IFC FilmsBoyhood had momentum and expectations building as it headed into its opening weekend after a tremendous run of festival awards and word-of-mouth screenings. Opening in five theaters in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, it proved to be a very big boy indeed, with one of the year’s biggest box-office debuts among Specialty releases, second behind only Searchlight’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, which opened March 7 with a nearly $203K PTA in four theaters.

Boyhood, directed and written by Richard Linklater and filmed over 12 years as its star Ellar Coltrane grew up, grossed $360K to $385K for a spectacular per-theater average of $72K to $77K, depending on how much box office drops Sunday. Given that  the title opened against Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes on turf typically ruled by studio mush, the numbers bode especially well for the film, which also stars Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and Lorelei Linklater. Given its pre-launch buzz, the film has already been tipped as a strong contender when Awards Season grinds into into full gear this fall.

“I think we knew the movie would play,” IFC Films president Jonathan Sehring told me this morning. “(Fellow  producer) John Sloss and I were at screenings with audiences and we were more than gratified by the audience responses. There were dozens of sell outs [in Manhattan, Brooklyn and L.A.].  It was crazy. It wasn’t an old audience, not young, it was a mix of everyone.”

Sehring said that even Manhattan’s Lincoln Plaza theater, which typically attracts a loyal mature crowd most weekends, had a mix of teens, octogenarians and everyone in between. “It’s one thing to get applause when they know the talent is there, but to see the applause when the credits come up is spectacular,” added Sehring. “We’re getting competitors and agents who didn’t have anything to do with the movie emailing us who told us they went to the movie and they’re giving great responses. We could tell the movie was going to do well, but you never know until you open.”

At IFC Films’ own IFC Center in downtown Manhattan, a 10:45am showing only had a small handful of empty seats, noted Sehring. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen that.” On the Left Coast, the film also brought out audiences in droves. Sehring said the film performed on par with Apes on Saturday at the Arclight where it came in second for the weekend.

Richard Linklater head shotNot surprisingly, Boyhood ranks in the top tier of  box-office performance for a Linklater film. The Austin-based filmmaker made his directorial debut back in 1991 with Slacker, and since has directed both Specialty and studio fare. Lately, he’s been on something of a roll of successful films. Last May, his well-received Before Midnight (also starring Ethan Hawke) bowed with a $49K-plus PTA in 5 theaters, going on to cume more than $8.11M for Sony Classics. His Bernie, which opened in April 2012, delivered a $28,602 PTA in three theaters and went on to cume more than $9.2 million. Now IFC is working carefully to nurture even bigger success for Linklater’s long-in-coming latest.

“We want to take this slow as a platform release to make sure we build on word of mouth,” said Sehring. “This is a tremendous word-of-mouth film and we want it to be in the best theaters. There will be pressure from exhibitors, but we don’t want to do a snatch and grab in 800 theaters in week two.”

The film’s long-term theatrical prospects are undeniably great, putting a welcome charge into the Specialty Box Office, which of late has seen some stratospheric-to-solid openings amidst plenty of lackluster-to-decent rollouts. The film will easily cume high-seven-figures (and hopefully into the double-digits) if momentum maintains.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, of course, reigns supreme this year with its $58.7M-plus cume after over $811K its opening weekend for a record-breaking $202,792 average. It has cumed almost $58.8M domestically. Even Open Road’s Chef, which opened with a more modest (though still very solid) $34,160 PTA in early May in 6 theaters has cooked up an estimated $24.1M. On the other side, though, is a film such as Fading Gigolo, which opened to a very solid $36,160 PTA in five theaters in April. It since has grossed $3.7M. A24’s Under The Skin, which had the year’s second-highest PTA when it bowed in early April, has cumed $2.54M to date, so opening averages don’t guarantee ultimate success.

But Boyhood also has a 100% score among critics on Rotten Tomatoes and a media push most Specialties can only envy, including profiles in the New Yorker and other mainstream outlets. It’s particularly envy-worthy  considering the film is focused on an unknown actor, (though his onscreen parents both have been prominent for many years). Internationally, the film has had solid numbers in Germany, where it opened in early June and where Linklater won a Silver Bear for directing at this year’s Berlin film festival. It also “did strong business” in the U.K., according to IFC Films, where it opened this weekend as well.