Late year releases, many expanding, dominate the specialized market this weekend. By far the biggest, "Zero Dark Thirty," is mainly playing in upscale multiplexes, providing fierce competition to such already strong wide releases as "Django Unchained" and "Les Miserables."
"Dark Thirty"'s performance was the standout. A range of other films are performing adequately, with many awaiting Thursday's Oscar nominations to determine their future expansion. Among more limited films, "56 Up" opened quite strong in New York, and "Amour"'s numbers went up in its three theaters.
"56 Up" (1st Run Features) – Metacritic Score: 80; Festivals include: Hamptons 2012
$20,500 in 1 theater; PSA (per screen average): $20,500
The eighth edition of Michael Apted's life-long (literally) British TV documentary tracing a group of ordinary English people has been a theatrical perennial every seven years since "28 Up" first hit U.S. theaters in the 1980s (at that point distributed by the Samuel Goldwyn Company). The same kids first seen 49 years ago in the U.K. have been filmed every seven years, then broadcast in Britain, with the last five episodes released to theaters in the U.S. This time around, it looks as strong as ever, with one of the best openings for a documentary in New York in some time.
Playing at the IFC Center, this gross seems stronger than "49 Up," which was released in a different pattern — 21 theaters did $53,000, for a PSA of around $2,500 spread around the country. "42 Up" opened in five for a PSA of $11,600. Both films ended up at only $300,000 or less, so this initial gross doesn't mean this will be a breakout success.
But the series — buttressed by consistent DVD and cable availability over the years — has developed a loyal following, which this initial opening suggests is as strong as ever.
What comes next: More theatrical runs, including Los Angeles' Nuart in a couple weeks, supplemented by heavy home viewing (and new fans catching up with previous episodes.)
"Zero Dark Thirty" (Sony) – Week 3
$2,750,000 in 60 theaters (+55); PSA: $45,833; Cumulative: $3,417,000
A substantial expansion — limited runs in new cities and additional runs in already-opened New York and Los Angeles — proved bountiful for Sony in advance of the 2,400 theater wide break next weekend. Showing that the appeal ranges beyond the awards and review-bolstered initial opening (sometimes, like "The Master," not a guarantee of future success), these grosses suggest a bright future for Kathryn Bigelow's Bin Laden-hunt film.
What is critical is that these new runs come after the controversy that has surrounded the film, with a drumbeat of attacks (with various motivations, including political) keeping the film in the news. The net effect so far doesn't seem negative. Playing mainly at top-level multiplexes (Sony for the most part is not going to core specialized theaters), it ranked #1 at 29 of its 30 theaters, and 51 of its 60 overall, despite the strength of several other films in the market this weekend.
Some comparisons "Midnight in Paris" in its expansion to 58 theaters had a PSA of $33,000. "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" at 178 theaters (three times as many) had the same $2.7 million gross. Bigelow's own "The Hurt Locker" also went to 60 theaters, for a PSA a quarter as good: $10,700.
None of these films had what "Zero Dark Thirty" has for its next phase — a wide release, backed by a nationwide TV campaign, timed to follow immediately after the Oscar nominations. This weekend's great performance doesn't indicate for certain what this will do, but at a minimum it is almost certain to outgross all of the above films ("Midnight in Paris" fared the best at $57 million), and likely by some margin.
What comes next: This has all been strategized to maximize a tricky film for mass, rather than just specialized, audiences. So far it seems to be a major success. But it will take next weekend (and beyond) to tell where this is ultimately headed. A #1 showing next weekend (with major competition) could put this back into the middle of the Best Picture race and more.
"The Impossible" (Lionsgate) – Week 3
$2,760,000 in 572 theaters (+557); PSA: $4,825; Cumulative: $3,417,000
The gross for this film is $10,000 better than "Zero Dark Thirty"– in almost ten times as many theaters. But this says more about the latter's film's performance (and the high quality of its more limited theaters) than "The Impossible."
