5.1 million, many box office observers believe the film won't get to $20 million, compared to the $30.1 million opening of Lion King 3D on the same weekend a year ago (Lion King 3D earned $8.9 on Friday alone).
The Oscar-winning Nemo, directed by Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich, is the latest movie from the Disney and Pixar vaults to undergo a 3D make-over. Beauty and the Beast, also freshened up with 3D, returned to theaters in January, taking in $17.8 million on its first weekend.
Pixar and Disney spent just under $5 million to convert Finding Nemo to 3D.
Also debuting at the specialy box office this weekend is Nicholas Jarecki’s Arbitrage, a financial drama in which Richard Gere plays a hedge fund manager. Released by Roadside and Lionsgate, which had success last year with another financial thriller Margin Call, Arbitrage will also be debuting as a cable VOD offering.