Arthouse Audit: Star Power Pushes ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ to Triumphant Opening

Arthouse Audit: Star Power Pushes 'The Place Beyond the Pines' to Triumphant Opening

“The Place Beyond the Pines” is the second limited opening of the month to open better than expected, and among the strongest ever early-year launches. Focus Features, coming off the disappointment of the wider release of “Admission” last week, maximized its starry cast and strong marketing to make a major initial impact.

Two European films with positive festival reaction (“Renoir” and “Blancanieves”) also opened at lower levels. though the former did strong business at its two prime theaters. More disappointing was the second week of Weinstein’s “The Sapphires” which doesn’t seem to be headed towards any sort of breakout.

Opening

“The Place Beyond the Pines” (Focus) – Metacritic score: 63; Festivals include: Toronto 2012

$270,000 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $67,500

Marking the best total gross for a limited release this year and the second best PSA (after the unlikely initial weekend success of “Spring Breakers” in one less theater), “The Place Beyond the Pines” is a return to form for usually successfully Focus Features. It could be, depending on final figures, the biggest ever limited opening in the first quarter.

Several factors set the movie apart from most high-end openings. Acquired by Focus at Toronto last September, the “Place Beyond the Pines” release is outside of the usual awards-season calendar. It didn’t get a boost from a recent festival premiere (“Moonrise Kingdom” opened post-Cannes to nearly double this gross). The reviews were respectful but at the low end of favorable, with many critics giving it more credit for aspiration than accomplishment. That would have suggested a more ordinary opening, despite top-line theater placement (which many films from companies like Focus get throughout the year).

So why this level of success? The movie boasted two stars: Bradley Cooper, coming off of “Silver Linings Playbook,” and Ryan Gosling, who has built a strong reputation for quality work and smart film choices. This likely led to more interest from younger audiences in New York and Los Angeles, along with an edgier than usual plot (more in line with the tougher dramas getting attention on cable these days) than standard specialized fare. Throw in Focus’ marketing expertise when they have something strong to sell and the result is a surprise hit, at least so far.

This is director Derek Cianfrance’s second limited opening success with Gosling. His first film, “Blue Valentine,” was released post-Christmas for awards attention, grossing $294,000 also in four theaters on its way to a $9.7 million gross and a best actress nomination for Gosling’s co-star Michelle Williams.

What comes next: Expansion to several other cities next Friday and a gradual rollout is planned. Whether this heavy and lengthy (140 minute) film will get the audience response to make it a wide success along the lines of “Moonrise” isn’t clear yet, but this opening should encourage Focus to give it every chance to go far beyond what “Blue Valentine” did.

“Room 237” (IFC) – Metacritic score: 83; Festivals include: Sundance 2012, Cannes 2012, Toronto 2012, New York 2012; also available on Video on Demand

$36,000 on 2 screens; PSA: $18,000

Considering its parallel VOD availability this marks a strong opening for this documentary that offers multiple layers of meaning in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” With upbeat reviews adding to sustained interest in the original film, this opened in two New York theaters after extensive film festival play and a below-the-radar, Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles late last year.

What comes next: Los Angeles opens next Friday, but these grosses should help the film overcome the usual reluctance of some exhibitors when faced with VOD competition.

“Renoir” (IDP) – Metacritic score: 62; Festivals include: Cannes 2012, Portland 2013

$63,700 in 6 theaters; PSA: $10,617

With its PSA reduced somewhat by its unusual five theater Los Angeles-area release along with its exclusive New York date, this is an encouraging overall gross for a subtitled film without big names or a top director. The two Renoirs in the film – the painter Auguste and his son, director Jean – both bring name recognition and appeal to this pastoral period throwback to previous French successes such as “Jean de Florette” and “My Mother’s Castle.”) The reviews were at the low end of favorable — several more highly praised foreign language films have opened less well recently — but Samuel Goldwyn Films (releasing through IDP) recognized the latent interest when they acquired this. The grosses at New York’s Lincoln Plaza Theater and The Landmark in Los Angeles – two of the best theaters for subtitled film in the country – were considerably better than the overall PSA.

What comes next: San Francisco and some New York-area expansion are set for next Friday with further gradual expansion over the next few weeks.

“Blancanieves” (Cohen Media) – Metacritic score: 80; Festivals include: Toronto 2012, San Sebastian 2012

$25,102 in 4 theaters; PSA: $6,276

The second black and white European silent film set in the 1920s in the last two years, this was actually planned long before “The Artist”became a hit. The title means Snow White, and this version has the heroine as a female bullfighter. Opening in New York and Los Angeles with very strong reviews, the grosses are modest at best. This was Spain’s submission for last year’s foreign language Oscar (despite not having any dialogue) was a big success and Goya award-winner back home, but is a tougher sell here.

What comes next: This looks like a modest performer when it expands to other cities, but positive word of mouth might help sustain it.

Ongoing/expanding

“The Sapphires” (Weinstein) – Week 2

$72,400 in 12 theaters (+8); PSA: $6,033; Cumulative: $127,000

At best a modest expansion for this Australian comedy, to which Weinstein continues to give significant support even if its openings last week were unimpressive. For the limited number of theaters (and their quality), this is not a particularly strong result for a film thought to carry audience appeal.

What comes next: Weinstein likely will roll this out to whatever level it deserves, but this could struggle to get to much beyond $1 million mark.

“From Up on Poppy Hill” (GKids) – Week 3

$121,000 in 24 theaters (+6); PSA: $5,042; Cumulative: $286,000

This Japanese animated film saw its PSA fall almost in half with new theaters added, without a strong boost from the holiday weekend or vacations. This is still performing above the level of past GKids releases of niche foreign animated movies.

What comes next: This doesn’t appear to have the breakout/crossover appeal of other releases from Japan’s acclaimed Studio Ghibli.

“No” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 7

$246,000 in 70 theaters (+10); PSA: $3,514; Cumulative: $1,325,000

SPC continues to expand this Chilean film to reasonable success, making it look like it will be among the best foreign language releases for the year.

What comes next: Headed towards $2 million or better, a very credible showing for a subtitled film these days.

Other grosses

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Brandon Scott

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