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Arthouse Audit: ‘Bad Words,’ ‘Enemy’ and ‘Le Week-End’ Best of Modest Openers

Arthouse Audit: 'Bad Words,' 'Enemy' and 'Le Week-End' Best of Modest Openers

As the post-Oscar surge abates, a wide range of new releases opened this week. They fell far short of the total of last week’s massive opener “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Fox Searchlight) which expanded this weekend to reach #8 in only 66 theaters. Also in the Top 10 is “Veronica Mars (Warner Bros.) in 291 theaters, also available for simultaneous home viewing as is increasingly common among specialized releases.

One of these, A24’s “Enemy,” is the first release in that company’s recent DirecTV deal to release films on the satellite carrier. “Enemy” had a decent single theater gross, with a PSA below top performer “Bad Words” (Focus), which was just OK compared to expectations when it was acquired last year. Music Box’s “Le Week-End” also showed some initial interest in its opening theaters.

Opening

“Bad Words” (Focus) – Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 58; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, South by Southwest 2014

$120,000 in 6 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $20,000

For every “Little Miss Sunshine” or “Napoleon Dynamite” that scores a big success out of a film festival premiere, many other well-reviewed comedies, despite high-end acquisitions by major specialized companies, often fail to repeat their initial response. “Bad Words,” was the final buy of the previous Focus team, which acquired worldwide rights out of TIFF for $7 million. It is now the first limited release from the new team, and its initial results show how tricky comedies can be to launch.

Director/star Jason Bateman, who co-starred in Focus parent company Universal’s big hit “Identity Thief” a year ago, has usually found success in ensembles. The raucous comedy scored mixed reviews. This was not presumed to be a big critical success, sparking the need for good word of mouth to launch this to broader success as the necessary first step. The totals for the weekend (divided among 6, not 4 New York/Los Angeles theaters, with Focus adding two strong but more commercial theaters to the normal break) are ordinary for the sort of profile and substantial PR campaign given to its initial release. But the trajectory of the grosses — up 24% Saturday over Friday — marks a positive initial sign.

This looks meager in comparison to last weekend’s staggering numbers for “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which in four theaters had a PSA 10 times greater. A more reasonable response is that this remains a work in progress, with the adult-crashing-a-spelling bee story (with a strong R rating for language) making it a broader based rather than upscale/older audience appeal film.  “Bad Words” has a shot at the same response as its initial Toronto showing, but it remains tougher to replicate with more competition in the wide-release world.

What comes next: This expands to other cities next week, with a much wider break scheduled for March 28.

“Le Week-End” (Music Box) – Criticwire: B+; Cinemascore: 72; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, New York 2013, Chicago 2013

$45,000 in 3 theaters; PSA: $15,000

With a much smaller campaign than “Bad Words,” but helped by better reviews (and equally strong New York/Los Angeles theater placement) this is a decent initial result for this Paris-set mainly English-language senior citizen rom-com about a long-married British couple returning to the site of their decades-earlier honeymoon in hopes of rekindling their feelings for each other. Director Roger Michell (whose biggest hit was “Notting Hill”) has previously dealt with issues of older characters and their emotional turmoil (“Venus,” “Hyde Park on Hudson”), but this one has the feel more akin to recent successes like “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” albeit with a smaller cast (Jim Broadbent is the most familiar name). In any event, this isn’t a film best judged by initial results. Music Box has shown, when handling a viable release, the ability to maximize results (led by the Swedish “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy). This is their best limited opening in over two years, so expect them to push this hard in the upcoming weeks.

What comes next: Starting with 15 more theaters this weekend, Music Box expects to get this to around 150 theaters within four weeks.

“Enemy” (A24) – Criticwire: B; Cinemascore: 62; Festivals include: Toronto 2013; also available on DirecTV

$18,000 on 1 screen; PSA: $18,000

Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve and Jake Gyllenhaal made two films together that were shown at last year’s Toronto — Warners’ “Prisoners,” which went on to modest wide success right away, and this independently made film shot just after their bigger-budget effort. “Enemy,” a much more intimate doppelganger thriller set in Toronto (a nerdy college professor encounters his more glamorous actor double) opened at New York’s prime Angelika Theater to a decent result. But what is most significant here is the release strategy — A24 is in partnership with satellite home viewing provider DirecTV, which is also showing the film at the same time. This differs from other Video on Demand releases in that it’s exclusive to one carrier (making it less competitive than usual VOD releases). But it still limits the exhibitors willing to show the film (excluding all major chains). (Note: This is a U.S.-only gross. The film also opened with a broader theatrical release in Canada with a different distributor, which has not yet been reported).

