Matthew McConaughey's "Dallas Buyers Club" got off to a solid start at the box office this weekend

Matthew McConaughey stars in "Dallas Buyers Club," which got off to a solid start at the box office this weekend. (Focus Features / November 3, 2013)

A healthy number of moviegoers bought in to "Dallas Buyers Club" this weekend.

The critically beloved AIDS drama debuted in nine theaters and grossed $264,128, according to an estimate from distributor Focus Features. That amounts to a per-location average of $29,347 -- a solid start, but still fairly behind the recent debut of fellow best-picture hopeful "12 Years a Slave."

Both "Dallas Buyers Club" and "12 Years a Slave" deal with heavy subject matter -- though that hasn't dissuaded people from turning up to see the latter. ("Slave" is now in about 400 theaters and has collected $8.8 million.)

"Dallas Buyers Club," which was in development for about two decades, is based on the story of Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey), a homophobic Texan who began importing non FDA-approved AIDS treatments after he was diagnosed with the disease in the 1980s. McConaughey and co-star Jared Leto, who plays Woodruff's transgender business partner, have earned early Oscar buzz for their performances.

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This weekend, the $5-million production played in Los Angeles, New York, Toronto and Montreal -- and its grosses were brought down by the Canadian screenings, said Focus' domestic distribution president Jack Foley. He noted that the movie's Canadian distributor opted to launch the film in two theaters in Montreal, where director Jean-Marc Vallée hails from.

“They took a gamble that hometown talent would be a big draw, but the approach wasn’t all that successful,” said Foley. However, overall, the film’s ticket sales increased 71% from Friday to Saturday, an indication that “word of mouth is spreading positively.”

“You can tell we are appealing to people of all ages, because ticket sales were consistent hour-to-hour -- things didn’t jack up at 6 at night and then completely cool off at 7,” said Foley.

Next weekend, Focus will expand "Dallas Buyers Club" to 30 more theaters in 12 additional markets, including Dallas.

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