bill murray box officeKids, you may not believe it, but once upon a time, Bill Murray was a box office giant. Sure, it's hard to imagine, based on his career over the past 15 years -- mostly supporting roles in Wes Anderson films, lead roles in other indie and art-house films, and offbeat cameos in other people's movies. Now, however, with "St. Vincent," he may be poised to return to some semblance of his former glory.

In a lackluster box office weekend, one marked by the No. 1 debut of a low-budget horror movie ("Ouija," which performed about as well as expected, with an estimated $20.0 million) and the No. 2 debut of a Keanu Reeves action thriller ("John Wick," which also performed according to predictions, with an estimated $14.2 million), the biggest surprise was the performance of Murray's latest indie film, which broke into the top 10 at No. 6 with $8.1 million, for a three-week total of $9.2 million.

That's already more than many of Murray's recent movies have earned in their theatrical lifetimes. His Wes Anderson moves tend to earn eight figures, but his solo indie pictures seldom break $8 million. Not only is $8.1 million a big weekend for Murray, but it's also a pretty sizable sum for an indie movie in its third week of release, and its success seems the result of an unusual strategic move.

Usually, a movie like "St. Vincent," with some critical acclaim and even some big stars (Murray and Melissa McCarthy), but also with a hard-to-sell premise, will open on just a handful of theaters in New York and Los Angeles, then slowly open across the rest of the country over the next several weeks as word-of-mouth builds. Fellow '80s box-office comedy king and current comeback-seeker Michael Keaton is following this time-tested strategy with his "Birdman," which expanded this week from four theaters to 50, resulting in a healthy second-week take of $1.4 million.

But "St. Vincent" jumped almost immediately from the small platform release two weekends ago to 2,282 theaters this weekend. That's a move that speaks to the Weinstein Company's confidence in the movie's appeal to both awards-season critics and mainstream audiences.

A sudden vault from a handful of theaters to nearly 2,300 is a huge gamble. After all, "Birdman" enjoyed a huge per-venue average this weekend of $28,720, suggesting that the wave of buzz and enthusiasm for his movie still hasn't peaked. "St. VIncent," however, averaged $3,531 per theater -- not bad for a three-week-old movie, but not indicative of a movie whose fanbase is still growing. The leap to wide release may have built "St. Vincent" a broader mainstream audience -- or it may have just made a quick $8 million for the Weinsteins at the expense of finding that broader audience. The coming weeks will tell.

The funny thing is, Murray may not even care. He's reached the point in his career where he doesn't need the money or the box office bragging rights and only works when he feels like it. If "St. Vincent" puts him back on the A-list, fine, but if it doesn't, he'll keep making just those movies that tickle his fancy, and we'll just have to be happy that he still chooses occasionally to grace us with his presence.

Check out New From Moviefone on LockerDome on LockerDome
categories Movies, Box Office