Weinstein heart-tugger “Philomena,” this week’s awards-friendly limited opening, scored an initial number comparable to two recent Oscar contenders (“Nebraska” and “Dallas Buyers Club”), just ahead of its rapid expansion this Wednesday. Per usual, the specialty market is getting crowded, with not just new limited films but plenty of wider-releases, including “Catching Fire,” grabbing the attention of older audiences. It’s a time of high-risk opportunity, as not all releases will achieve their hoped-for maximum attention.
“Philomena” (Weinstein) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 75; Festivals include: Venice 2013, Toronto 2013, Hamptons 2013, AFI 2013
$133,700 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $33,425
A more than decent initial result for Stephen Frears’ British/Irish adoption drama starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, placing it among the better fall releases so far. These grosses fell just short of what “Nebraska” did last weekend (with three of the same New York/Los Angeles theaters), but with greater competition this week these numbers are more than respectable. Frears’ last major Oscar contender, “The Queen” had a three-theater PSA of over $40,000 in 2006 (with lower ticket prices widening the gap in comparison) on its way to a successful $56 million domestic take and a Best Actress Oscar for Helen Mirren.
Dench of course has become an art-house staple (“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” was a crossover hit) in recent years, accompanying her wider familiarity as M in the James Bond films. But this is her first non-ensemble lead role since “Notes of a Scandal” in 2006, which co-starred Cate Blanchett. That film opened wider — 22 theaters –with a strong PSA for that number of theaters (almost $19,000, on its way to $17.5 million). The Frears/Dench collaboration “Mrs. Henderson Presents,” an early Weinstein Company release, opened in 2005 to $55,000 in six theaters on its way to $11 million.
Showing faith in the elements and spending more in marketing than normal for a second week, Weinstein is quickly expanding this to around 700 theaters next week, far more quickly than any of the other recent awards contenders (“12 Years a Slave,” “All Is Lost,” “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Nebraska”), clearly showing faith in both Dench’s appeal and the company’s proven marketing skills. This is a daring move — two years ago, Weinstein launched “My Week With Marilyn” initially at Thanksgiving in 244 theaters, and for the length of the run never pushed to more than 630. “Best Exotic Marigold” only passed that total in its fourth week.
What comes next: The expansion will create a lot of attention, vital for ensuring Dench a slot in the crowded Best Actress race, and potentially if this does well making it a wider contender. It comes at a cost, but Weinstein has turned the trick in the past. But this is a risky move — even “Silver Linings Playbook” didn’t hit 745 theaters until just after Christmas last year despite also opening pre-Thanksgiving.
“Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?” (IFC) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 80; Festivals include: Karlovy Vary 2013, Docs NY 2013; also available on Video on Demand on November 25
$31,760 in 3 theaters; PSA: $10,620
French director Michel Gondry has had about as eclectic a list of films as anyone around (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Green Hornet” on the wide-release end to “The Science of Sleep” and “Dave Chapelle’s Block Party” as well as the barely-played “The We and the I” and “The Thorn in the Heart”). Like most of his films, this is a hybrid; it combines animation and documentary in an extended interview with political theorist and activist Noam Chomsky. It opened in three New York/Los Angeles theaters to decent results as a launch for its Video on Demand availability Monday.
These numbers are impressive because of the theater choice — as usual for the distributor, a New York showcase at the IFC Center— but Los Angeles’ two runs are not at prime locations.
What comes next: Along with VOD, this is set to open in San Francisco this weekend, with other top cities set for December.
“Narco Cultura” (Cinedigm) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 72; Festivals include: Sundance 2013
$7,713 in 1 theater; PSA: $7,713
This Sundance-competitor in the U.S. Documentary selection actually also opened in Miami, with that gross not reported by Cinedigm. A musical doc, it covers the trans-border genre that reflects the violence of the drug cartels and life for the population affected by them. Its New York gross, at the mainstream AMC Empire 24 (which has a more diverse audience base than a typical arthouse) is average at best, but is ahead of what many Sundance-launched docs get in their openings these days.
