If you want to know how well "12 Years a Slave" is playing to its two distinct audiences -- highbrow art house patrons and mainstream African Americans -- you need look no further than two very different places: Dallas and Detroit.
The two cities were added last weekend by Fox Searchlight as director Steve McQueen's celebrated slave drama expanded its national release. Playing in 123 locations, "12 Years a Slave" grossed a solid $2.1 million, and the film's performance was strong throughout the dozen cities where it was showing.
At the Angelika Dallas, an upscale complex that is currently playing the independent films "Don Jon" and "Parkland," "12 Years a Slave" grossed $34,200 last weekend, its first three days there. Much farther north, at the AMC Star Southfield 20, where screens are now playing the urban drama "I'm in Love With a Church Girl" and "The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete," McQueen's movie grossed almost the same in its debut that it did in Dallas, $33,900.
"We're hitting on all cylinders," said Steve Gilula, a co-president of Fox Searchlight. "We're not seeing any resistance."
If the $22-million production is going to continue to do well at the box office, it must cast a wide net, and to that end Fox Searchlight will increase the film's exhibition to 400 additional theaters this weekend, covering most of the nation's biggest 55 markets.
If some potential ticket buyers have been put off by the film's frank and sometimes unsettling depictions of slavery, they have yet to become a factor. The film is considered a leading contender for the Academy Awards, and has attracted some of the strongest reviews of the year.
Starting Friday, "12 Years a Slave" will begin showing at theaters in San Francisco, San Diego, Indianapolis, Seattle, Denver, Miami, Cleveland and similar major metropolitan areas.
The film doesn't show signs of weakening in big markets where it premiered a couple of weeks ago.
In its second weekend in New York and Los Angeles, "12 Years a Slave" continued to hold up very well. At New York's Regal Union Square Stadium 14, the film in its second weekend grossed $57,000, topping the nation's No. 1 film in that venue, the new "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa."
In Los Angeles at the ArcLight and in Toronto at the Cineplex Odeon Varsity and VIP Cinemas, "12 Years a Slave" returned some of the highest per-screen averages in the nation, even though both theaters were showing the film for the second weekend.
"It's very clear the film is reaching multiple audiences," Gilula said. If moviegoer interest doesn't wane, "12 Years a Slave" could soon be playing in as many as 800 locations.