La La Land musical gets chorus of approval but Moana stays on top

Damien Chazelles musical, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, hits record for five-theater release, pulling in an estimated $171,000 a theater

Disneys Moana continued to sit pretty atop the box office for its third consecutive weekend, but Damien Chazelles musical La La Land was what really had audiences singing.

Playing in only five theaters, the lively and well-reviewed La La Land grossed a staggering $855,000 for Lionsgate, according to studio estimates. Its $171,000 a theater average is an all-time high for a five-theater release.

According to exit polls, 52% of audiences were female and 53% were over age 30.

We felt like we were going to have a strong opening, but I dont think anyone would have predicted a result this big, said David Spitz, Lionsgate president of domestic theatrical distribution.

The film cost a reported $30m and has been gaining buzz since it premiered at the Venice film festival. It recently picked up the best picture award from the New York Film Critics Circle and is expected to be a major awards contender.

Its first big mainstream boost could come as early as Monday when nominations are announced for the Golden Globes.

Starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, La La Land expands to 200 locations next week.

Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for box office tracker comScore, called the La La Land showing astounding.

This is the hottest ticket in town and now people want to be able to talk about the movie. The availability is quite limited but that will result in a crescendo, he said.

This is a movie that is tailor-made for that platform release … it is a real breath of fresh air and I think its going to take off for many reasons.

It was mostly business as usual among wide releases, with Moana in first with $18.8m, followed by the Jennifer Aniston comedy Office Christmas Party, which debuted to $17.5m in a quiet moment before Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens next weekend.

The rest of the top five looked similar to the past few weeks, with the Harry Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in third with $10.8m, bringing its domestic grosses to $199.3m.

The Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner sci-fi pic Arrival held on in fourth with $5.6m, while Disney and Marvels Doctor Strange added $4.6m to take fifth place.

The Jessica Chastain lobbying thriller Miss Sloane fizzled in its wide expansion, earning $1.9m from 1,648 locations.

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