Arthouse Audit: ‘Llewyn Davis’ Tastes Major Success in Limited Opening

Arthouse Audit: 'Llewyn Davis' Tastes Major Success in Limited Opening

By opening better than any of the recent spate of acclaimed awards-bound films (including frontrunner “12 Years a Slave”) the new film from Joel and Ethan Coen, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” served notice that it too deserves attention. With three of the Coens’ last four releases winding up as Best Picture contenders, and the reviews for “Davis” ranking slightly below “Gravity” and “12 Years” for best of the year, this result while not surprising was also not in the bag, as the film isn’t a surefire crowdpleaser and boasts younger, urban appeal.

The rest of the specialized action came from a variety of other films also being positioned for maximum awards attention in various stages of widening release, with two slower-expanding films — “Mandela” and “Nebraska” — holding best among them.

Opening

“Inside Llewyn Davis” (CBS Films) – Criticwire: 94; Metacritic: A-; Festivals include Cannes 2013, Telluride 2013, New York 2013, AFI 2013

$401,000 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $100,500

A spectacularly strong opening for the Coen brothers’ offbeat, even by their standards, take on a struggling folk singer in early 1960s Greenwich Village which (based on estimates) falls just short of “Blue Jasmine” as the best limited New York/Los Angeles opening of the year. And this weekend theaters are filled with other strong films offering intense competition for seats. (The Sunday actuals will be the best indication of this).

This is also the biggest limited opening for any Coen film, inflation adjusted or not. In recent years, their films have tended to open wider in big cities. Recently, only “A Serious Man” in 2009 opened this limited. It had a PSA of about $42,000 in 6 theaters (all New York/Los Angeles) before ending up a $9.2 million total (along with a Best Picture nomination). Huge openings alone don’t guarantee ultimate crossover success — “The Master” last year famously had a staggering PSA of $147,000 in five but only reached $16 million (at its widest 846 theaters), but this is a breakout performance.

The total also nearly triples or better several other recent specialized awards contenders openings, including “Nebraska,” “Philomena” and “Dallas Buyers Club,” up to now the best of the season, all at the same or similar initial theaters. What this suggests, apart from the established appeal of the Coens, is that a younger urban crowd has a more enthusiastic interest in this–partly due to CBS’s relentless music-tilted marketing campaign– than they had for the older-appealing stories and casts of those earlier films. The older crowd nationally tends to be steady and loyal, while it remains to be seen whether “Davis” will have the same draw across the country (as “A Serious Man” showed, their films are sometimes strictly Coastal). (“Blue Jasmine” with its equivalent opening has gotten to over $32 million, all without the benefit of concurrent awards support.)

This is also a huge triumph for CBS Films, which has shown a deft touch in handling mostly wider release films (their biggest success “Last Vegas” is up to $60 million). They have dabbled in more limited films twice earlier — “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” opened in 18 theaters in 2009 to $225,000 before grossing $9 million, while last summer “The Kings of Summer” did a modest $59,000 in four, only reaching $1.3 million. This initial gross places them among the top distributors for niche releases at a time when some of the studio-owned companies are retrenching somewhat and the majors normally shy away from anything outside a wide release pattern.

What comes next: CBS is going even more slowly with this than Paramount has with “Nebraska” (other recent awards contenders have jumped to wider runs quickly pre-Christmas), with the next cities not opening until December 20 and the wider national run waiting until January.

Also opening:

Two potential awards contenders, both with one-week runs only before their official releases next year, opened without (as per custom) reporting their grosses. Sony Pictures Classics’ short-listed Oscar Feature Documentary “Tim’s Vermeer” showed at New York’s Lincoln Plaza Theater (very strangely, not reviewed in the New York Times, though it was elsewhere) with no reports on its grosses. It qualifies in Los Angeles next week. Weinstein opened “One Chance” from director David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada” and “Marley and Me”) at the Landmark in Los Angeles. This U.K.-set reality show-based story premiered at Toronto and features a Taylor Swift original song, now eligible for an Oscar. It played at a small auditorium, and sold out several shows.

Two other new films reported. EOne opened the Italian Bosnia war drama “Twice Born” starring Penelope Cruz in 10 theaters for only $13,900. Indie vet Laura Collela’s “Breakfast With Curtis” (Abramorama) did $2,000 in one New York location.

Ongoing/expanding

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” (Weinstein) had an exceptionally good hold from its decent (though lower than initially reported) opening last week. Unusually for the company, they didn’t expand anywhere the second week, even though intervening events presumably would boost interest in new markets. In any event, whether either because of the news of Mandela’s death and/or good word of mouth, it fell only 8% in its four New York/Los Angeles theaters, grossing $77,700 for a PSA of $19,425 (about 20% of what “Llewyn Davis” did in similar theaters.) Interest above what had been expected looks in store for this biopic.

Also in its second weekend, IFC’s female rock-doc “The Punk Singer” expanded to 16 theaters (+3) to do a spotty $29,100.

Recent initial arthouse openers “The Book Thief,” “Philomena” and “Dallas Buyers Club” all placed in the Top 10 with a weak overall studio slate opening the way for more specialized films to rank. Unlike its fellow awards contenders, Paramount is taking a slower course for “Nebraska” (by far the most limited of Alexander Payne’s film in its release pattern). It grossed $545,000 in 115 theaters (+13). The film is still struggling to gain traction, but encouraging for Paramount is that it fell only 25% off the holiday weekend, much less than the three other films in the top top. Clearly, the studio is counting on long-term word of mouth, the upcoming Christmas period and numerous awards citations ahead to bolster its expansion. This remains a question mark as to how big and how wide it can go, but the film seems to have handling with an unexpected finesse from a big company. It is up to $2,262,000 so far.

Another well-received if not breakout film holding well is yesterday’s big European Film Awards winner, the Italian “The Great Beauty.” Staying with 23 theaters, it grossed $88,500, down only 33%, and now just under $400,000.

Among other longer-run films grossing above $50,000 is Cinedigm’s Latino musical doc “Narco Cultura,” which grossed $65,000 in 46 (+45) in its third weekend. The best of the older releases remains “12 Years a Slave” (Fox Searchlight), with a 50% falloff, grossing $1,140,000 in 1,082 (-83) for a total of $35,000,000. “All Is Lost” (Roadside Attractions) took in $122,500 in 142 theaters for a new total of $5,465,000. “Blue Is the Warmest Color” (IFC) added $82,500 in 75 (-19), $1,792,000 so far. And Fox Searchlight’s long running “Enough Said” in its 12th weekend still did $62,000 in 94, now just under $17.3 million.

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