Sony Pictures Classics is looking forward to a big Oscar night with foreign contenders "Amour" and "No" as well as two leading documentary entries, "Searching for Sugar Man" and "The Gatekeepers." The question is where the specialty box office goes after the awards. "No" and "The Gatekeepers" are both rolling out well in their initial stages, giving hope for success in further markets in upcoming weeks, whatever wins tonight. "Amour" is amassing less than spectacular numbers given its high profile.
An atypical independent release — in more mainstream than specialized theaters –and the sole standout among new films, Latino-targeted "Bless Me Ultima" had passable success in regional release.
Three Video on Demand releases also reported grosses for their limited openings: Tribeca Film's "Red Flag" and "Rubberneck" — both directed by Alex Karpovsky, both premiered at big city 2012 festivals (Tribeca and Los Angeles respectively) and both grossed just over $2,000 at a single New York Theater. IFC's "Inescapable," from director Rubba Nadda, also starring her "Cairo Time" lead Patricia Clarkson, followed its Toronto 2012 premiere with a lowly sub-$1,000 gross, also in New York.
"Bless Me Ultima" (Arenas) – Metacritic score: 66
$503,000 in 263 theaters; PSA: $1,913
A true independent film aimed primarily at Latino audiences, "Bless Me Ultima" was produced by TV and movie producer Mark Johnson ("Rain Man," Breaking Bad") and directed by TV veteran Carl Franklin (who broke out with "One False Move" 20 years ago). It opened (after early test runs in El Paso and other cities grossed over $500,000) in multiple cities (LA but not New York), and earned raves from Roger Ebert and the LA Times' Kenneth Turan.
Its art-house exposure is limited (it's at the Music Hall in Beverly Hills) with the playoff mainly aimed at a more commercial core audience. Based on a widely read acclaimed novel about a Mexican-American boy and his grandmother in New Mexico in the 1940s, it is an example of a movie trying to break away from the usual film festival/ big-city upscale theater release model. As independent films aimed at more targeted audiences (Indie Spirit "Middle of Nowhere" for example) have shown, it is difficult to get the interest from regular specialized patrons for films outside their comfort zone with rare exceptions ("Beasts of the Southern Wild" did well but hit its ceiling fairly early).
Arenas, a distributor with many years of expertise in the Latino market (both for English and Spanish-language films) and the producers maximized the marketing on relevant media, but the gross shows the difficulty in getting an audience of normal regular moviegoers of whatever background interested in a niche, no-star movie. But with a lower budget, possible good word of mouth and lots of anciallary potential, this film should find a decent level yet before it is through.
What comes next: Because of its theater profile (a lot of regular large screen multiplexes in smaller markets), this should get enough holdovers that if it drive strong word-of-mouth it could stay around for a while. Whether it warrants much wider release (including an expensive New York opening) remains to be seen.
"No" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 2
$82,400 in 6 theaters (+2); PSA: $13,733; Cumulative: $195,000
Adding two theaters and otherwise holding up well from its solid debut last weekend, this Oscar Foreign Language contender starring Gael Garcia Bernal continues to show hope for a decent or better performance as it expands in upcoming weeks. This is still in its early stages, and of course an upset win tonight (against the same distributor's "Amour") would rachet its prospects higher, but this early showing suggests some appeal beyond any attention it gets tonight.
What comes next: SPC almost always takes films out slowly, but this, along with "The Gatekeepers" and the ongoing "Amour" has shown a strong rebound after a lot of disappointments earlier in 2012 (primarily with U.S.-indie films).
"Like Someone in Love" (IFC Films) – Week 2
$22,900 in 9 theaters (+6); PSA: $2,544; Cumulative: $57,000
Irrespective of Entertainment Weekly's just-released English-language dominated list of 25 top directors, Abbas Kiarostami remains a global master auteur. This Japanese-made, French-produced film out of last year's Cannes competition though is struggling to find much interest, even with quite a few strong reviews.
What comes next: IFC skipped their frequent pattern of going VOD with this from the start, but that likely down the line will be where the film gets the most viewing.
"The Gatekeepers" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 4
$154,000 in 19 theaters (+15); PSA: $8,105; Cumulative: $400,000
Though a strong response for this Israeli Best Documentary nominee was expected beyond its very good New York/Los Angeles openings, these grosses and its total so far already reinforce the idea that this will be one of the top docs of the year whatever happens tonight.
With several new cities coming on board (and its Metacritic score with more critics added still at a very high 90), this is getting strong word of mouth from audiences.
What comes next: It is easily outperforming what its award competitor (and fellow SPC release) "Searching for Sugar Man" did in its early stages, and although it has a long way to go, might still approach that film's over $3 million gross.
"Koch" (Zeitgeist) – Week 4
$22,600 in 9 theaters (-2); PSA: $2,511; Cumulative: $170,000
Still in the New York area only, this is winding down there before it expands to other cities.
What comes next: Los Angeles this Friday will be the first test of the Gotham-centric film in other markets.
"Quartet" (Weinstein) – Week 7
$1,192,000 in 356 theaters (+23); PSA: $3,348; Cumulative: $8,911,000
The "Downton Abbey" season may be over, but Maggie Smith fans continue to go to her most recent film. The gross only fell under 10% with a small theater count uptick, showing word of mouth has stayed strong. This one has a long way to go.
What comes next: Post Oscars, apart from whatever "Silver Linings Playbook" has yet to add, Weinstein is well-positioned to expand this. Perhaps with not as wide appeal as last year's "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," it still looks headed for at least double this gross with any kind of elevated advertising with additional cities.
"Amour" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 9
$816,000 in 328 theaters (+22); PSA: $2,488; Cumulative: $5,248,000
A bit of a last minute rush pre-Oscars, but this remains a modest performing film for its high awards profile and the lack of people having seen in so far (much below one million total patrons in the U.S., a tiny percentage of those who will be watching tonight).
The film continues on a course – even if it has minimal success tonight – of surpassing the $7 million "A Separation" did last year.
What comes next: A possible Best Actress win or other success might push this ahead of "Beasts of the Southern Wild" or "Intouchables" among real arthouse films from last year, but whatever happens, this has clearly been a hit for SPC and Michael Haneke.
"The Impossible" (Lionsgate) – Week 9
$288,000 in 273 theaters (-149); PSA: $1,055; Cumulative: $18,051,000
Losing steam fast despite Naomi Watts' nomination, this is completing a successful U.S. run that pales in comparison to its worldwide success ($143 million so far internationally).
What comes next: The nomination, though the only one for the film and having some but not enormous impact here, likely helped elevate this film in other markets. It should encourage other leading actors to trust foreign productions and directors as a route to commercial and awards-related success.