What comes next: Los Angeles opens on Dec.6, with other dates possible.
Submarine Deluxe opened “Weekend of a Champion,” a restored and expanded version of an early 1970s documentary about champion race car driver Jackie Stewart, initially overseen by his friend Roman Polanski. It opened in two Manhattan locations to only $4,082. After the disappointment of “Rush” domestically, it looks like U.S. audiences don’t find the subject matter of much interest.
Paramount expanded Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” to 28 theaters (+4), with results not comparably strong to its initial more limited openings last week. Grossing $350,000 in 28 theaters, its PSA of $12,500 is somewhat below par compared to the also recently opening “Dallas Buyers Club,” which in slightly more (35) theaters in its second weekend had a PSA of $18,250. There is increased competition for adult audiences — “Catching Fire” did about $80 million of its massive take from moviegoers 25 and older — and each week increases the number of awards contenders competing for attention. But as a film with continued strong critical response and awards interest to start rolling out soon, as well as a commitment from Paramount to maximize its results, this could still show results from a slow release pattern that reaches it highest level in January. With not only new first run films next Wednesday, but also major expansions of “Philomena” and “The Book Thief” this week, the slower approach actually not only shows faith in the film’s long term chances but also keeps it from competing at the wider level prematurely.
Janus’ visually dazzling Italian Oscar entry “The Great Beauty” jumped to three theaters, adding the Angelika in New York and an exclusive run in Los Angeles to again score a strong gross, $54,756, for a PSA of over $18,000, terrific these days for a subtitled film, more so with its 142-minute length and lack of a widely known director or star. This clearly seems to be gaining strength as it goes forward. It is widening in upcoming weeks; in several cities calendar initial one-week (calendar) bookings now seem less than what the film might be able to handle. Still, this continues to be a real coup for the distributor, who rarely handles first-run theatrical releases, and was a missed opportunity for those companies who usually dominate the foreign language film field and the Oscar race for this category.
On the non-specialized indie front, faith-based Echolight Studio’s British holiday period story “The Christmas Candle” expanded from its test runs last week to 392 theaters (+5), grossing $980,000, good for 14th place overall with a PSA $2,500. Playing mostly at more mid-American mainstream multiplexes, it should be able to sustain these and expand a bit despite the heavy competition for screens ahead.
With “12 Years a Slave” (#9) and “Dallas Buyers Club” (#10) thriving at higher levels, a handful of other longer-playing specialized films totaled over $50,000 for the weekend. Tops among them – both in total gross and PSA – is 20th Century-Fox’ “The Book Thief,” which climbed to 70 theaters (+41) for $605,000 (PSA $8,643). This has been showing some real steadiness since it opened to less than great reviews two weeks ago, but the jury is still out as to how the wider – around 1,000 theaters – this is going this week. So far, the film has grossed $1.3 million.
Also expanding in its 5th week, though more slowly, was “Blue Is the Warmest Color” (IFC), which though it never has had sensational grosses is quietly adding to its tougher-to-achieve theater count (as an NC-17 film). This week, at 138 theaters (+30), it grossed $193,000 (PSA $1,399) to get to $1,458,000. This makes it the second-highest grossing French release this year (behind as of now “Renoir,” the film the country submitted to the Oscars with “Blue” released too late at home to qualify.)
Sony Pictures Classics’ “Kill Your Darlings” also expanded a bit, doing $106,000 in 78 (+7) for a total of $649,000 so far. Roadside Attaction’s “All Is Lost” dropped to 338 theaters (-145), for $390,000 and a total of just under $5 million in its 6th week.
Among the much longer run hits, Fox Searchlight’s “Enough Said” added $240,000 to get to just under $17 million, while SPC’s “Blue Jasmine” is nearing the end of the road (at least for now) with another $51,000 and $32.7 million so far.