Arthouse Audit: ‘The Grandmaster’ and ‘Short Term 12’ Lead Openers

Arthouse Audit: 'The Grandmaster' and 'Short Term 12' Lead Openers

This week’s openings didn’t reach the heights of the strongest mid-summer specialized releases, but two did solid initial business. Weinstein’s “The Grandmaster” and Cinedigm’s “Short Term 12” both have a ways to go before they’re hits, but each grabbed decent sampling and critical heft to boost them in upcoming weeks, when there will be less competition among new films until late September when the fall glut begins.

Opening

“The Grandmaster” (Weinstein) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 73; Festivals include: Berlin 2013, Karlovy Vary 2013

$132,300 in 7 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $18,900

Wong Kar-wai, one of Asia’s most acclaimed directors (his 2001 “In the Mood for Love” was the highest-ranked Chinese region film on last year’s Sight and Sound’s once-a-decade all-time best film list), has had an uneven output over the past decade as his films have reached higher budgets and aimed at broader Asian audiences. “The Grandmaster” is not a typical art-film. Despite its showcasing at the Berlin Film Festival (in a slightly different version than was released in January in China), this movie was aimed at a mainstream audience familiar with Ip Man, the legendary martial-arts master (and Bruce Lee mentor) who has been featured in a number of films. Weinstein and producer Megan Ellison worked with Wong to craft a tweaked, more-Western oriented release for the U.S. market, and launched the film this weekend to overall positive, if not spectacular results.

Opening in three cities (Toronto, New York and Los Angeles) and including two mainstream China-owned AMC theaters, the film earned attention including an all-out rave in the New York Times ahead of an unusual TV-backed release. The PSA doesn’t place it among the top limited openers this year overall, but does edge out Sony Pictures Classics’ Chilean “No” among the highest-opening foreign language films, which is impressive due to the larger number of theaters in its initial lineup, with fewer art houses.

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” remains the high-end example of what a classy, top-name director of martial arts cinema can do in the U.S. Ang Lee’s film came with huge festival and awards-anticipating interest, and opened with a PSA (lower ticket prices) of $41,000 in more (16) total theaters on its way to a sensational $128 million domestic haul. SPC waited until the sixth week to get it up to 600+ theaters, which Weinstein plans to do this weekend. That will make it the widest-ever second-week release for a non-Mel Gibson-directed subtitled film, a major leap of faith for Weinstein, whose biggest foreign language films since the Miramax days have grossed under $15 million (“Under the Same Moon” and “Intouchables.”) 

With the marketing pushing Martin Scorsese’s presentation of the film and emphasizing the artfully done action sequences, this could reach those levels and easily becoming the biggest foreign language release of the year. Curiously, like the two other best Weinstein foreign language films, it comes outside the awards-enhanced boost from which most of the biggest recent films (“Amour,” “A Separation”) benefited. “The Grandmaster” has already grossed $55 million in the rest of the world, with China and adjacent markets the best.

What comes next: The set-up has succeeded with the help of higher-than-usual ad buys for a limited release. How this does when it goes wider remains an open question, but it’s always risky to question the Weinsteins’ outside-the-box moves.

“Short Term 12” (Cinedigm) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 84; Festivals include: South by Southwest 2013, Seattle 2013, Los Angeles 2013, Locarno 2013

$60,100 in 4 theaters; PSA: $15,025

While it hasn’t reached the Sundance level as the go-to festival for indie US narrative films, Austin’s South by Southwest is an increasingly viable alternative. This year’s top jury and audience award winner “Short Term 12” is the top to-date SxSW premiered film in terms of reviews (among the best of the year for any release) and initial limited results among the festival’s dramatic competition films. Inexplicably, Destin Cretton’s film was turned down by Sundance. 

