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‘Mandela’ Opens Strong with Weak Reviews, Spike Lee’s ‘Old Boy’ Collapses, ’12 Years a Slave’ Passes ‘Blue Jasmine’ as Year’s Best Indie Performer

'Mandela' Opens Strong with Weak Reviews, Spike Lee's 'Old Boy' Collapses, '12 Years a Slave' Passes 'Blue Jasmine' as Year's Best Indie Performer

With so many adult-oriented films playing in wide release over the holiday weekend, it was more difficult for narrower releases to gain traction. One, the second Weinstein potential awards contender in a row to open in just two cities, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” exceeded expectations while the other, Spike Lee’s remake of “Oldboy,” performed weakly in several hundred theaters. Recent limited openers “The Book Thief” and “Philomena” made it to the Top 10, while previous placers “Dallas Buyers Club” and “12 Years in Slavery” did not. Meanwhile “Nebraska” is broadening much more slowly.

Opening

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” (Weinstein) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 59; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, Hamptons 2013, AFI 2013

$100,300 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $25,075

While the sole( new awards-oriented platform this weekend came in below the level of “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Nebraska,” or “Philomena” (which all had PSAs over $30,000 for their New York/Los Angeles starts), this opening was more impressive because it follows weaker reviews, with a Metacritic score just below the “favorable” level.

South African apartheid-themed films have been common for decades now (“A World Apart” back in 1988 received acclaim but not much business; “Invictus” scored Morgan Freeman an Oscar nod but otherwise underperformed; Jennifer Hudson’s “Winnie” took two years to get a minor U.S. release). In this context, these are decent numbers, particularly with the mixed critical response.

Director Justin Chadwick (BBC’s “Bleak House” and “The Other Boleyn Girl”) had more recently made the South African-set “The First Grader” on a less epic scale. Idris Elba (“Luther,” “Prometheus,” “Pacific Rim”) has gotten the best response to the film so far, generating long-shot Best Actor buzz. The awards strategy made this platforming more essential, with this initial response keeping Elba in the conversation.

What comes next: This doesn’t look to be getting the rapid specialized expansion that usually comes with a Weinstein release, suggesting that they were looking for initial results to give more of an indication of its prospects. It likely has a future that follows the course of “Fruitvale Station” and “12 Years a Slave,” meaning a wider mix of theaters than just the usual arthouse locations.

“Oldboy” (FilmDistrict) – Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 50

$850,000 in 583 theaters; PSA: $1,458

The last FilmDistrict release before the company is folded into Focus Features next month, this remake of the Park Chan-wook’s 2004 Korean cult classic (which grossed $700,000 initially in the U.S. with major DVD interest after) was directed by Spike Lee and released as a modest-scale wide release. With no festival play and a review embargo until the day before last Wednesday’s opening, this managed only $1,500,000 in its first five days, a less than impressive showing and far below the initial weeks’ results for the final release from the current team at Focus, “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Spike Lee has been busy in the seven years since his biggest success, “Inside Man,” which got to $88 million. Along with the disappointing “Miracle of St. Anne’s” and limited release “Red Hook Summer,”  he has churned out multiple documentaries that have been mainly cable productions (most recently “Bad 25” and “Mike Tyson: The Undisputed Truth.”) At $30 million, this is not at the high-end of his budgets, but still costly enough to mean that unless this was presold internationally at a substantial level this will not end up as a success. It also is another less than spectacular showing for lead Josh Brolin, who has yet to demonstrate marquee leading man value (hits “No Country for Old Men” and “Milk” were ensembles), and also features Elizabeth Olsen, who still awaits her breakout film after acclaim in “Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene.”

What comes next: With only one new wide film next week, FilmDistrict might be able to sustain and possibly increase their theaters, but this looks unlikely to get to even $5 million domestically.

“The Punk Singer” (IFC) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 74; Festivals include: South by Southwest 2013; Seattle 2013, DocNYC 2013; also available on Video on Demand

Another entry in the popular documentary subgenre about performers and performances (exemplified by “Searching for Sugar Man” last year), this again focuses on a figure of modest fame (1990s female punk pioneer Kathleen Hanna and her band Bikini Kill). Opening in 3 small-sized screens day and date with VOD showings, this had a decent theatrical response in context, suggesting at least a cult interest that will find further response on its non-theatrical venues.

What comes next: The theatrical component continues with several other openings next week and beyond in December.

Expanding/ongoing

Last week’s 4-theater opener “Philomena” (Weinstein) had an expedited expansion, which landed it in at #9 with $3.9 million for the three days, $4,750,000 for five in 835 theaters. Joining it in the Top 10 was “The Book Thief” (Twentieth Century Fox), which placed #7 with $4,850,000 in 1,234.

The other second week film, which debuted on VOD on Monday, was Michel Gondry’s animated interview with Noam Chomsky “Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?.” This grossed a modest $19,800 in 6 theaters to complement its home availability.

Two acclaimed awards hopefuls expanded in different degrees in their third weeks. Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” is moving forward more slowly than “Philomena” and other recent equally strong platform films. In 107 theaters it grossed $728,000 in 102 (+74) for a PSA of $7,137, somewhat modest for the quality of its theaters at this point and the holiday weekend, although in line with “The Book Thief” in its third weekend ($8,709 in fewer – 70 – theaters). Its total thus far is $1,476,000.

“The Great Beauty” (Janus) continues its better than expected run with $139,000 in 23 (+20), PSA is just over $6,000, above average for subtitled films at this level these days.

“12 Years a Slave” (Fox Searchlight) and “Dallas Buyers Club” (Focus) both fell out of the Top 10. “Dallas” ranked higher at #12, doing $2.6 million in 696 theaters (+30), with only a slight falloff in total gross with close to the same number. It is now up to $10.3 million. “12 Years” lost 309 theaters (now at 1,165), and placed at #13 at $2.3 million. Its PSA has fallen below $2,000, but having reached $33 million already, with the potential for it to rebound ahead as awards arrive, this is a considerable achievement. And it now has passed “Blue Jasmine” as the year’s top specialized release.

Among longer running films, “All Is Lost” (Roadside Attractions) in week 7 lost most of its theaters (now at 51, down 285), but these sustained an OK return of $197,000, to reach $5,271,000 so far. “Blue Is the Warmest Color” (IFC) added another $128,000 in 92 (-50), now at $1,623,000.

Long-running “Enough Said” (Fox Searchlight) took in another $126,000 in 121 to get to $17.2 million, while “Kill Your Darlings” (Sony Pictures Classics) did $72,306, now at $765,000.

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