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Arthouse Audit: Off To the Races With ‘The Master’ & ‘Arbitrage’

Arthouse Audit: Off To the Races With 'The Master' & 'Arbitrage'

Not only did "The Master" (limited) and "Arbitrage" (wider and also available outside of theater viewing) do great business this weekend, they did so at what is usually a slow time of the year. The same weekend in 2011 saw "My Weekend With Margueritte" and "Restless" open to modest at best results. After an unusually strong specialized summer, not only does the fall start off with a bang, but earlier than usual.

These two films stand apart from uneven performances for many others, but several — "Sleepwalk With Me," "Samsara," "Robot and Frank" and "Searching for Sugar Man"–continue to show strength.

Opening

"The Master" (Weinstein) – Metacritic score: 90; Festivals include: Venice 2012, Toronto 2012

$729,745 in 5 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $145,949

A great opening with the best reviews for an Oscar contender since "The Social Network," this sets a new record (non-inflation adjusted) for a specialized platform release ever. What makes these numbers even more impressive is that this PSA comes from five, rather than the more usual four (as was the case for "The Moonrise Kingdom"), two of which were within a mile of each other in Greenwich Village, which is rare and could have dissipated the audience.

After premiering within the last two weeks in Venice and Toronto, and following the recent successful trend of opening major fest films right after ("The Tree of Life," "Midnight in Paris," Moonrise Kingdom" were after Cannes) rather than waiting until year's end, this presents a risk/reward situation for the Weinstein Co. The positive side is justified by these grosses, and with a fairly clear field with few other potential awards contenders/review-driven films opening right away, this has a chance to soar with less competition than it would have later. And Weinstein will have no trouble getting any screen (and capacity) it wants in theaters over the near-term, always a factor in grosses.

The risk side is that even with the great reviews, "The Master" will not have at this point the benefit of critics awards, ten best lists and early nominations that parallel a late-year Oscar release, a game-plan that Weinstein plays with virtuousity and uses to build both momentum and gross. TWC also has other fish to fry over the next few months. This is not their only Oscar contender this year (by a long shot), but it seems likely to score big overall and especially in top categories. But winning often is connected with timing, including where a film is in its theatrical release. Also there's no guarantee how this brainy critics' fave will play in wider release.

Weinstein plans to quickly expand this to multiple new markets with a wider than usual second week to capitalize on the huge opening reaction. But they will need to keep this visible theatrically into next year (including planned ad support three months from now during the holidays). So this early date should not be seen as an indication that they have anything less than major expectations for it come awards time.

Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" opened on two screens post-Christmas weekend in 2007 for a great PSA of $95,000 (likely limited by intense competition in theaters), then with strong Oscar support and major ad costs proving costly, ended up grossing $40 million, which in turn was a factor in Paramount deciding to back away from its stand-alone specialized unit. Whether this outgrosses "Blood" remains to be seen. "Moonrise Kingdom," which also scored with a younger specialized audience (which seems to have been the case this weekend for "The Master") as well as the usual older sector, has grossed $45 million so far, without any benefit from awards. "The Master" is a complex and thought-provoking film which potentially will have some polarized reaction. But based on this start, an ultimate gross at above this level is a possibility.

What it means: This has been the year of record grosses in months outside the usual late-year arthouse timeframe, which will likelyincrease the number of major films in the future that open year-round.

"Arbitrage" (Roadside Attractions) – Metacritic score: 73; Festivals include: Sundance 2012, Phoenix 2012, San Sebastian 2012; also available on Video on Demand, ITunes

 $2,069,770 in 197 theaters; PSA: $10,505

The great numbers for "The Master" overshadow the equally important news from the grosses of "Arbitrage." This Sundance-premiered crime story revolving around a Wall Street mogul (Richard Gere) did very solid numbers in an elevated limited release (going nationwide in major cities, most with multiple runs, but still under 200 total). What is significant about these grosses is that the film simultaneously debuted on home viewing platforms, with no obvious damage to the theatrical returns.

Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions last year advanced the Video on Demand platform when it released "Margin Call" in October day and date in theaters and at home, with an ultimate theatrical gross of over $5 million (and a writing Oscar nod to boot). This is off to a much bigger start. The PSA from 197 theaters is better than "Margin Call" had in 56, and double what the earlier film had in its second with with 140 theaters – truly impressive and encouraging for further business.

But what makes this even more remarkable is the realities of getting VOD releases into theaters. Most independent theaters have dropped their resistance, but the major chains mostly refuse to play anything simultaneously available at home. (AMC, the second-largest chain, is playing "Arbitrage," as they did "Margin Call," under reported different-from-normal rental deals). Particularly at a time of the year when grosses are softer, and more so when theaters are underperforming as they have been for the last few weeks, not participating in what could be a $10 million-plus film only hurts these major chains.

What it means: Although the VOD play has been mainly limited to independent companies (as Weinstein now enters the field), the people watching this most carefully are likely the studios, who crave access to alternative venues either the same date as theatrical release or closer to their openings. That is what makes "Arbitrage" such a big deal — it advances the case that films, at least at this level, can still gross in theaters while they are also available at home.

"Liberal Arts" (IFC) – Metacritic score: 50; Festivals include: Sundance 2012, Dallas 2012, Seattle 2012, Provincetown 2012

$30,000 in 4 theaters; PSA: $7,500

Opening in NY/LA to mixed reviews, this Sundance competition film directed by and starring Josh Radnor ("How I Met Your Mother") sold out for some shows at its LA theaters. Compared to several other recent weeks' Sundance film openings, these aren't great numbers, but do justify IFC's planned rollout to at least 15 new markets starting next week.

What it means: In a week with two strong competitors opening, this still managed to get at least some initial interest even without anything like the review support the others commanded.

"Ten Years" (Anchor Bay) – Metacritic score: 62; Festivals include: Toronto 2011; also available on Video on Demand

$23,300 in 3 theaters; PSA: $7,767

Channing Tatum has been on a roll this year with "21 Jump Street" and "Magic Mike" as an actor and more. This high school reunion film was actually made before either, premiering at Toronto a year ago, and is just now opening while also available on VOD. It had three strong NY/LA theaters, but this is likely its highwater mark.

What it means: Most of the remaining viewing will be at home.

Expanding/continuing

"Keep the Lights On" (Music Box) – Week 2

$32,000 in 5 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $6,400

Opening in the Bay area while keeping the same theater count, this fell 42% this weekend off its OK start. Once again, another NY or LA relationship story is finding resistance in specialized theaters, in this case despite excellent reviews. Although its gay storyline still limits its appeal, its core audience is not turning out in large numbers either.

What it means: Music Box did its work in getting this film attention and placed in appropriate theaters, but so far hasn't found the audience this deserves. It however is set to open in most major cities in key theaters in upcoming weeks.

"Hello, I Must Be Going" (Oscilloscope) – Week 2

$9,480 in 2 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $4,740; Cumulative: $41,000

Despite acclaim for Melanie Lynskey's performance, this Sundance-premiered somewhat older woman/younger man drama dropped an unhealthy 60% this weekend.

What it means: This will not go much beyond exclusive art house runs, and then likely not for any length of time.

"Detropia"  (Loki) – Week 2

$42,390 in 5 theaters (+4); PSA: $8,478; Cumulative: $68,000

This detailed studied of the decline of Detroit scored a decent expansion in its second week adding new cities.

What it means: In a time when most successful docs are personality-driven, this more serious film goes against the grain. These early numbers suggest there is at least a small audience interested in more socially-relevant subjects at the moment.

"For a Good Time Call" (Focus) – Week 3

$271,319 in 107 theaters (+45); PSA: $2,535; Cumulative: $818,000

It's hardly great news, but the PSA dropped a modest 1/3rd this weekend despite the theater count doubling. That said, this remains a disappointing result, with specialized audiences showing more resistance to female-centric raunchy comedies than mass audiences did with "Bridesmaids."

What it means: This looks likely to fall short of the total gross of the already disappointing "Ruby Sparks" and other similar post-"(500) Days of Summer" films.