Credit Cinedigm Films — which releases low-profile indies — for getting four top New York/Theaters (including replacing “Austenland” after one week at LA’s prime Arclight Hollywood, and outdistancing it in gross). Despite the reviews, this was not an easy sell — unknown director, a lead actress (Brie Larson) who has had success on TV and supporting movie roles without ever carrying a movie, and a plot involving working class young people working and living at a foster care center. (Larson had a busy Sundance, appearing in “Spectacular Now” and “Don Juan,” and just won Best Actress at the prestigious Locarno Film Festival). Though the PSA isn’t at high levels, it is 50% above what the higher-profile and expensive “Austenland” achieved last week, which should be good enough to keep it on screen in a less-intense opening period, giving it hope for finding an audience as it expands.

What comes next: Cinedigm plans a slow expansion (more theaters in initial markets, top 20 cities over the next few weeks starting next Friday). They also have a potential awards candidate, particularly for the Gotham and Indie Spirit awards, as well as already voiced support for Larson’s chances for wider acting award consideration. In the meantime, this decent start gives the company a nice boost going into the heavy acquisition period at Toronto.

“Drinking Buddies” (Magnolia) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 69; Festivals include: South by Southwest 2013, Seattle 2013

$19,000 in 2 theaters; PSA: $9,500; also available on Video on Demand

Another SxSW 2013 premiere (in the Narrative Spotlight section), director Joe Swanberg’s 13th film since 2005 is playing at a more elevated level than most of his previous low-budget efforts (he has long been identified with mumblecore). Having already made back its money from multi-week VOD play, this comedy opened in lower Manhattan and Chicago (where it was filmed) to a decent showing, considering its home availability. With a hip cast that includes Olivia Wilde, Jason Sudeikis (co-lead of “We’re the Millers”), Ti West and Anna Kendrick, this is a case where word of mouth from VOD may have enhanced theatrical play.

What comes next: Los Angeles and San Francisco open on Friday, followed by other cities throughout city, while VOD continues thriving.

“Una Noche” (IFC) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 67; Festivals include: Berlin 2012, Tribeca 2012, Portland 2013

$18,480 in 3 theaters; PSA: $6,160

The fourth of the well-reviewed limited openings this week had a more ordinary gross at three New York/Miami theaters ahead of its VOD premiere late this week. This Cuban-set story of young people looking to flee gained particular attention when fiction met reality as some of its cast sought asylum on their way to the film’s US premiere at Tribeca last year. The playoff pattern continues IFC’s second week VOD move on “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” (which opened a little bigger last weekend) and suggest a possible pattern that could become more prevalent among limited release films (perhaps including their highly-anticipated “Blue Is the Warmest Color” this fall) as distributors jockey to find the most profitable way to juggle theatrical and VOD playoff.

What comes next: IFC also still expects to release this in other of the top 10 markets over the upcoming weeks.

Also opening:

Two other new releases reported grosses. MPI’s “Therese” (last year’s Cannes closer as “Therese Desqueroux,” not to be confused by “Therese” based on “Therese Raquin” premiering at Toronto next month and opening shortly after) grossed $21,000 in 6 theaters for a mediocre $3,500 PSA. Kino Lorber’s “Trials of Muhammed Ali” took in $3,500 at one New York theater. Among the not-yet-reporting films were Strand’s Austrian film “Paradise: Faith” (which is unusually showing at Toronto after its US debut; it earlier premiered at Berlin) and Phase 4’s “Scenic Route,” another 2013 SxSW premiere, which also is available on VOD.

Ongoing/expanding

Though it has moved into the Top 10 as Woody Allen’s widest release ever, the big news among initial specialized releases remains “Blue Jasmine” (Sony Pictures Classics). Taking in $4.3 million in 1,283 theaters and reaching the $14.8 million mark in only its fifth week, this now is certain to be the biggest specialized film of the year thus far, and likely to become Allen’s second biggest success since at least “Crimes and Misdemeanors” in 1989.

“Blue Jasmine,” a drama with an alienating lead character is not what audiences in recent years have come to expect from Allen, and despite the acclaim for the film, particularly Cate Blanchett in the lead, it shouldn’t be expected to easily reach the level “Midnight” achieved. At this point, it looks likely to get to $30 million at some point (a re-release when awards come in could do the trick if it doesn’t happen before, although a late year/early 2014 DVD release might also might make sense), but even higher is certainly possible. Whatever happens, it should be already regarded as a triumph for SPC and Allen.

