No 3D. No IMAX. No problems for Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, which only opened in five locations in New York and Los Angeles over the weekend but still managed to set a new box-office record.

Riding a wave of positive buzz generated by festival screenings in Venice and Toronto, The Master racked up a per-theater average of $145,949 according to weekend estimates (reported by Deadline). Oddly enough, Master topped a record that’d barely had time to establish itself. Earlier this year, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom opened to a per-theater average of $130,749.

Anderson’s hotly anticipated Master was expected to do well. (Read our four-star review right here.) And the NY-LA crowds were expected to flock. Master grabbed top prizes in Venice, and has been manufacturing Oscar buzz for the lead performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix (who are both off-the-charts fantastic in the film).

The bigger question, in my mind, is how Master will play as it expands. The Weinstein Company moved the film up from a planned October release date, perhaps to capitalize on the fall film festival momentum. But part of me still wonders about the box office drawing power of Paul Thomas Anderson. There Will be Blood remains his highest-grossing film, with $40.2 million in the bank. His other films couldn’t crack $28M. And Hoffman and Phoenix, while respected actors, are not box-office draws. The Master certainly has its audience, and will play to them. But it’s long and slightly impenetrable, and will likely need a severe Oscar boost to help ticket sales.

The movie’s off to a great start. Can it sustain some of this momentum and become Anderson’s biggest hit to date? Stay tuned.

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