International films are scoring at the specialty box office. The two best new films have roots in countries not normally seen at arthouses: “Mother of George” (from Nigerian-born director Andrew Dosunmu) and “Wadjda” (a milestone Saudi Arabian film from a female director) both show initial appeal. Also in the top 10 are French and Mexican comedies.
These two strong openers were joined by IFC’s D.C. sniper-docudrama “Blue Caprice” and the food modification documentary “GMO-OMG” in exclusive New York openings with standout initial grosses. None of these films was expected to be among the top fall specialized films (all had their premieres at festivals early this year or in 2012), and this weekend is not considered a prime date to launch films. But their strength shows a real hunger for new specialized product, even if each was reaching targeted audiences that might not sustain their runs elsewhere.
“Wadjda” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 78; Festivals include: Venice 2013, Telluride 2012, Tribeca 2013, Los Angeles 2013
$40,491 in 3 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $13,497
Outside of the occasional Lebanese or Palestinian-based film, Arabic films are rarely seen in U.S. art houses. And films from Saudi Arabia are non-existent (the country has no theaters for one thing, though viewing via cable and DVD is high for international offerings, even as many films are officially banned). This was directed by a woman, stealthily, with the help of modern easily hidden cameras. With decent reviews and significant media coverage, the film opened to an above-average total for a subtitled film in three New York/Los Angeles theaters. That both cities have significant Arab populations (including Saudis) likely helped the total, but the film’s story about a 10 year old girl’s attempt to buy a bicycle fits into mainstream specialized storylines for films from offbeat countries. (The earliest successes from Iran often featured stories about children to make them more universal in appeal.)
Sony Pictures Classics has often managed to find a niche audience to add to mainstream specialized moviegoers. They have had consistent performances with Israeli films, and they have pushed Iranian films to significant totals. Their marketing likely will maximize this to appeal to both their usual customers and find an interested Arab-speaking ethnic and ex-pat interest as it expands nationally.
What comes next: As the first-ever Saudi Arabian Foreign Language Oscar submission, this will be one of the few on the list to have already opened this year. Its early release as well as its subject likely enhances its chances of advancing.
“Mother of George” (Oscilloscope) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 74; Festivals include: Sundance 2013
$22,456 in one theater; PSA: $22,456
Showing at New York’s Angelika Theater, aided by a strong front page Arts section Times’ review, this terrific gross came as a result of regular patrons being joined by customers who come from a similar background as the Nigerian-ethnic Brooklyn couple that is the center of this story. Director Andrew Dosunmu, who came to New York and found success as a fashion creative director before becoming a prominent photographer and video director, made his third feature (like his previous, “Restless City,” a Sundance premiere) set in the Nigerian diaspora as a young newlywed couple struggles to fulfill intense family demands to produce a son. The two leads are better known than might be expected – Isaach De Bankole from his work with Jim Jarmusch, Danai Gurura from “Walking Dead.”
Oscilloscope has been struggling recently, after proving their viability with 2012 successes “Samsara” and “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” None of their 2013 releases have grossed more than $100,000 total. This initial gross shows that with the right film they are still in the game.
What comes next: Though not high on people’s radar, this gross should get the film bookings in most major cities as well as additional attention in New York.
“Blue Caprice” (IFC) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 79; Festivals include: Sundance 2013, New Directors/New Films 2013
$15,200 in 1 theater; PSA: $15,200
Also premiering at Sundance, Alexandre Moors’ Beltway sniper recreation opened exclusively at New York’s IFC Center to a respectable gross and decent reviews. The film stars Isaac Washington in a comeback role as an military veteran who teams with a young man who becomes his surrogate son as they terrorize the Washington area in 2002 with a series of random shootings. With an unknown director and the uncertain draw of its cast, this is a decent number for this small venue with this playing on a single screen.
What comes next: IFC plans to get this open in the top 15 market the rest of this month, but its major viewing will come from its VOD premiere on Tuesday.
“GMO OMG” (Submarine Deluxe) – Metacritic score: 45; Festivals include: Berlin 2013
$15,121 in 1 theater; PSA: $15,121
Though not well reviewed, and opening at New York’s Cinema Village, usually not a prime location for top first run openers, the strong interest in the topic of genetically modified foods was strong enough to result in a surprisingly strong gross for the first weekend. This is a case where alternative marketing (its newspaper advertising was just about non-existent) paid off. Submarine Deluxe previously scored with the global climate change documentary “Chasing Ice,” which grossed an impressive $1.3 million opening late last year.
What comes next: No reason that similar interest won’t be found in other cities.
Two non-arthouse indie films had strong initial showings, with neither opening in New York or Los Angeles. “The Investigator” from religious-based Gabriel’s Messenger Films, a story about a retired cop losing his faith when he takes on a teaching job, grossed $93,000 in 11 theaters. “Final: The Rapture” (River Rain), a thriller billed as the “scariest Christian movie of the decade” opened in two Houston theaters took in a strong $31,900.
More conventional openers included “Herb and Dorothy 50×50″ (Fine Line Media), a doc about an art collecting couple who decide to find museums in each of the 50 works to bestow some of their paintings. It took in $6,500 at the IFC Center. The documentary “Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve” (Liberty Street) opened in New York and Washington, while continuing in Dallas, for $13,720 in three theaters. “Mademoiselle C‘ (Cohen Media), a documentary about a French Vogue executive, took in $14,500 in 6 theaters. “Jayne Mansfield’s Car” (Anchor Boy), a Toronto 2012 Gala from director Billy Bob Thornton, added $7,400 in 11 theaters to its ongoing VOD playoff.
Two Weinstein films entered their second weeks, with “Salinger” not expanding, its four New York/Los Angeles theaters dropping 48% for a combined gross of $45,000 (PSA: $11,250, total $159,000). Their French period comedy “Populaire” jumped to 15 theaters (+12) for $33,200, a weak PSA of $2,220.
Among the longer running films with grosses over $50,000. “Blue Jasmine” (Sony Pictures Classics) continues to be the dominant player, with Woody Allen’s film placing #11 overall, $1.8 million in 993 theaters (-76), in its eighth week nearing $28 million. A24’s “The Spectacular Now” expanded to 770 theaters (+355) for $770,000, a low-end PSA of $1,000 but with a solid total of $5.8 million so far.
Also up to $5.8 million is Weinstein’s “The Grandmaster,” declining a bit in theaters in its fourth week (705, -99) with an ever lower PSA ($660) for a $465,000 total. SPC’s “Austenland” took a big jump in theaters to 274, + 216 – for a modest gross of $382,000, $1,189,000 total. Roadside Attraction’s “In a World,” expanding more slowly, grossed a more impressive overall $309,000 in 144 (+42), now at $2,080,000.