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THE MASTER Box Office: Biggest (Platform, Live Action) Opening Weekend Ever?

Joaquin Phoenix The Master Madisen BeatyThe Master to break live-action weekend box office record?

Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, the "Scientology movie" inspired by the life of L. Ron Hubbard, and starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams, opened with an estimated $242,000 at five theaters (three in New York, two in Los Angeles) according to studio estimates found at Box Office Mojo. (The Hollywood Reporter provides a more exact figure, $242,127, which certainly seems like the film's actual Friday box office take.) That's reportedly a record-breaking single-day figure for a live-action movie in "platform release" – in terms of per-theater average: $48,425. (More on that below. Photo: The Master Joaquin Phoenix, Madisen Beaty.)

Thanks to its excellent Friday opening, the Weinstein Company-distributed The Master is also expected to break the per-theater average opening-weekend box office record of Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, which debuted last spring. At four theaters, Anderson's acclaimed Cannes Film Festival entry averaged $43,082 per site on Friday and $130,749 on its first weekend out. The Master could reach up to $140-150k.

So, will The Master boast the most successful domestic opening weekend ever for a live-action film (in terms of per-theater averages)? Well, if you ignore Kevin Smith's Red State, which took in $204,230 at one location last year and if you live on a planet where inflation doesn't exist, the answer is: Quite likely, yes. But as long as you live on Planet Earth, where inflation is a reality, even if you choose to ignore Red State's "one-theater average" the answer is: Probably not.

Box office: The Master vs. Dreamgirls, Evita, Edward Scissorhands

Adjusted to 2012 dollars, the per-theater average of Bill Condon's 2006 musical Dreamgirls would be approximately $155,000 at three sites. (Note: Dreamgirls had the advantage of $25 tickets for reserved seats.) For its part, Alan Parker / Madonna's Evita raked in an adjusted $177,000 in 1996 at two locations. Also potentially ahead of The Master would be Tim Burton / Johnny Depp's Edward Scissorhands, with $151,000 at two sites.

Now, bear in mind that we're comparing apples and pineapples here. As I've explained in a post about Moonrise Kingdom's box office performance, when comparing platform releases, the addition or exclusion of one single theater not only can but does dramatically affect per-theater averages. When you're talking about four theaters, if you add a fifth, that represents a 25 percent increase in venues. Minus one would be a 25 percent decrease. Remember: all things being equal, the fewer the number of theaters, the higher the per-theater average should be.

The Master photo, Joaquin Phoenix, Madisen Beaty (not Amy Adams, as previously stated): The Weinstein Company.

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