An incredible 20 films premiered in limited runs in NY or LA this weekend (including three on Wednesday). While most were branded by festival play, few boasted much pre-opening coverage. Only "Bernie," starring Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine, wielded much box-office muscle --while "Headhunters" also showed early signs of strength. 

They can't come soon enough for struggling specialized theaters, who are holding their breath for a string of potentially more popular releases this May: "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," Cannes-opener "Moonlight Kingdom," French worldwide smash "Intouchables" (bigger than "Hunger Games" outside the US) and Toronto Peoples' Choice winner "Where Do We Go Now."

Both holdovers and expansions are struggling overall. Of this month's releases, only "Monsieur Lazhar" shows any endurance.


"Bernie" (Millenium) - Metacritic score: 74; Festivals include: Los Angeles 11, South by Southwest 12

$90,000 in 3 theaters; PSA: $30,000

Waiting almost a year to open after its premiere, Richard Linklater's offbeat Texas murder tale starring Jack Black soared this weekend amid mainly mediocre or worse specialized grosses. Even more impressive, Austin, not usually a strong-grossing city for limited releases, was included along with the two initial runs in NY and LA, so the PSA was a real standout.

What it means:   It's too early to proclaim this a potential crossover hit, but expect exhibitors both in specialized and more general wider locations to clamor to book this.

"Headhunters" (Magnolia) - Metacritic score: 72; Festivals include: Locarno 11, Toronto 11, Phoenix 11, Newport Beach 11

$45,000 In 4 theaters; PSA: $11,250

Riding the current wave of the popularity of Scandanavian mystery writers, this Norwegian film received a wide range of reviews, reflecting its energy and inventiveness as well as envelope-pushing elements often seen in the genre. Unlike last week's "Marley," this opened theatrically before VOD/streaming (often the usual Magnolia game plan). The positive results give this a base on which to expand in coming weeks.

What it means:   Magnolia is on a roll - three consecutive decent or better openings (with "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" and "Marley"), none of them conventional specialized successes.