‘Unfinished Song’ Leads Weak New Openers As ‘Bling Ring,’ ‘Much Ado’ and ‘Before Midnight’ Fight for Wider Attention

'Unfinished Song' Leads Weak New Openers As 'Bling Ring,' 'Much Ado' and 'Before Midnight' Fight for Wider Attention

After several weeks of mainly $20,000 range or better per screen averages for several opening week films in limited release, the new ones this week fell short of that. The best was Weinstein’s “Unfinished Song,” more of a crowd-pleaser than critics film, while two acclaimed foreign films — “The Attack” and “A Hijacking” — both struggled somewhat to gain footing.

Those earlier promising openings continue to expand nationally in multi-hundred theater breaks, with A24’s “The Bling Ring” showing the most strength so far. Sony Pictures Classics’ “Before Midnight,” which showed a weak PSA last weekend at an unusually wide 890 theaters, recovered somewhat at about half as many, while Roadside’s “Much Ado About Nothing” had passable numbers as it reached the 200 theater mark. 

Opening

“Unfinished Song” (Weinstein) – Criticwire grade: B-; Metacritic score: 55; Festivals include: Toronto 2012, Palm Springs 2013, San Francisco 2013, Seattle 2013

$27,700 in 2 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $13,850

The best opening of this week’s entries was the closing gala at last year’s Toronto Film Festival (then called “A Song for Marion”). Though it ranked at the low end of reviews for the openings, it managed, playing at New York’s ideal Paris Theater and similar standout Landmark in Los Angeles (both theaters draw older audiences), to have a respectable opening gross. This was due equally to its cast (Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp, the former not quite at Maggie Smith’s elevated level) as Weinstein’s typical high-end advertising for a limited release, which aimed at reaching the audiences that made both “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and “Quartet” such significant successes.

Among the weaknesses for this season’s specialized releases has been the absence of an older-appeal film, which “Hotel” and “Midnight in Paris” over the last two Junes both capitalized on. “Unfinished” isn’t remotely in their league as an opener, but Weinstein did take “Quartet,” which opened similarly with a PSA of $23,000 to a total gross of over $18 million, a huge multiple for that initial response. It is ahead slightly of “Kon-Tiki” (which also opened in two, but never really gained much traction) and in terms of PSA much ahead of “The Sapphires,” which the unrelenting Weinstein has managed to get to $2.3 million.

The point is that the combination of lack of alternatives for older audiences and the Weinstein commitment means that this film has possibly much more of a future than its normally ordinary opening gross (more impressive because of the reviews) would indicate.

What comes next: Never ones to tread slowly, this expands to other big cities next Friday.

“The Attack” (Cohen) – Criticwire grade: 71; Metacritic score: A-; Festivals include: Telluride 2012, Toronto 2012, City of Lights/City of Angels 2013

$26,400 in 3 theaters; PSA: $8,800

This made-in-Israel film with international financing from Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri received decent critical coverage (particularly from the New York Times) ending up with a modest gross for its three-theater opening (New York and Washington D.C).. The compelling story — about an assimilated Palestinian doctor in Israel dealing with his wife’s involvement in a terrorist attack — and its examination of Israeli society (with a not unsympathetic eye) is not the easiest sell at the box office, more so with the ongoing resistance to subtitled films that continues unabated.

Cohen Media, which has made an elevated commitment to non-English festival acclaimed films (quickly becoming one of the most important such distributors at the moment at a time when keeping them alive is critical) has had modest success with them since its start in late 2011 (the biggest so far “Farewell My Queen”), but is quickly becoming known for the quality of its presentations.

What comes next: 35 new theaters, including in Los Angeles, open next Friday.

“A Hijacking” (Magnolia) – Criticwire grade: B+; Metacritic score: 83; Festivals include: Venice 2013, Toronto 2013, New Directors/New Films 2013

$42,500 in 6 theaters; PSA: $6,071

This Danish drama/thriller (with much of the dialogue in English) received some of the best reviews of the year, and Magnolia, which often has parallel video on demand releases for its films, clearly hoped this might translate into theatrical success initially. The three-city (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, strong theaters in all locations) opening fell below what the film deserves. With an unknown cast and director and a story (riveting and intelligence as its telling is) that doesn’t fit conventional specialized expectations, it will need strong word of mouth to gain a foothold and grow as it holds and expands.

