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'The Tree of Life' does well in limited release

The unconventional film collects $488,920. Its per-theater average is slightly higher than Woody Allen's 'Midnight in Paris' had in its opening weekend.

May 31, 2011|By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times
  • Laramie Eppler, left, Jessica Chastain and Hunter McCracken star in "The Tree of Life."
Laramie Eppler, left, Jessica Chastain and Hunter McCracken star in "The… (Merie Wallace, Fox Searchlight )

Despite its lofty subject matter and press-averse director, "The Tree of Life" found success at the box office this weekend.

The movie from reclusive filmmaker Terrence Malick opened in four theaters and collected a strong $488,920 from Friday through Monday, according to an estimate from distributor Fox Searchlight. On a three-day basis, the film had a per-theater average of $93,230, just slightly less than the $99,834 per-theater average Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" had in its premiere last weekend.

"The Tree of Life" marked the best premiere for a film in limited release for Fox Searchlight, beating out "Black Swan's" $80,212 per-theater average last year. It was also the best opening ever for Malick, whose "The Thin Red Line" averaged $56,506 in five theaters in 1998. That film, a World War II drama, was the director's biggest commercial success, with $98.1 million in ticket sales worldwide. Malick has kept a low profile as Searchlight has unveiled the film, leaving promotional duties to the cast, which includes Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Sean Penn. The film, set in Texas in the 1950s, poses questions about family, faith and the creation of the universe.

It remains to be seen how well "Tree of Life," which features little dialogue and does not have a traditional plot, will fare with a broader audience. The movie won the Palme d'Or, the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and has received strong reviews from critics — even as they've described it with phrases such as "exquisite and also exasperating."

Fox Searchlight plans to expand the movie to eight more markets next weekend, and to open it in three additional theaters in New York and three more in Los Angeles. The movie, which was independently financed by Bill Pohlad's River Road Entertainment, is to begin playing nationwide in 200 to 300 theaters on July 1.

Meanwhile, Allen's "Midnight in Paris" continues to do solid business. The movie starring Owen Wilson as a struggling writer who longs to live in 1920s Paris collected $3.5 million over four days, according to an estimate from distributor Sony Pictures Classics. That's already more than the director's last film, 2010's "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," grossed over its entire North American run. Though that movie made $31 million abroad, it had only $3.2 million in ticket sales domestically.

amy.kaufman@latimes.com

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