It certainly is much happier news for SPC than their “Austenland,” a $4 million worldwide acquisition from Sundance which added 19 theaters (up to 23, an unusually fast expansion for them) to gross $126,000 for a PSA of $5,478. This is a marginal relative improvement to its weak initial New York/Los Angeles openings, and there is still some small hope a core of fans might still come along, but the new reviews were in consensus no better than the initial ones, so it will continue to be an uphill fight.

IFC’s “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” added VOD into the mix its second week, along with 25 new theaters (now 28) for a tepid gross of $72,200 (PSA $2,579), about half “Austenland”‘s level. Radius/Weinstein’s “Cutie and the Boxer” is now at 12 (+9) for $28,000 (PSA $2,333),  while Cohen Media’s “You Will Be My Son,” also in its second week, did $19,400 in 6 (+5) with a PSA of $3,233.

Continuing to show real strength in its third week is Roadside Attractions “In a World,” which in 75 theaters (+38) took in $303,000 (PSA $4,040, total so far $752,000.) A24’s “The Spectacular Now” showed an even better PSA ($4,221) in double the theaters (154, +99) for  a $650,000 weekend and a total of $1,935,000. Their slow (based on their recent releases) expansion for this seems to be paying dividends for a later wider expansion, with this film still showing a real chance of a much higher ultimate gross.

Three established hits continued to add to their totals, though all are now decreasing in their theater counts. Fox Searchlight’s “The Way, Way Back” did another $430,000 to get to $18,651,000, while Weinstein’s “Fruitvale Station”  added $283,000, now with $15,192,000 in. (Both are higher than last year’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which topped out at $12 million.) Radius/Weinstein’s ongoing documentary success “20 Feet from Stardom” has reached $4,245,000 with another $86,000 this weekend.

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Comments

mary

Tom

I am not against your analysis. ( In fact, I am a fans of you; thank you for keeping writing good articles!) I am just disappointed with the THE GRANDMASTER opening result considering its bigger-than-usual marketing.
But you make good points that the marketing is not necessarily reaching core art house people; it may explain why the PTA is under $20000. (According to Hollywood Reporter, the film is doing best business in AMC Empire)

On the other hand, I think AMOUR is a different case; AMOUR was a slow platform release (Sony Pictures Classics is really good at slow platforming), and the film benefited from award buzz.
And then, many Chinese-American audience don't always watch Chinese films. For example, LOST IN THAILAND is the highest-grossing Chinese film in China ever, but that film only grossed $57387 in US. (Many Chinese American did watch LUST, CAUTION , though)

Tom Brueggemann

Mary

Thx for your comment.
I am not predicting yet what Grandmaster will do in its wider run. What Weinstein is trying to close to unique in the distribution of subtitled films at this early stage of release, and I don't really have any point of comparison. My main point is that as a foreign language film, it performed adequately or a bit better than the norm these days. Amour opened in only three theaters with staggering reviews and a PSA as I recall of $23,000 its first weekend.
The marketing Weinstein is doing for the wider break is not necessarily reaching core art house people. There was a spot I saw while flipping channels a couple week's ago on NBC's prime time American Ninja Warrior, an unlikely spot for a Wong Kar Wai film to put it mildly. There is also a Chinese-American audience that (similar to Indian/Bollywood fans) could turn out for this is unusual numbers.
I think the limited break was in part a means of getting reviews (they got enough good ones to enhance their ads) and test the water a bit, including a couple more general audience theaters (the AMC Empire and Century City in NY/LA respectively). You could be right that this will end up with less than Lust, Cautions's $4.6 million. But I would dispute that any of us at this point is in a position to make a defintive statement about its prospects.

mary

correction:

"The Grandmaster"€ is definitely a disappointment; under $20000 PTA is not a good sign, since Weinstein plans to expand the film to 600 theaters next weekend.

Weinstein re-edited "The Grandmaster" and then promote the film a lot (with Martin Scorsese’s support). But now, it looks like "€œThe Grandmaster"€ may not gross higher than another Tony Leung starrer "Lust, Caution" in US.

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