Opening with far less fanfare and still no major TV campaign, the PSA is OK for this number of runs — as long as it can be sustained as it goes wider. All this is timed to Naomi Watts' expected best actress nomination on Thursday (possibly the sole one for the film).
That this didn't expand nearly as wide as "Promised Land" (which ended up with a so-so tenth place gross for the weekend) comes from Lionsgate knowing it has an Oscar push ahead and suggests confidence in upbeat word of mouth (the first two limited weeks' steady performance gave evidence of that). But it isn't clear at the moment how much wider an expansion is warranted.
What comes next: Could Naomi Watts become a serious contender to win? It's not out of the question. The perception of her chances could be affected by its ongoing performance.
"Amour" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 3
$63,000 in 3 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $21,700; Cumulative: $315,000
The estimated gross is up slightly from last weekend at a point where holding steady after a holiday weekend is very unusual and strong sign of positive audience response. Though these grosses (two theaters in New York and Los Angeles) are very good rather than spectacular, they do represent one of the best performances — particularly for a third week — for a subtitled film in some time.
SPC is going slowly with this, even for them. The timing, apart from appreciating the trickiness of the film's appeal with its older characters in a chamber drama-like setting, clearly is meant to play off not only its awards (best film and actress Saturday from the National Society of Film Critics follows other groups including the Los Angeles Film Critics) but to build on its hoped-for Oscar recognition this week. They are taking a gamble to some extent — from one, as the film is sure to land a foreign language slot — to as many as four (picture, actress, director, and screenplay). SPC knows how to handle their Oscar contenders. This is the first subtitled film in years, despite their dominance in the Foreign Language category, that they have pushed so extensively in other categories.
What comes next: Most major cities will be opening over the next few weeks during the nominating period, but not Friday, so curious Oscar followers who want to catch up on the top nominees may have to wait some more. But SPC hopes that one win or more will result, and that apart from that the film's appeal to core art house audiences will keep interest up at the same time. So far, the results suggest the strategy is working.
"Not Fade Away" (Paramount) – Week 3
$285,000 in 565 theaters (+546); PSA: $496; Cumulative: $427,000
David Chase's 1960s rock story is total disaster in its widening, if possibily doing even worse than in its limited runs.
What comes next: Nothing. It's a fizzle.
"Hyde Park on Hudson" (Focus) – Week 5
$1,044,000 in 222 (+138); PSA: $4,703; Cumulative: $3,217,000
A big (and possibly ultimate) expansion for this Bill Murray/FDR comedy-drama to continued modest but adequate results. These are good enough to get them through next weekend (when its star is up for a Golden Globe), even if the film has overall been a disappointment.
What comes next: At one point, this was thought (and positioned) to be a major Oscar contender for Focus, who usually is represented in the top categories. They did git the film played off to maximum potential over the holidays.
"Rust and Bone" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 7
$179,000 in 39 theatres (+13); PSA: $4,590; Cumulative: $881,000
Adding some additional cities, this continues to gross at average but steady levels. For a foreign language film these days, these are decent enough compared to most other releases over the last few months, and the total is already approaching the $1 million mark. Star Marion Cotillard's possible best actress nomination would help enhance this further, and is why after seven weeks the film has yet to open across much of the country.
What comes next: Hope for the Oscar nod and move deeper into the market, with all the additional costs that can entail. SPC is always smart about these things, and with Cotillard unlikely to win, this likely will never be a wide release.
Other films (grosses in millions and totals)
"Anna Karenina" (Focus) – Week 8: $357,000/$11,525,000
"Hitchcock" (Fox Searchlight) – Week 6; $146,000/$5,843,000
"Chasing Ice" (Submarine Deluxe) – Week 9: $39,700/$855,000
"Searching for Sugar Man" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 26: $30,700/$3,063,000
"Holy Motors" (Indomina) – Week 9: $26,000/$561,000
"West of Memphis" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 2: $8,400/$40,000