With the Top Ten continuing to skew to adult-oriented, critically acclaimed films, specialized theaters playing more limited releases continue to scuffle, often at levels below previous holiday seasons. "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Amour" stood out again in their two-city platforms, although both declined in their second weeks, while multi-city openings of "Promised Land" were modest at best. The increase for "The Impossible" in its second stanza would be more promising if it weren't quickly headed for wide release.
In a year with many stellar specialized films – "A Separation," "Moonrise Kingdom," "The Intouchables," "The Beasts of the Southern Wild" among those that opened limited and didn't go to immediate broader breaks – the end of the year has been disappointing, with later releases not rising to expectations at theaters. Many of the core specialized houses are able to play some of the biggest hits playing on over 2000 screens, but without them, this has not been a bountiful season for the specialized community.
"Promised Land" (Focus) – Metacritic score: 53
$190,000 in 25 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $7,600
Positioned as a year-end awards contender – understandable for a film directed by Gus Van Sant and co-starring and written by co-stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski – the far-less-than stellar reviews have removed that as a possibility. Still, despite enormous competition for adult moviegoers, this at least got sampled in its initial week in several cities.
It's a big falloff though for Van Sant. "Milk" opened Thanksgiving weekend 2008, and has a PSA of $40,000 in 35 theaters, vastly more impressive on its way to a $31 million domestic total. And of course it isn't remotely in the league of Damon's previous breakout film with the director, "Good Will Hunting."
What comes next: Focus expands this quickly to 1,500 theaters next weekend, where it will face off against "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D" and the wide release of "The Impossible," as well as but the powerhouse Christmas line-up still going strong.
"West of Memphis" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Metacritic score: 79; Festivals include: Sundance 2012, New York 2012
$13,900 in 5 theaters; PSA: $2,780
Acclaimed out of Sundance and thought to be a contender for the Best Feature Documentary Oscar, this failed to make the list of 15 semi-finalists and also hasn't won any other major awards despite superb reviews. But the biggest problem for this film is that, though it adds new information and perspective, its topic — the case of the West Memphis 3 youths wrongly convicted of a heinous murder in the 1990s — has already been covered in the three "Paradise Lost" films, including last year's Oscar nominee.
What comes next: Without the chance of any Oscar attention and weak grosses, this will not get much further attention beyond dates already set, although Sony Pictures Classics will fight hard.
"Tabu" (Adopt) – Metacritic score: 77; Festivals include: Berlin 2012, New York 2012
$5,300 in 1 theater; PSA: $5,300
Miguel Gomes' Portuguese film has scored high on year-end compilation of more esoteric critics' 10-best lists (no lower than 11th place for the Indiewire, Village Voice and Cahiers du Cinema surveys). It qualified in the U.S. with this exclusive post-Christmas opening at New York's Film Forum. Not performing anything close to what "Amour" is doing at the same venue, though with vastly less advertising or advance interest, it is an average but credible predictable for this hard-core art film.
What comes next: Going forward this will be appropriately playing in a lot of museum, cinematheque and similar locations rather than going the more conventional big city core art house route.
"Zero Dark 30" (Sony) – Week 2
$315,000 in 5 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $63,000; Cumulative: $1,368,000
Still the standout among the limited releases, with no close second, this fell 23% from its strong opening weekend. This might seem significant, but the details explain most of the fall. Playing in five strong theaters in New York/Los Angeles, it lost both screens and capacity on remaining screens with the strong Christmas day releases demanding even more attention (and like "ZD30" also exceeding 150 minutes in length.) The result? A lot of sellouts without anywhere to put excess capacity, unlike last weekend.
Most big year-end limited releases don't open until Christmas Day or later, so it is difficult to make any exact comparisons. "There Will Be Blood" opened the weekend after Christmas in 2007, one theater each in New York and Los Angeles, with a $190,000 total. But the exclusivity as well as being opening weekend aided those figures, as well as not having films similar to "The Hobbit," "Les Miserables" and "Django Unchained" competing for seats at most of these theaters.