What comes next: Eight more theaters are planned for next week.

“Somm” (Goldwyn) – Metacritic score: 56; Festivals include: Napa 2012, Santa Barbara 2013, San Francisco 2013

$22,500 in 5 theaters; PSA: $4,500

The subgenre of food-related documentaries (“Jiro Dreams a Sushi” last year a prime successful example) continues with this story of four would-be wine sommeliers studying for the industry master-level exam opened in five theaters (San Francisco and Seattle joining the usual New York/Los Angeles) for a modest initial reaction. The topic though is interesting enough (and not often covered) that Goldwyn should find interest elsewhere, then hope to get enough audience reaction to hold on (which can happen more easily sometimes with documentaries, as “Searching for Sugar Man” among others demonstrated last year.

What comes next: A national rollout over the next several weeks.

Expanding/ongoing

If this summer’s wider specialized releases are going to do anywhere close to the success of this year’s earlier hits “A Place Beyond the Pines” and “Mud” (both now over $20 million) and “Spring Breakers” or recent summers’ much bigger “Moonrise Kingdom,” “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” or “Midnight in Paris,” evidence should have been seen by now. So far, despite significant efforts by several distributors, nothing yet has gained the traction those earlier films have done.

The most recent to join the fray, A24’s “The Bling Ring,” just barely missed the overall top 10 this weekend, grossing $2 million in 650 theaters/PSA $3,307. It achieved a PSA double of what Sony Pictures Classics “Before Midnight” did last weekend (which was weak), seeming to score some initial interest with a younger than usual specialized audience. It falls short of what  A24 achieved with “Spring Breakers” (which had a $4,400 PSA at 1,100 theaters), but fell less behind what “Mud” achieved in its second weekend at a similar theater count. The important result for A24 is that it grossed well enough to sustain most of the break for a second week and the chance that positive reaction, particularly among the younger crowd, can keep it around and grow to a possible $10 million+ total.

Somewhat less promising is the third week of Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” (Roadside Attractions) which grossed $762,000 in 206 theaters, for a PSA of $3,700 (far fewer theaters usually leading to a significantly higher PSA), for a total so far of $1,235,000. These are viable enough numbers for the film to hold at most of these, but don’t suggest that this will be a significant crossover success that Roadside achieved with “Mud,” though the distributor managed that with its commitment to keep it viable longer than appeared likely early in its run, likely what they will do here.

Last week’s disappointing performance for “Before Midnight” stabilized somewhat this week. Grossing $928,000 in 441 theaters, it lost just over half of last week’s break. The PSA rose noticeably, which at $2,100 suggests enough good word of mouth that the best theaters in the current break should be able to sustain themselves to let the current total $4.6 million to grow enough so that the $10 million+ the film seemed likely to make (with much more seeming possible initially with the overwhelming Sundance and critical reaction) is still not out of the question. SPC did a great job of holding on to as many theaters as they did, and the grosses suggest the film won’t disappear as quickly as seemed possible last week. They also supported the film with TV spots.

The second weekend of Weinstein/Radius’ “20 Feet from Stardom” continues to impress, as it grossed $64,700 in 6 theaters (+3) for a PSA of over $10,000. This musical performance documentary looks like a promising long term prospect, with some potential crossover business similar to other recent successful docs.

Among other wider releases, IFC’s “Frances Ha” (which topped out at just over 200 theaters) has crossed the $3 million mark, $190,000 in 135 theaters. Fox Searchlight’s “The East” keeps adding — 195 theaters (+80) took in $348,000, for a new total of $1.2 million. CBS Film’s “The Kings of Summer” continues its similarly modest run, $124,000 in 65 theaters (+2), but at least not falling too fast.

SPC’s “Fill the Void,” expanding more slowly, is now up to 46 screens (+28) for $173,000, with the total at $617,000, which is likely to at least double before the end of its run.

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