By Amy Kaufman
10:43 AM PST, December 8, 2013
"Inside Llewyn Davis" was in tune with moviegoers this weekend.
The Coen brothers' new folk-music dramedy debuted in limited release this weekend to stellar results, grossing $402,000, according to an estimate from distributor CBS Films. Playing in four theaters, that amounted to a per-location average of $100,500 — the second-highest opening weekend average this year for an independent film behind only Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine."
Set in New York in the 1960s, the latest picture from writer-director siblings Joel and Ethan Coen follows an aspiring singer-songwriter (Oscar Isaac) trying to make it big. Since premiering at the Cannes Film Festival in May, the award-season hopeful has received rave reviews from critics.
Much of the buzz about the film — which also features Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan and John Goodman — has centered around its T Bone Burnett-produced soundtrack. In September, Burnett helped organize a star-studded New York concert featuring music from the movie — a version of which will air as a documentary on Showtime next weekend. Those who showed up to early screenings of the movie in N.Y. and Los Angeles this weekend were also given a free copy of the soundtrack.
This weekend, the movie attracted a mix of "Coen brothers' fans, music fans and hipsters," according to Steven Friedlander, executive vice president of theatrical distribution for CBS Films. He added that he was hopeful the strong ticket sales would boost the film's awards prospects.
"Everyone always says that awards buzz is totally separate from box office, but I don't think that's true," said Friedlander, whose company acquired the film for $4 million in February. "It's very hard to get that buzz and remain in the forefront of people's minds if you can't stay in theaters."
"Llewyn Davis" will expand to about 150 theaters Dec. 20 before it screens nationwide Jan. 10. The coming weeks will serve as a true test of the film's commercial potential, as many hard-core Coen brothers fans likely turned out to see the movie this weekend. The filmmaking duo is coming off a massive hit in their 2010 western "True Grit," which collected $171.2 million; a year prior, however, their art house-aimed picture "A Serious Man" only grossed a so-so $9.2 million.
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