This year has seen an astonishing three films outperform the $10,000 per screen average benchmark on a platform release. That includes this weekend's specialty box office leader, David Cronenberg's exercise in brainy style, "Cosmopolis," boosted by "Twilight" star Robert Pattinson. Two other films acquired out of this year's Sundance, "Robot and Frank" and "Compliance," also had better than expected results in their New York openings.
After a strong spring and summer (except for the Olympics dip), more and more distributors are realizing that they don't have to hold back early year festival hits until the conventional fall/winter –overcrowded–award-season release period. Not all films work – this week has its share of disappointments – but it is a win/win strategy for both those who release films and for exhibitors as well.
"Cosmopolis" (EOne) – Metacritic score: 58; Festivals include: Cannes 12, Karlovy Vary 12
$72,300 in 3 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $24,100
Opening significantly below the limited openings of David Cronenberg's two most recent films ("Eastern Promises" and "A Dangerous Method,") yet still performing at a decent level considering its mixed reviews, this likely was helped by Pattinson's high profile TV appearances last week promoting the film.
This is Cronenberg's most polarizing film since NC-17 "Crash" (not the Oscar-winner). Even his ardent fans had a wide range of reactions. It's hard to imagine how Twihards will react, particularly as it expands beyond NY/LA and key art houses.
"Bel Ami" earlier this year also tried to capitalize on Pattinson's appeal, although a comparison is tricky since distributor Magnolia went the video on demand route prior to its limited theatrical play (which only amassed $120,000 for its entire run).
This is by far the biggest opening for Canadian-based Entertainment One, which acquired the film before its Cannes competition premiere. It is only the second (after "Moonrise Kingdom") of this year's Palme d'or contenders to open in the US.
What it means: The combination of director and star was enough to get this launched, and this gross guarantees decent or better playoff considering the tricky content in the film, including beyond core specialized theaters
"Robot and Frank" (IDP) – Metacritic score: 65; Festivals include: Sundance 12, Los Angeles 12, Seattle 12
$38,234 in 2 theaters; PSA: $19,117
Opening only in NY this week (the Angelika and Paris Theaters, two very prime locations), this scored the fourth best platform opening among the many Sundance 2012 releases so far (after "The Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Celeste and Jesse Forever" and "The Raid: Redemption"). With lead actor Frank Langella earning heaps of praise, this picked up older audience interest, setting it apart from the younger-audience-targeted new films in the last few weeks.
What it means: Widening out (including LA) quickly, the early success – which came with good but hardly great reviews – likely will be repeated in upcoming weeks.
"Compliance" (Magnolia) – Metacritic score: 76; Festivals include: Sundance 12, San Francisco 12, Locarno 12
$16,000 in 1 theater; PSA: $16,000
One of the best-reviewed films from Sundance this year (in the Next section rather than the hig-prestige dramatic competition) earned all-out raves in both the NY and LA Times.
Opening exclusively in NY at Landmark's Sunshine, this had a decent gross a bit below two other new releases, but still strong enough to lead to more attention if strong word of mouth makes up for its more under-the-radar pre-release awareness. The subject matter — a young female fast-food employee is subjected to degrading treatment by her supervisor responding to police instructions over the phone — sounds offputting, but Craig Zobel's drama is a compelling examination of human psychology.
What it means: This expands–although in many cases limited/calendar situations–over the next few weeks. But however it plays, it could turn out to be one of the more talked about releases as it is seen by more audiences.
"Beloved" (IFC) – Metacritic score: 52; Festivals include: Cannes 11, Toronto 11
$27,500 in 5 theaters; PSA: $5,500
Last year's Cannes closing night film as well as a gala in Toronto, Christophe Honore's part-musical, multi-year relationship drama with an ensemble cast including Catherine Deneuve opened to mediocre reviews and less business, even though it had significant theater placement (including NY's prime Lincoln Plaza.)
What it means: This will struggle to find playoff beyond core big-city theaters.
"Chicken With Plums" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Metacritic score: 67; Festivals include: Venice 11, Toronto 11, San Francisco 11
$11,207 in 2 theaters; PSA: $5,604
Four years ago, Sony Pictures Classics released "Persepolis" from the same directors and, aided by an Oscar Animated Feature nomination, grossed an impressive $4.4 million. "Chicken With Plums," with good reviews, but far below the previous film's acclaim (it scored 90 at Metacritic), fared far less well in its NY openings at two ideal theaters.
What it means: This will expand slowly with SPC as always getting maximum possible playoff, but this looks likely to gross a fraction of what "Persepolis" did.
"The Awakening" (Cohen Media) – Metacritic score: 53; Festivals include: Toronto 11, London 11
$94,400 in 70 theaters; PSA: $1,349
Another Toronto gala from last year, and even worse results. Starring Dominic West and Rebecca Hall, this gothic mystery seems to be a classic tweener – not well enough reviewed for specialized, not high-profile enough for a wider audience of genre fans.
What it means: With it playing at many top-rank theaters (though few core art-houses), this will have a hard time hanging on to many of them for a second week with these grosses.
"Side by Side" (Tribeca) – Metacritic score: 82; Festivals include: Berlin 12, Tribeca 12; available on Video on Demand on 8/22
$7,200 in 1 theater; PSA: $7,200
The best reviewed new film of the week in very limited (LA only) release, this documentary about changing film formats scored a decent gross as part of the DocuWeek showcase in a North Hollywood theater this week.
