Continuing the flow of highly anticipated specialized releases, IFC’s controversial French female romantic drama “Blue Is the Warmest Color” started off strong. Among the highly anticipated November openers are “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Nebraska” and “Philomena,” with more opening every week through the end of the year. Despite some obstacles, “Blue” managed the best per screen average opening of any multi-screen foreign language film so far this year, and should build momentum in other cities ahead, though it will be limited somewhat by its NC-17 rating.
Two new documentaries, “The Square” and “Spinning Plates,” opened to lower but OK results. “Capital,” the new film by legendary director Costa-Gavras nabbed some attention in its two-theater New York opening.
Last week’s big opener “12 Years a Slave” continued its impressive grosses with a quick expansion to 125 theaters (good enough to be covered in our top 10 report), while “All Is Lost” continues to show a degree of strength in its new theaters. “Kill Your Darlings” fared less well.
“Blue Is the Warmest Color” (IFC) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 89; Festivals include: Cannes 2013, Telluride 2013, Toronto 2013, New York 2013
$101,116 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $25,279
It has been a slow year for foreign language films in the art market so far. “The Grandmaster” with its quick, somewhat wide, commercial release made it to $6.5 million. Among limited art-house releases, the best has been “No” at $2.3 million. So the initial 4-theater success of IFC’s “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” despite its significant advance publicity, was far from assured. Its gross –$101,000 for the first weekend — is the best for a limited multiple opening since “Intouchables” in May, 2013 (“Hannah Arendt” had a slightly higher PSA in a single theater earlier this year), and at $25,200 about $6,000 above that of “The Grandmaster, as well as better than the openings of the last two Oscar Foreign Language winners (“A Separation” and “Amour”). “Blue” played in four prime New York/Los Angeles theaters, including IFC’s own in Greenwich Village, where they announced they would ignore the film’s NC-17 rating and allow younger teenagers to buy tickets without adult accompaniment.
Its rating likely has helped initially, but countering that is an offputting three hour running time (nothing remotely as long has had this response in the art market in recent memory) which also cuts down capacity and convenient showtimes. That makes it an unlikely success, despite its Palme d’or win at Cannes (never a guarantee of U.S. interest) and its subject matter (though they might find a strong core audience, lesbian romantic stories have never had anything like the impact their gay male counterparts sometimes have had). And recent publicity about the feuding between director Abdellatif Kechiche and co-star Lea Seadoux might have gotten press, but could come across as off-putting to many potential viewers.
So IFC’s gamble to go with a normal theatrical run for this (another Cannes film of their from France, Claire Denis’ “Bastards” went to Video on Demand along with its quiet New York opening last Wednesday) seems initially to have paid off. The last significant NC-17 film, “Shame” from Fox Searchlight, with its more initially commercial New York setting and better known cast, opened in 10 theaters with a $350,000 gross on its way to an eventual $3.9 million, despite being restricted somewhat by its rating. (We rank the best and worst NC-17 films here.) Although “Blue” is already set in prime theaters in all the top markets, this initial reaction likely opens the doors to a somewhat wider release (“Shame” at its widest was only 95 theaters), and if reaction to the film as a whole is similar to its critical response (it delivers far more than its already famous sex scenes) it could easily top “No” at least and become a significant success.
What comes next: The rest of the top 10 markets open this Friday, with further expansion throughout November. The film – which was the unanimous choice at Cannes from a jury that included Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee and Nicole Kidman – has Oscar aspirations (though it is not eligible for FL film) in multiple categories including Best Picture, acting, directing, writing – which will be enhanced both by positive popular reaction and potential critics’ groups awards ahead.
“The Square” (Noujaim) – Criticwire: A; Metacritic: 80; Festivals include: Sundance 2013, Toronto 2013
$15,665 at 1 theater; PSA; $15,665
After winning the audience awards for documentary at Sundance (international category) and Toronto, this potential Oscar contender from director Jehane Noujaim (“Startup.com,” “Control Room”) opened to a strong seat-limited gross at New York’s Film Forum. Returning to her native Egypt in late 2011 to film the Cairo events that toppled the Mubarek regime, it presciently details the complications present even in triumph that have made the once promising Arab spring less hopeful.
Following the pattern of “Detropia” (which opened to $17,400 at the IFC Center) and its self-distribution by its directors, this opened with a similar gross hopes for similar results down the line. There should be at least interest from Arab-American audiences (with significant populations in many U.S. cities) as well as gain attention from a wider group influenced by likely similar reviews elsewhere, with its fest prizes suggesting strong word of mouth is possible.
