Arthouse Audit: ‘Sleepwalk with Me’ Is Hit, Three Sundance Entries Struggle to Find Audiences

Arthouse Audit: 'Sleepwalk with Me' Is Hit, Three Sundance Entries Struggle to Find Audiences

Even on a holiday weekend, the holdover specialized films–especially "Sleepwalk with Me"– continued to prosper as the new ones opened badly . They boasted the lowest opening per-screen averages since the low-performing post-Christmas period. The three best new openers earned significant reaction at their Sundance premieres, but so far have failed to achieve the same level of ticket-buyer response.

The big story though is the second week of Mike Birbiglia's huge NY-opener "Sleepwalk With Me." A quick expansion yielded decent results even as it became available on Video on Demand, certain to be studied by the industry as a possible model.

Because of the four-day holiday, several films ( including "Compliance,"  "The Queen of Versailles," "Compliance" and "The Imposter") have not yet reported grosses.


"For a Good Time, Call…"  (Focus) – Metacritic score: 58; Festivals include: Sundance 12

$141,361 in 23 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $6,146

Less than helpful reviews have initially trumped strong advance audience responses (starting at Park City) for this very funny, raunchy female-based comedy not unlike "Bridesmaids." Opening wider than normal affected the PSA, but even taking this into account, this at best an average gross — so far.

Acquired reportedly for something over $2 million for worldwide rights, this is the latest in a string of NY or LA based offbeat female-driven romcoms after the breakout success of "(500) Days of Summer." As with "Ruby Sparks" and "Celeste and Jesse Forever," the film was written by its lead actress (Lauren Miller). None of these has yet showed close to the success of last summer's breakout comedy hit, and even the best of them has fallen below several successful specialized releases during a very successful summer. So, combined with the less than stellar reviews, the initial modest response isn't a huge surprise.

What it means: The key is word of mouth. This opened to enough audience sampling that, with little competition over the next two weeks for audience attention, its real humor and genuinely surprising elements could yet develop a decent audience.

"The Ambassador" (Drafthouse) – Metacritic score: 69; Festivals include: IFDA 11, Sundance 12, New Directors/New Films 12; also available on Video on Demand

$11,900 in 4 theaters; PSA: $2,975

Mads Brugger's African-set diplomatic documentary (almost a performance art piece a la Sacha Baron Cohen) got favorable reviews after its successful Sundance premiere, but ended up with a weak total gross. This was a tough film to market, despite getting solid press attention. Its subject was not an attention-grabber and its director/"star" (the director) was unknown.

What it means: Though this is set for one week bookings in other major cities, this will primarily be a VOD-viewed film.

"Little Birds" (Millennium) – Metacritic score: 69; Festivals include: Sundance 11, Tribeca 11

$5,400 in 1 theater; PSA: $5,400

This Sundance 2011 Juno Temple/Kate Bosworth-starrer opened Wednesday at NY's Angelika Theater to a weak gross, despite decent reviews. This release comes 20 months after its premiere, delayed in no small part because director Elgin James had to serve a federal prison stint for a years-earlier assault charge from when he was involved with gang-related activities.

What it means: It looks like tough going ahead for this road drama.

"The Bullet Vanishes" (China Lion) – No Metacritic score

$40,000 in 15 theaters; PSA: $2,587

This 1930s Shanghai-set murder mystery/ghost story, a commercial hit in China, received a typical China Lion release in multiplexes adjacent to its likely audience, to mixed results at best.

What it means: These releases always bring more attention to the later DVD releases of these films, which always find an audience. Like similarly released Indian and Korean films, this opened close to its home country date in order to minimize piracy.

"Flying Swords of Dragon Gate" (Indomina) – Metacritic score: 60; Festivals include: Berlin 2012

$90,000 in 18 theaters; PSA: $1,800

Hong Kong master action director Tsui Hark's film was a 2011 release in Asia, and now is getting mainly non-specialized theater play, with strong backing from AMC Theater's Independent program.

What it means: Most likely a single-week film for most of its runs.

"The Day" (Anchor Bay) – No Metacritic score; Festivals include: Toronto 2011, Sarasota 2012

$10,800 in 12 theaters; PSA: $900

This sci-fi thriller premiered as a midnight film at last year's Toronto, where it was picked up by wrestling entertainment's WWE (which has acquired a number of action films) and then partnered with Anchor Bay. The result is a nothing gross, but the marketing will elevated its later availability.

What it means: "The Raid: Redemption" remains the sole Toronto Midnight film last year to gain any traction.