"Sleepwalk With Me" (IFC) – Week 4; also available on Video on Demand

$416,500 in 119 theaters (+45); PSA: $3,500; Cumulative: $1,334,000

While "Arbitrage" breaks new ground for concurrent VOD releases, "Sleepwalk With Me" continues to grow as well. With a more than a third increase in theaters, the PSA actually increased this weekend, a very strong showing for any film, even more for one than can be seen elsewhere.

What it means: IFC's decision to make this quickly available to VOD will of course limit the theatrical take, but the synergy of their decision seems to be working out quite well.

"Samsara" (Oscilloscope) – Week 4

$241,205 in 62 theaters (+37); PSA: $3,891; Cumulative: $827,000

More than doubling theaters, the PSA fell a normal amount, but this is still showing some strength as it hits more cities.

What it means: The key to this film's future will be playing steadily and possibly developing cult-film interest like "Baraka" and similar photo-essay/spiritual films.

"Robot and Frank" (IDP) – Week 5

$428,450 in 209 theaters (+7); PSA: $2,050; Cumulative: $2,623,000

A small drop in the PSA after a large one the previous week, meaning this Frank Langella-starring drama has stabilized at this level of run and is positioned to add a substantial amount more to its gross.

What it means: At this point, this doesn't seem to warrant a much wider release and the expense that goes with that. But it should end up ahead of most other late summer specialized releases, and then go on to much more attention when it leaves theaters.

"Chicken With Plums" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 5

$24,100 in 17 theaters (+12); PSA: $1,418; Cumulative: $144,100

Receiving the normal thorough expansion SPC always provides its film, this French animated film still is struggling to find any sort of audience.

What it means: Despite this, expect it to keep showing up for several more weeks.

"Celeste and Jesse Forever" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 7

$155,666 in 152 theaters (-289); PSA: $1,024; Cumulative: $2,913,000

Losing 2/3s of its theaters led to the PSA going up somewhat, but this remains an underperforming film considering how wide it has played.

What it means: Just more evidence of the struggles rom/coms are having in the specialized market.

"Searching for Sugar Man" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 8

$113,000 in 34 theaters (+1); PSA: $3,324; Cumulative: $2,913,000

Still very limited, still with nearly the same PSA as this quitely is turning into one of the most successful documentaries of the year.

What it means: This might play all fall and could easily surpass $5 million.

"The Imposter" (Indomina) – Week 10

$58,237 in 30 theaters (+3); PSA: $1,941; Cumulative: $676,000

Though without ever having any one standout week as it has expanded, this doc keeps performing slowly but steadily with effective but low-key marketing.

What it means: This could see $1 million in gross yet.

"The Beasts of the Southern Wild" (Fox Searchlight) – Week 12

$256,000 in 212 theaters (-57); PSA: $1,208; Cumulative: $10,673,000

The length of this run, and the number of theaters still playing, is as impressive as its total gross so far.

What it means: While "The Master" scores as the new kid on the Oscar block, "Beasts" continued presence and longevity is key to making sure it is remember a few months from now.

"To Rome With Love" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 13

$78,250 in 85 theaters (-12); PSA: $921; Cumulative: $16,440,000

At the end of its run, but it managed to play all summer.

What it means: Though not anything close to "Midnight in Paris," this has done well enough to consider Allen still a major draw, particularly worldwide (it has done $54 million total so far).

"Moonrise Kingdom" (Focus) – Week 17

$196,000 in 157 theaters (-43); PSA: $1,248; Cumulative: $44,925,000

Speaking of Oscar contenders helping themselves by sticking around….

What it means: Painfully close to equalling "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," but still looking like it will fall just short.

"Intouchables" (Weinstein) – Week 17

$263,000 in 180 theaters (-14); PSA: $1,461; Cumulative: $11,950,000

What is left to say? The Weinstein Company (and Miramax before) has rarely been the tortoise in any race, but that has been their role here, to great success.

What it means: This was never going to repeat its international success in the US – the subtitles and familiar storyline restricted its appeal. But being the biggest subtitled film of the year and longer, even more so when not being review-driven, is a significant achievement on its own.

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