What comes next: Los Angeles opens this Friday before expanding elsewhere.
“Capital” (Cohen Media) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 56; Festivals include: Toronto 2012, Los Angeles 2013, Hamptons 2013
$22,447 at 2 theaters; PSA: $11,224
Director Costa-Gavras is an old hand at poltically-tinged dramas – his “Z” in 1969 was a major hit, grossing what today would be over $75 million and winning two Oscars, and later scored with such studio-backed films like “Missing,” “Betrayed,” “The Music Box” and “Mad City.” This part-English-language French film costars Gabriel Byrne as a high-rolling banker emblematic of the abuses can trigger financial crises while making the rich richer. Its opening gross at two New York theaters is a testament to the director’s reputation with older audiences, overcoming mixed reviews (particularly bad in the New York Times) to have a passable if not sensational initial gross.
What comes next: This quickly jumps to 30 more theaters next week with many more cities opening.
“Spinning Plates” (The Film Arcade) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritc: 68; Festivals include: Austin 2012, Santa Barbara 2013
$20,528 in 3 theaters; PSA: $6,843
This, much more than “The Square,” is the kind of documentary film that can find an audience these days. Focusing on three very different, very distinctive restaurants in Chicago, Tucson and small-town Iowa, it opened with Landmark Theaters in three cities (Chicago along with New York and Los Angeles) to a modest but respectable initial gross. Director Joseph Levy has produced shows for the Food Network on cable, making this a logical spinoff for him. It got modest festival attention, but this shows how some niche docs can find exposure despite being somewhat below the radar.
What comes next: Landmark is opening this in multiple markets around the country, along with other dates to follow.
All three of last week’s significant openings expanded in varying degrees, with Fox Searchlight’s “12 Years a Slave” already making it into the top 10 in only 125 theaters, as reported here. The other two had somewhat different results, with Roadside Attractions’ “All Is Lost” starring Robert Redford showing some life, while Sony Pictures Classics’ “Kill Your Darlings” is faring less well.
“All Is Lost” took in $518,000 in 81 theaters (+75) for a PSA of $6,395. This isn’t particularly strong — “Blue Jasmine” in its second weekend in 50 theaters had a PSA more than six times bigger ($37,000). “The Place Beyond the Pines” achieved $23,400 in 30. It is more in the range of “The Sessions” a year ago, which had a somewhat better opening weekend, then in its third weekend when it got to 69 theaters with a PSA of $6,800. still a bit better, though with slightly fewer theaters.
The most positive news for Roadside is that its initial six theaters dropped a modest 27% this weekend. The problem is that these are great theaters with major demands on their screens in the weeks ahead, and with the not so great initial numbers, this might not be strong enough to hold on to them through Thanksgiving, right as the awards season starts in earnest. But its future remains an open question, with potentially still good word of mouth, and less immediate competition outside of the top two markets giving the film time to stabilize and find an audience equal to what was anticipated yet.
“Kill Your Darlings,” consistent with SPC’s usual slower rollouts for most of their releases, played in 8 theaters (+4) for a total of $41,400 (PSA: $5,175). Despite doubling the theater count, the overall gross was down 22% from last weekend, which isn’t an encouraging sign.
Four non-specialized indie films continued in wider release, with High Top Releasing’s “I’m in Love With a Church Girl” taking in $525,000 in 458 theaters (+1) for a total so far of $1,735,000. Lionsgate’s Mexican comedy “Instructions Not Included” added $270,000 in 301 (-174) to total just under $44 million, while their lower grossing but still successful “Pulling Strings” did $265,000 in 315 (-123) to pass $5.5 million. Roadside Attractions’ “Grace Unplugged,” another church-based drama, pulled in another $121,000 in 208 (-105) to get to $2,367,000.
Three other art-house based films grossed more than $50,000 this weekend, both from SPC. “Blue Jasmine,” now in its fourth month of release, added another $157,000 in 119 (-33), now at $32,218,000. “Wadjda” keeps slowly expanding, now in its seventh week, grossing $132,000 in 87 (+21) for a total so far of $994,000, impressive for a film from Saudi Arabia. Radius/Weinstein’s doc-Oscar hopeful “Inequality for All” did $83,600 in 97 (-6), now up to $938,000.