This past weekend, moviegoers across the nation had their choice of over 3,600 theaters at which they could catch "A Christmas Carol," the 3-D motion-capture odyssey starring Jim Carrey. At the same time, the indie drama "Precious" screened in just 18 places during its opening weekend. "Christmas Carol" raked in the big bucks — $31 million in total — but "Precious" was arguably the bigger box-office story.

The film raked in $1.8 million dollars, for a per-screen-average of $100,000 — the highest in three years and the 11th best of all time — greatly increasing the chances that it will become the darling of the upcoming awards season.

Starring newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, "Precious" is a brutal story of one girl's horrific struggles with familial abuse, rape, teenage pregnancy and the claustrophobic hopelessness that has invaded her life. Oscar talk has surrounded Sidibe (who plays the title role) and Mo'Nique, who won an acting prize at Sundance for her role as Precious' mother, as well as the film itself, which won the top award at Sundance. That talk now has a popular vote of confidence. Nominations for director (Lee Daniels) and best adapted screenplay (Geoffrey Fletcher) are also distinct possibilities.

"All of us that participated in the movie, we feel so attached to this and so honored to be a part of this, because it really is something that's so strong and different," Mariah Carey, who plays a social worker assigned to Precious' case, said earlier this year. "I think it's really going to enlighten a lot of people."

The $100,000 average for "Precious" was the highest per-screen-average since "Dreamgirls" in 2006 nabbed an average of $126,000 in just three theaters, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com. That musical went on to secure eight Oscar nominations and two wins, including a supporting actress nod for Jennifer Hudson. The top per-screen-average in box-office history is held by "The Lion King," which opened in two theaters for a staggering average of $793,000.

Even before this latest bit of good news for "Precious," Sidibe said that her life was already changing. The 16-year-old, who had never been in a movie before, couldn't even imagine what would happen when the film hit theaters. As she told MTV News in August, people she ran into on the street often had a hard time separating her from her character.

"They'll start to talk to me in a more careful tone or be really wary of me," she explained. "They'll want to coddle me or they see me in the street and they'll want to hug me and rub my back and tell me everything will be OK. But it's cool, I like hugging."

Check out everything we've got on "Precious."

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