Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master Sets A Per-Screen Box Office Record

Box office records are made to be shattered, but there’s still something encouraging about this one.

According to /Film, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest opus The Master opened this past weekend to a box-office draw of $736,311. Not very impressive, until you realize that The Master only opened on five screens, averaging $147,262 a screen. This gives it the highest per-screen average for a live-action, traditional release film.

While parsing out these sorts of averages might seem like splitting hairs, or tallying baseball statistics, this is a pretty spectacular achievement for an art-house type film. The Avengers opened on 4,300 screens to an average of $47,698 dollars per screen, grossing $207 million and shattering opening weekend records.

While it’s unlikely that The Master could have broken that in a general release, the fact that Anderson’s film successfully tripled the per-screen average of a big-budget release like The Avengers bodes well for smaller, more personal films in a world of blockbusters.

Erik Lomis, head of distribution at The Weinstein Company, had this to say about the box office results:

“We’re thrilled with the numbers. It set the screen record and all the credit in the world goes to Paul Thomas Anderson with his guerrilla marketing strategy combined with moving the [release date] to this weekend.”

There are obviously catches here, including the ever-present inflation factor. The Master is actually in ninth place for per-screen averages, if you count animated Disney features. The Lion King alone opened on just two screens and averaged $793,377 per screen. But we have to take what we can get.

The Master is an R-rated, art-house style live-action feature film that does not feature animated lions, superheroes or lots of explosions. It was released traditionally, with regular ticket prices and no 3D. The fact that it has achieved a box-office record like this is nothing short of spectacular.

Of course, we cannot claim that The Master is in any sense a ‘small’ film. Nothing can be called small with stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams, director P.T. Anderson and Weinstein backing. But it is encouraging to see a serious adult film getting such a wave of support at the box office and I can’t wait to see what it does in general release.

The Master opens to wide release this Friday, September 21.

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