Zombies ruled at the North American box office this weekend as Sony’s Resident Evil: Retribution fought its way to the top of the pack. But the busiest action took place in the five theaters in New York and Los Angeles where Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master debuted to a record-breaking $729,745.
Retribution, the fifth installment in the Resident Evil franchise starring Milla Jovovich, took in an estimated $21.1 million at 3,012 locations. The R-rated movie from Sony’s Screen Gems unit and Constantin Films and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson checked in ahead of the weekend’s other new wide Hollywood release, Disney’s 3D reissue of Pixar’s G-rated Finding Nemo, which collected $17.5 million in 2,904 theaters.
Meanwhile, The Weinstein Co.’s The Master, coming off momentum it built at the Venice and Toronto film festivals, set a record for an exclusive opening. The drama starring Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman as two men enmeshed in mind games amassed a record $145,949 per theater, leapfrogging over the previous art house record of $130,759 per location that Focus’ Moonrise Kingdom established in May.
Lionsgate and Roadside also found buyers for its financial thriller Arbitrage, starring Richard Gere as a hedge fund manager whose life is unraveling. It attracted $2.1 million on 197 screens, for a per-screen average of $10,505. Also bowing simultaneously as a VOD offering, it looks to be the biggest theatrical/VOD opening to date.
Retribution, even with an assist from 3D and Imax tickets, didn't prove quite as robust as other films in the series: The previous installment, 2010's Resident Evil: Afterlife, opened to $26.7 million domestically. But the franchise has become a big seller abroad; Afterlife grossed $60.1 domestically and a whopping $236.1 million in foreign territories.
As for Nemo, the movie is one of the critical and fan favorites in the Pixar canon. Originally released in 2003, the underwater tale, featuring the voices of Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres, grossed $867.6 million prior to its arrival in a new 3D version. But instead of acting like The Lion King, which opened to $30.2 million when it was released in 3D a year ago, Nemo performed more like the 3D return of Beauty and the Beast, which opened to $17.8 million in January.