What it means: The main purpose of this opening was to qualify for the Oscar Documentary Feature category prior to it VOD availability this week. NY and a handful of other cities though will have theatrical runs in weeks ahead.
Ongoing and expanding
"Two Days in New York" (Magnolia) – Week 2; also available on Video on Demand
$86,000 in 14 theaters (+12); PSA: $6,143; Cumulative: $123,928
A decent enough expansion for this Julie Delpy/Chris Rock marital comedy, more so with its parallel VOD showings.
What it means: Though VOD will limit its gross, this should continue to expand over coming weeks.
"Ruby Sparks" (Fox Searchlight) – Week 4
$300,000 in 218 theaters (-43); PSA: $1,376,000 ; Cumulative: $1,795,000
Already losing theaters early on after a quick expansion after its disappointing openings, this romantic comedy from the directors of "Little Miss Sunshine" is failing to gain any traction.
What it means: In a market with a lot of rom-coms aimed at the younger audience that flocked to "(500) Days of Summer," this is yet another that has underperformed.
"Celeste and Jesse Forever" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 3
$250,784 in 67 theaters (+49); PSA: $3,744; Cumulative: $619,435
Another LA-set rom-com, the expansion this week showed a PSA below what "Ruby Sparks" had two weeks ago when it expanded to 64 theaters ($6,186 for "Ruby").
What it means: This could gain more interest with good word-of-mouth reaction from this big increase in theaters. But this is not looking like any sort of significant cross-over success.
"Killer Joe" (LD) – Week 4
$150,000 in 42 theaters (+4); PSA: $3,571; Cumulative: $664,000
A modest but encouragingly steady PSA keeps this NC-17 melodrama in the mix this weekend.
What it means: LD has been expanding slowly, with modest advertising expenditures, with decent results that should keep this around for a few weeks more.
"Searching for Sugar Man" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 4
$108,536 in 27 theaters (+12); PSA: $4,020; Cumulative: $311,612
Despite its more lackluster initial weeks, this is showing something of a rebound. With the theater count nearly double, the PSA only decreased $200, indicating that this recording artist mystery documentary is finding the audience reaction initially hoped for.
What it means: Most films don't stabilize like this is doing as they expand, which gives real hope that this still could become a decent success.
"Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" (IFC) – Week 4
$46,500 in 31 theaters (+6); PSA: $1,500 ; Cumulative: $320,200
This well-received documentary about the Chinese artist/dissident continues to show lackluster grosses.
What it means: Likely to struggle to get much further.
"The Queen of Versailles" (Magnolia) – Week 5
$190,000 in 77 theaters (-12); PSA: $2,468; Cumulative: $1,228,000
Small falloff in theaters with the PSA going up, so this perfectly timed super-rich documentary continues to climb to a likely $2 million + gross.
What it means: Good word of mouth is propelling the consistent gross.
"The Imposter" (Indomina) – Week 6
$82,641 in 19 theaters (+6); PSA: $4,350 ; Cumulative: $272,255
A sign of very good word of mouth this week is the PSA up a third with more theaters being added.
What it means: Though this did not have the same level of anticipation as some of the other recent documentaries, this film is going to outgross several of them as it holds on much better.
"Farewell My Queen" (Cohen Media) – Week 6
$100,000 in 60 theaters (+2); PSA: $1,667; Cumulative: $969,000
Though there isn't a lot of competition among current subtitled films, this French period drama is not taking in much at this point.
What it means: It will easily pass $1 million, but still fall short of what its initial grosses indicated.
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" (Fox Searchlight) – Week 8
$555,000 in 236 theaters (-50); PSA: $2,353; Cumulative: $8,103,000
Still grossing passably in its later weeks, this has maximized its audience.
What it means: This has grossed less than it likely would have as a year-end film (and possibly lessened its awards presence) but Fox Searchlight also spent much less in a less competitive time frame than they would have later on. On a dollars and cents level, for an unconventional specialized film, this is a real success.
"To Rome With Love" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 9
$252,373 in 160 theaters (-104); PSA: $1,577; Cumulative: $15,562,045
End of the run time, but the stragglers keep it going, though not remotely at the pace of "Midnight in Paris."
What it means: Woody Allen's actual base is small; "Midnight in Paris" broke out to a broader audience.
"Intouchables" (Weinstein) – Week 13
$375,000 in 194 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $1,933; Cumulative: $9,893,000
The most steadily-grossing specialized film of the year is unchanged from last week, and might stay similar for a while.
What it means: The success of this makes a strong case for the French to submit this as their Oscar Foreign Language film (It opened in November 2011, within the eligibility frame) over Sony Classics' provocative "Rust and Bone," which was overlooked for Cannes prizes and was not booked at the New York Film Festival.
"Moonrise Kingdom" (Focus) – Week 13
$493,997 in 282 theaters (-165); PSA: $1,752; Cumulative: $42,940,000
Another film that just won't quit.
What it means: It wasn't just the critics – audiences responded to this strongly as well.
"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (Fox Searchlight) – Week 16
$104,000 in 128 theaters (-56); PSA: $813; Cumulative: $45,586,000
Ditto (with audiences at least).
What it means: Finally nearing checkout time after a prolonged stay.