What comes next: 25 markets open next Friday.

“On My Way” (Cohen) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 58; Festivals include: Berlin 2013, London 2013, Rendezvous With French Cinema 2014

$11,065 in 1; PSA: $11,065

Cohen Media has specialized in mainly subtitled European films, with an emphasis on France, so it’s not surprising for them to release a film with the reigning queen of Gallic actresses Catherine Deneuve. Opening at the prime Lincoln Plaza theater in New York to mixed reviews, it scored an adequate if unsensational gross. This story of an older woman thrust into an unlikely road trip with her grandson is the sort that could find arthouse appeal, particularly with Denueve’s name attached. The biggest success with Deneuve of any distributor in recent years was Music Box’ “Potiche,” grossing $1.6 million, quite good these days for French language films). That film debuted much wider – 7 theaters – for a PSA of over $12,000. That film had the benefit of a familiar director (Francois Ozon) to enhance its start.

What comes next: The slow roll-out continues with a Landmark Los Angeles opening next Friday.

“Big Men” (Abramorama) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 90; Festivals include: Tribeca 2013, Locarno 2013

$9,050 in 1 theater; PSA; $9,050

Following their co-distributed “Particle Fever” last weekend, Abramorama has its second straight non-celebrity/serious theme documentary release showing some signs of audience interest. Opening in only 114 seats at New York’s IFC Center, “Big Men” is Rachel Boynton’s (“Our Brand Is Crisis”) multi-year study on the discovery and development of oil rights in West Africa. Like the more impressively-initial grossing “Fever,” this benefited from strong reviews to find an initial audience. For the subject matter and low-end expense (more social network driven) marketing, this is about as strong a gross as could have been expected considering the seating limitations. (Among its behind-the-scenes backers has been Brad Pitt, who came on board as Executive Producer).

What comes next: This will slowly move into other big cities, with this initial gross likely expanding the market to a wider audience than initially assumed.

“Teenage” (Oscilloscope) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 68; Festivals include: Hot Docs 2013, Tribeca 2013

$8,000 in 1 theater; PSA: $8,000

This doc covers the history of the concept of “teenage-hood” (a 20th century invention) relying on archive-footage and some earlier published research to cover the implications of considering this life stage as a separate identity (and mostly Western in nature). Opening at New York’s Sunshine Theater, it managed a modest gross despite OK but not great reviews.

What comes next: It opens in Los Angeles next Friday.

Also opening:

Radius/Weinstein’s heist film “The Art of the Steal” starring Kurt Russell and Matt Dillon (also on VOD) managed $38,500 in 60 theaters (PSA: $642). Variance’s “The Retrieval,” a Civil War-era story involving an ex-slave, opened at a single Atlanta theater, grossing $6,400, in advance of further bookings (including New York’s Film Forum in April).

Ongoing/expanding

The standout among second week films in limited release is “Particle Fever” (Abramorama/Bond 360), which built on its strong initial results to gross $89,600 in 14 (+10) for a good PSA of $6,400, already up to $179,000. IFC’s “The Face of Love” (also on VOD) did $56,700 in 21 (+18). The Israeli “Bethlehem” (Adopt) held in OK at from a lesser start, taking in $52,000 in 29 (+3), down 25% from last weekend.

Showing steadiness in its third week, Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Lunch Box” grossed $97,400 in 18 (+5), now up to $315,000. SPC also has “Tim’s Vermeer” in its 7th weekend added $218,000 in 109 (+44) to pass the $1 million mark,

The rest of the entries are late runs of Oscar contenders. Janus’ Italian “The Great Beauty” is now losing theaters and total gross, but still did $93,000 to reach $2.6 million, clearly aided by its Foreign Language victory. “The Wind Rises” (Buena Vista( added $412,000 in 305 (-191), now at $4.1 million. The rest of the end-on-run initially limited nominees and winners (most now out on DVD and/or VOD or soon to come) all grossed $400,000 or less, other than big winner “12 Years a Slave” with did an additional $1,180,000 to go along with its home availability.

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