This is not looking like a strong holiday season for the specialty players.
On this mid-December weekend just one new specialty opener is even reporting grosses (Music Box's "Any Day Now"). That's because the pre-Christmas time frame isn't the preferred opening choice for major limited releases — "Carnage" was the only one last year, "Rabbit Hole" in 2010. The other new films– including Lionsgate's one-week awards qualifying run of "Stand Up Guys"– aren't reporting numbers, while IFC's "Save the Date" (out of Sundance) and MPI's "Yelling to the Sky" (from Berlin) went straight to Video on Demand, indicating very limited theatrical play.
While several films are performing adequately in various stages of expansion and wider playoff, the lay of the land for core art houses this holiday season is not as strong as last year. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" was a far stronger performer than anything in this year's mix; "The Artist" was poised to expand for a successful long-term run (it did much better at specialized theaters than outlying, with a solid Christmas performance), and "The Descendants" was still solid. Those art houses that have access to the top studio product aimed at adults should thrive. But thoses dependent on specialized distributors could see a dip this year.
"Silver Linings Playbook," still in more limited release, is the strongest of the bunch. More on that film, which reached the Top Ten this week, is in our studio box office report. But because of Weinsteins' late-changing release plan — they originally scheduled a wide Thanksgiving release — it is playing at fewer key specialized theaters than these other films.
(An update on some films not reporting this weekend: Magnolia's "A Royal Affair" was approaching $500,000 by the end of last week, continuing its modest but steady run. IFC's "Central Park Five" (also on video on demand) was at $137,000, and EOne's "A Late Quartet" had passed the $1 million mark.)
"Any Day Now" (Music Box) – Metacritic score: 60; Festivals include: Tribeca 12, Outfest 12, Chicago 12
$41,000 in 16 theaters; Per screen average: $2,563
Travis Fine's drama of a 1970s gay couple's struggle to adopt a disabled child features a lead performance by Alan Cummings that has received some long-shot best actor Oscar buzz. Bolstered by winning the audience prize at its Tribeca Fest premiere, then receiving significant film festival exposure in major cities since, it opened in nine cities. It was the top gross this weekend at several of its theaters, but this is not a strong gross overall.
Gay-themed films continue to not only struggle with their core, but in crossing over to wider audiences. Music Box released the more acclaimed "Keep the Lights On" three months ago, and it only reached around $250,000 in total gross. This opened below that film's modest if decent totals ($55,000 in 5 theaters on a post-Labor Day weekend).
What comes next: Music Box expects to place this in more markets, many after the holidays. But the initial results aren't going to encourage much more than what is already set unfortunately.
"Hyde Park on Hudson" (Focus) – Week 2
$297,400 in 36 theaters (+32); PSA: $8,261; Cumulative: $409,000
Reviews continue to be an issue here – the Metacritic score is at a mediocre 57 – but despite that (and with the help of two strong reviews in Chicago and Philadelphia) the film opened decently enough to suggest real interest. Exact comparisons from last year's limited run expansions are inexact due to fewer theaters in the range from 16 to 51. But a reasonable analysis would put this behind "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and "The Artist" — although not that far behind the latter, which took a long time to really establish itself– about the same as "Shame" and ahead of "A Dangerous Method." "Shame" ended up around $4 milliion, and had some award hype, much like "Hyde Park" (Bill Murray landed a Golden Globe lead actor nomination), but was limited somewhat by its NC-17 rating.
Significantly, the PSA is only slightly lower than "Rust and Bone," despite playing at six times as many theaters.
There's more competition this year from more holdover specialized films and wider release films in the market that are attracting the "Hyde Park" audience. That there are fewer competitive new limited release films going nationwide in the next few weeks (expansion of "Rust and Bone," openings of "The Impossible" and "Promised Land") will help its chances of gaining further traction, more so when it opens in markets where those films might not yet reach during the holidays.
What comes next: Considering the lukewarm (at best) reaction to its fest premieres, and mixed reviews since, these figures are at the high end of expectations, and a tribute to the interest in period historical drama, Bill Murray and Focus' marketing acumen. With the normal holiday boost in grosses, positive word of mouth will make this a viable film over the next few weeks at least.
"Hitchcock" (Fox Searchlight) – Week 4
$1,085,000 in 561 theaters (+380); PSA: $1,934; Cumulative: $3,049,000
Valiantly moving forward against the headwinds of smaller potential audiences, major competition and mixed reviews, "Hitchcock" received a welcome boost from SAG and Globes nominations for Helen Mirren as it tripled its theater count. The PSA though is not strong – it pales compared to other early wider releases of other 2012 successes such as "Moonrise Kingdom," "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" or the recent lesser but still better performing "Anna Karenina."
What comes next: The next few weeks will show if, as Searchlight hopes, audience response is better than critics. That it has managed to do this well so far suggests a real chance this will happen, and they still can get this up to a decent level for a specialized film, if not one that truly crosses over.
"Rust and Bone" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 4
$56,040 in 6 theaters (+2); PSA: $9,340; Cumulative: $208,000
Coming off of hoped-for SAG and Globe best actress nominations for Marion Cotillard, this French romantic drama continues its very narrow release in its fourth week, with steady but still not spectacular results. This is about hanging in for the long run. With ongoing awards attention, including a hoped-for Oscar nomination for Cotillard, these grosses, though not particularly strong, indicate enough viewing to suggest that this could be one of the best foreign language releases of the year. The new openings in Montreal — which should be a key city for this — raised the PSA to a higher level than it would have had otherwise.
What comes next: Multiple big cities open next Friday in further limited release, with more down the road, which remains a wise strategy. Trust SPC though, as always, to maximize this, even if its moves more slowly than other recently released films.
"Anna Karenina" (Focus) – Week 5
$998,000 in 409 theaters (-13); PSA: $2,440; Cumulative: $8,365,000
This Keira Knightley/Joe Wright film fell about 35% off last weekend's gross, which is a reasonable performance at this stage. But it may not be is enough to provide momentum for holding at many of these theaters with so many new films upcoming, particularly at many theaters playing wide-release studio films. That's a pity because the performance has been good enough to anticipate an improvement during the holiday weeks. The failure for Knightley to get any SAG or Globe nomination didn't help.
What comes next: Focus is a strong enough distributor year-round to keep this in play, and because of that, the gross has a chance still to rise considerably. And with only two Oscar best actress slots really secure, that could be important in keeping Knightley in the awards mix.
Other grosses (weekend & cumulative)
"The Sessions" (Fox Searchlight) – $148,000; $5,209,000
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" (Lionsgate) – $78,000; $16,988,000
"Chasing Ice" (Submarine Deluxe) – $56,500; $603,000
"Holy Motors" (Indomina) – $25,200; $445,300
"Searching for Sugar Man" (Sony Pictures Classics) – $21,500; $2,930,000
"Burn: One Week on the Front Line" (Area 23) – $12,760; $105,000