Joss Whedon’s take on Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” continued the May/June rollout of well-hyped specialized releases, and more significantly, joined “Frances Ha” and “Beyond Midnight” — both now expanding similar to solid results — as higher-end grossers, particularly for this time of year.
Though this early summer has not seen anything yet to equal the early weeks’ success of previous years’ “Midnight in Paris,” “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” the volume of new openings showing promise or more is encouraging and looks to continue in upcoming weeks, with “The Bling Ring,” “I’m So Excited,” “Fruitvale Station” and “Blue Jasmine” among the highly anticipated new releases ahead.
“Much Ado About Nothing” (Roadside Attractions) – Criticwire grade: B+; Metacritic score: 76; Festivals include: Toronto 2012, San Francisco 2013, Seattle 2013
$183,400 in 5 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $36,680
Joss Whedon’s followup to “The Avengers” took the form not of another Marvel adaptation (more of those to come from him) but rather a black/white adaptation of a Shakespeare comedy filmed at his home with an expedited 12-day shoot while taking a break from editing “The Avengers.” The result is initially successful — although ultimately it fell a bit short of the top 2013 specialized openers (including “Before Midnight” at $49,000 two weekends ago), it was still a solid start for a far from guaranteed successful project.
Opening in three markets (San Francisco along with the usual New York/Los Angeles – the latter boosted by Friday appearances by Whedon and cast members at multiple showings, along with cast appearances elsewhere) and enhanced by favorable reviews (the New York Times in particular), this isn’t the first time this play has been a success. Kenneth Branagh’s version, made at the height of his appeal after a series of Shakespeare adaptation, had a similar opening PSA (at much lower ticket prices) in 1993, aided, unlike this, by stars like Emma Thompson and Denzel Washington and a lush Italian period setting (unlike the contemporary take filmed in Santa Monica) on its way to a very successful $22 million domestic take. Still, despite Whedon’s own following (not only from his films but the cult-like interest in some of his TV work) this was a risky proposition, and one of the more unconventional initially successful specialized films of the year.
This continues a string of recent success for Roadside Attractions (along with sometime acquisitions partner Lionsgate). “Arbitrage” and “Margin Call” both did well alongside of parallel Video on Demand availability, “Mud” is nearing $20 million on wider theatrical-only play, and “Stories We Tell” is doing steady business backed by great reviews in still limited release, and now “Much Ado” looms as a decent performer. At a time when some of the studio-associated companies have failed to gain much traction recently, their achievement looks even more impressive.
Notable among the grosses is the house record on two screens at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, looking to gross over $40,000 at that location alone for the weekend, providing a much needed alternative in the underseated prime upper west side Manhattan neighborhood.
What comes next: The three current markets expand this Friday, with the plans for 200+ theaters across the country as the next stage on June 21.
“Dirty Wars” (IFC) – Criticwire grade: A-; Metacritic score: 77; Festivals include: Sundance 2013
$66,000 in 4 theaters; PSA: $16,500
This 2013 Sundance documentary competition entry did much more than usual than most recent similar films based on contemporary military events, perhaps of bestselling journalist Jeremy Scahill’s past writings on the subject and frequent appearances with Bill Maher and elsewhere. Backed by strong theater locations in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, and elevated by recent related news stories about the scope of wider intelligence gathering methods, this timely film has now gotten the attention it needed as it expands its exposure in upcoming weeks. This performance is more than double what the somewhat related “We Steal Secrets” managed two weeks ago despite much greater advertising.
What comes next: Video on Demand begins this week, along with theatrical openings in 10 more markets.
“Wish You Were Here” (EOne) – Criticwire grade: B-; Metacritic score: 60; Festivals include: Sundance 2012
$25,700 in 11 theaters; PSA: $2,336
Acquired by EOne during Sundance 2012, but just now opening after lead actor Joel Edgerton has gained more attention in “Zero Dark 30” and “The Great Gatsby,” this Cambodian-set Australian thriller opened in multiple cities at mainly specialized theaters (including several from Landmark) to minor results.
What comes next: EOne acquired the anticipated Naomi Watts-starrer “Diana” at Cannes and otherwise has a more promising lineup.
“You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” (Kino Lorber) from 91 year older master Alain Resnais, a Cannes 2012 competition premiere, grossed $7,000 in two New York theaters, with Los Angeles and other cities to follow in July and beyond. Oscar winner Geoffrey Fletcher’s (“Precious”) “Violet and Daisy” (Cinedigm) – initially shown in a slightly different version at Toronto 2011, starring Saorise Ronan, took in only $10,300 in 17 theaters. “The Prey” (Cohen Media), a French thriller co-produced by the hyperactive Luc Besson, managed only $6,300 in five theaters.
At least seven other new releases had VOD premieres as well, but no grosses reported, including “Evocateur” (Magnolia), “Rapture-Palooza” (originally a Lionsgate release) and the Judy Blume adaptation “Tiger Eyes” (Freestyle).
The standout among expanding films this weekend by some distance was “Before Midnight” (Sony Pictures Classics), which grosses $585,000 in 50 theaters (+19) for a PSA of $11,700 and a total at this early stage above $1.5 million. This gross is only $5,000 less than IFC’s “Frances Ha” did on 233 theaters (more than doubling its print count, PSA $2,532.
The second week expansions of “The East” (Fox Searchlight) and “The Kings of Summer” (CBS), both at only slightly fewer theaters than “Midnight,” had performances of about half or less than the Richard Linklater film. “The East” expanded rapidly to 41 theaters (+37) for a total of $247,000 (PSA $6,024), while “Summer” amassed $220,000 in 44 (+40, PSA: $5,000). Both films are in the tricky area of having found a real level of audience interest while not yet becoming strong enough to guarantee sustained wider runs, though both have smart, committed distributors who should be able to maximize their appeal.
Zeitgeist’s “Hannah Arendt” added four runs after its strong exclusive New York opening last week, grossing $30,100 in 5 theaters. Millenium’s two films continued modest results – “What Maisie Knew” with $161,000 in 122 (+21), PSA $1,320, total $783,000, and “The Iceman” $67,800 in 67 (-56), total $1,853,00. SPC’s “Fill the Void” is rolling out slowly, now at 13 theaters (+6) grossing $78,000 (PSA $6,000, total $260,000).
Perhaps the most curious development of the week is Focus Feature’s decision to add VOD in only the third week of “We Steal Secrets – the Story of Wikileaks.” Unusual for a studio owned company but more commonly done with selected releases from independents like IFC, Magnolia and Roadside Attractions, this seems like a smart move for this documentary, which though it had significant support and strong theater presence initially grossed only $28,000 in its first weekend at four theaters (it managed $35,400 in 24 this weekend).