"Sleepwalk With Me" (IFC) – Week 2; also available on Video on Demand

$331,000 in 29 theaters (+28); PSA: $11,414; Cumulative: $421,000

After a staggering first week gross in NY of $90,000, this widened out considerably this week, including, unprecedented for an initial hit at this level, video on demand availability. The PSA because of this looks better than otherwise (it would be a decent performance under ordinary conditions, but less than what its opening would have predicted with no). And it is only slightly less than "Samsara," with three times as many theaters in its second week, not competing with VOD.

What it means: As video on demand increases in importance, the performance of this film will be scrutinized as a model that venue early on even for major grossing limited releases. Social media and a built in fan base for the comedian and This American Life's Ira Glass also played a role. So this could be one of the most significant case studies of the year, and will be on the minds of distributors chasing after films at Toronto this week.

"Samsara" (Oscilloscope) – Week 2

$113,000 in 9 theaters (+7); PSA: $12,556; Cumulative: $232,000

Ron Fricke's spectacular photographic essay had a decent second week expansion, mostly in a wider than normal LA opening which went beyond the normal Arclight/Landmark limited opening.

What it means: With most of the country left to open, this is a strong enough start to look like it could be Oscilloscope's biggest success yet.

"Robot and Frank" (IDP) – Week 3

$691,000 in 144 theaters (+98); PSA: $4,799; Cumulative: $1,139,000

Quickly accumulating gross with a rapid expansion, this quirky Frank Langella-starrer keeps getting a good reaction, already passing the $1 million mark.

What it means: It will depend on how much advertising expense is warranted, but this has the potential to end up in the $5-10 million range achieved by "Bernie," "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" and "Friends With Kids" earlier this year, playing to similar older audiences.

"Chicken With Plums" (Sony Picture Classics) – Week 3

$10,800 in 4 theaters (+1); PSA: $3,600; Cumulative: $99,700

LA opened this week, continuing the unimpressive performance of this French animated film.

What it means: This has already grossed more than some specialized Oscar Animated Features nominees have prior to the awards.

"Side by Side" (Tribeca) – Week 3; also available on Video on Demand

$12,745 in 4 theaters (+3); PSA: $3,186; Cumulative: $25,250

This inside look at film formats doc add NY and Seattle to its previous LA and Boston dates, for a modest gross held down in part by very limited capacity at one of its NY theaters.

What it means: Doc Oscar nominations for film-related themes are very rare, but the prominence of publicity for this plus the involvement of several key industry figures can't hurt. Theatrically, the VOD availablity will limit its playoff.

"Celeste and Jesse Forever" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 5

$698,000 in 586 theaters (+471); PSA: $1,191; Cumulative: $1,854,000

A strong total gross but a weak PSA for this LA friendly-divorce comedy that has had an uneven response so far. It made sense based on some of the early reactions for SPC to expand this wide (this is a high theater count for them – they are traditionally smart about managing their depth in the market), but the results overall don't suggest it has a lot of life left beyond this.

What it means: Still, a gross of over $3 million likely, this will easily surpass "Ruby Sparks" and several other similar urban romances released this season.

"Searching for Sugar Man" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 6

$140,000 in 32 theaters (+3); PSA: $4.375; Cumulative: $693,000

This is turning out to be a significant story. With only three new theaters, the gross for the weekend is up 15%, a clear sign that expected word of mouth is kicking in and then some for this musician-based documentary. SPC has appropriately taken this out slowly, and their patience is paying off.

What it means: This could still be in the early stages of what it will ultimately gross even though it has been out for six weeks already.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" (Fox Searchlight) – Week 10

$510,000 in 267 theaters (+55); PSA: $1,910; Cumulative: $9,600,000

After looking like this was tapering off recently, "Beasts" added theaters this weekend with the total gross going up 10%. That is very impressive this late in the run.

What it means: $10 million is right around the corner, and this could yet see $12 million or higher.

"Moonrise Kingdom" (Focus) – Week 15

$333,000 in 197 theaters (-135); PSA: $1,690; Cumulative: $44,185,000

A Memorial Day opening, still grossing well on Labor Day – its total gross is below what "Midnight in Paris" had at this point last year, but its PSA is about the same.

What it means: It keeps getting closer to the biggest specialized release of the year – "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" – but won't quite overtake it. No matter, this is a big time success.

"Intouchables" (Weinstein) – Week 15

$376,000 in 172 theaters (-22); PSA: $2,186; Cumulative: $11,013,000

Finally declining in theaters have multiple weeks at 194, this steadily increases its margin over "A Separation" as the biggest subtitled film of the year.

What it means: All this has come without ever having more than 200 theaters, almost unprecedented for a Weinstein film (which means the marketing costs were far less than normal.)

"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (Fox Searchlight) – Week 18

$104,000 in 105 theaters (-7); PSA: $990; Cumulative: $45,932,000

The gross actually went up this weekend despite fewer theaters.

What it means: They love it, they really love it.

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