Though the Martin Luther King Holiday weekend is usually targeted by studios for new releases, the specialized arena tends to steer clear. That’s because so many late-year releases still demand attention, and the date conflicts with distributors’ main mid-January priority, Sundance (few major indie films open against Sundance, Cannes or Toronto). This year is no different in terms of top films, with only IFC’s “Like Father Like Son” positioned to have a chance at much business. Its opening, despite good reviews, was mediocre. Fourteen other limited films opened between New York and Los Angeles (seven parallel to Video on Demand availability) with less notice and likely much smaller grosses.
All of which means for the next few weeks, core specialized theaters will need to rely on the large number of awards contenders that are current, and in most cases playing fairly wide. That most of them have limited playing windows could actually be good news for for art houses, as in the weeks ahead they could be back to having much less competition as customers catch up with films they have missed.
“Like Father Like Son” (IFC) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 71; Festivals include: Cannes 2013, Toronto 2013, New York 2013
$16,500 in 2 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $8,250
Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-Eda has been an international critics’ favorite for years, and most of his films received a U.S. release, with two (“After Life” and “Nobody Knows”) grossing over $650,000, not a bad total for relatively small Japanese dramas without much marketing. “Like Father Like Son” was expected after winning a prize at Cannes premiere to be a potential bigger success as Japan’s presumptive Foreign Language submission. Japan chose otherwise though, and IFC delayed what was expected to be a late 2013 post-festival showing release until a period with less competition from other new quality films.
The story — a young upper-middle class Tokyo couple learns their son was switched at birth with another boy now living with a working-class family — is similar to other domestic stories in Kore-Eda’s past films. But this film, while retaining most of the distinctive style of his past films, seemed poised to attract broader domestic arthouse interest. IFC opened this in two key New York theaters (their own as well as the essential Lincoln Plaza), but the results are at the low end of good at best (the current best performing foreign language film, Oscar nominee “The Great Beauty” did $23,442 at the Lincoln Plaza alone in mid-November).
With Los Angeles opening next Friday with other cities not far behind, this could see a spark from positive word of mouth and still has a chance at a respectable showing. But these figures reinforce once again the tough market out there for anything subtitled that doesn’t have some combination of great reviews, pre-sold elements or awards attention.
What comes next: This has little immediate competition in upcoming weeks among new specialized films, so it will have a chance still to attract attention from core audiences hungry for an appealing and acclaimed new film.
Nearly all the action comes from pre-New Years’ films already in the market, in most cases playing multi-hundred breaks. Of last week’s two reporting openers, only “In Bloom” from newcomer Big World Pictures announced grosses (a weak $4,600 in the same two New York theaters). Sony Classics Pictures two end-of-year films are also expanding, one which was a nominee (for Costume Design), “The Invisible Woman,” which expanded to 26 theaters (+17) for $100,000 (PSA: $3,846, total $293,000). Their “The Past” is similarly expanding, now at 30 (+13) for $110,000, PSA $3,667, total $389,000. Both are modest results for this level of the theater play.
A large number of Oscar hopefuls, some with better results than others, had multi-hundred theater bookings this weekend, most of which based on results won’t be sustained for much longer. Among those that started as limited releases and have shown their biggest strength at core specialized theaters, the top grosser was “12 Years a Slave” (Fox Searchlight), which took in $1,515,000 in 761 theaters (+647), PSA $1,991, total $40,619,000 after a previously successful mid-wide release before the holidays. “Philomena,” (Weinstein) which has been riding high for a number of weeks, actually lost theaters (505, -102) but with the help of its nominations fell only 6% to gross $1,307,000, now up to $24 million. CBS Films’ Oscar disappointment “Inside Llewyn Davis” actually still showed some modest life with $1,105,000 in 585 theaters (-144) to reach $11,143,000. “Nebraska” (Paramount) has yet to respond to the level its ongoing acclaim might have suggested, but showed signs of life as it grossed $940,000 in 408 theaters (-113), which despite the theater loss actually went up 6%, now up to $9.7 million. “Dallas Buyers Club” (Focus) had a big jump in theaters (419, + 294, though it has previously been wider, with an additional $917,000 bringing its total so far to just under $17.8 million.
Three other nominees had some play, led by the steady “The Great Beauty” (Janus), a Foreign Language frontrunner, and the only one with a presence in the market at the moment (two others have opened earlier, and two have yet to premiere), The Italian film took in another $130,000 in 54 (+16), now at $1,263,000. This doesn’t compare to the parallel performance of the last two winners (“Amour” and “A Separation”), but this has been achieved with much smaller advertising and against particularly strong competition for adult audiences. It looks like it might approach $2 million before the Oscars, with a potential for more if it wins. “Blue Jasmine” (Sony Classics), out on DVD on Tuesday, had a scattered play in 28 theaters with $50,300, topping off at $33,150,000 for its very successful run. Doc feature nominee “The Square” (also on Netflix) came back to 7 theaters for $35,600 for an impressive $5,086 PSA.