This does reinforce though that the jury is not only out on the ultimate performance, it has barely time to deliberate.
What comes next: Sony expands this to more cities (limited) next Friday in advance of its Oscar nomination annoucement-timed wide release on Jan. 11.
"The Impossible" (Lionsgate) – Week 2
$185,000 in 15 screens (unchanged); PSA: $12,333; Cumulative: $485,000
In advance of its national release next Friday, this English-language Spanish film about survivors of the Thailand tsunami climbed decently after its more modest opening last weekend. The PSA is a bit below what "Crazy Heart" managed in 12 theaters in 2009 post-Christmas. That film — which ultimately won Jeff Bridges an Oscar, as Lionsgate hopes will happen with Naomi Watts — had stronger reviews, but also similarly had wider appeal than a normal limited release. With his win, that film did about $40 million, although with a much longer delay until its widest break (which was hundreds of theaters fewer than the 1,500 planned for "The Impossible" right away).
At this point, Lionsgate has achieved what was most important — positioning Watts just below the top contenders for a best actress nomination. This is a clear case when timing of release, and then getting sufficient positive attention, should put its leading lady ahead of others not so prominent at the moment.
What comes next: This will battle with "Promised Land" for wider audiences next weekend (along with numerous other films to be caught up with by adult audiences), but the head-to-head results this weekend suggests it starts from the stronger position.
"Amour" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 2
$60,000 in 3 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $20,000; Cumulative: $217,800
The PSA is about even with "A Separation" exactly a year ago at the same three theaters, although "Amour" is in its second week, while the former was just opening. "Amour" is down 12%, without any significant intervening factors affecting capacity or screen totals, even with the elevated post-holiday weekend. It remains near the top end of foreign language films this year, even more impressive for being, though widely-acclaimed, a more rigorous and high-end art film in terms of story and treatment. These are impressive numbers, but what they indicate is that whatever Oscar attention in gets (which could include nominations for picture, actress, director and screenplay) will help extend this beyond a core audience that director Michael Haneke has gotten in the past.
What comes next: The next expansion, and then only to a small number of cities, comes on January 11, tied into the nomination announcements.
"Barbara" (Adopt) – Week 2
$71,000 in 15 theaters (+1); PSA: $4,733; Cumulative: $194,000
This highly-praised German Communist-period drama continues its modest performance in the crowded marketplace, doing around the same business as its opening weekend.
What comes next: This will need continued good word of mouth to keep up with all the strong competition. more so now that it won't be an Oscar contender after surprisingly failing to make the short list.
"Not Fade Away" (Paramount) – Week 2
$56,000 in 19 theaters (+16); PSA: $2,947; Cumulative: $97,000
David Chase's period rock story quickly added theaters after its nothing opening last week, and if anything performed worse.
What comes next: Worries about losing current top screens without a lot of reason to expand much more.
"Hyde Park on Hudson" (Focus) – Week 4
$429,000 in 84 theaters (-2); PSA: $5,107; Cumulative: $1,731,000
Christmas week business boosted the gross 10% despite two fewer theaters, a steady performance for this film that initially had much higher hopes.
What comes next: The holidays are the high point for this, but grosses are good enough to keep this around for a few more weeks.
"Rust and Bone" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 6
$121,000 in 26 theaters (-1); PSA: $4,654; Cumulative: $594,000
Looking at the comparison with the just OK "Hyde Park" above tells the story – a lower PSA despite being on only a third as many theaters. This continues to perform below initial expectations.
What comes next: Marion Cotillard's expected (but not certain) best actress nomination can't come soon enough, with a further expansion (this still hasn't arrived in many major cities) still ahead.
Long running films (weekend gross & total)
"Anna Karenina" (Focus/Week 7) – $527,000/$10,709,000
"Hitchcock" (Fox Searchlight/Week 6) – $400,000/$5,007,000
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" (Lionsgate/Week 15) – $88,000/$17,306,000
"Chasing Ice" (Submarine Deluxe/Week 8) – $48,000/$780,000