Two of the most anticipated specialized films of 2014 debuted this week. Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” rewrote the record books for biggest limited live-action opening ever with a massive $800,000 first weekend in only four theaters. The other, the first half of Lars von Trier’s “Nyphomaniac” (Magnolia) began its VIdeo on Demand run two weeks prior to its initial theatrical dates (results not released alas). “Budapest” proves that the right movie from a known filmmaker with strong reviews can still score in movie theaters.
“Particle Fever” (Abramorama/Bond 360) also posted strong returns in three theaters, along with an encouraging expansion for Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Lunchbox,” as exhibitors move on from the emphasis on awards-adjacent titles that have dominated the market in recent months.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Fox Searchlight) – Criticwire: 86; Metacritic: A-; Festivals include: Berlin 2013
$800,000 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $200,000
In reporting opening specialized grosses, a per screen average of $30,000 or better qualifies as good much of the time when debuting at four prime New York/Los Angeles theaters. When the gross is over $50,000, it usually is “great.” When “Blue Jasmine” opened last summer to $100,000, it was a major deal, and among other things began Cate Blanchett’s inevitable run to her Oscar. If adjectives should be parceled out on a scale, what does that make the $200,000 projected PSA for Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel”? It’s tough to adequately convey how big this is. Record-breaking (for a two city live-action specialized opening) is a place to start.
Even in an era where increased ticket prices exaggerate the level of advance from previous high water marks, this one is impressive. The previous raw dollar record was held by “The Master,” which achieved as PSA of $147,000 in five theaters (the one additional likely slightly decreasing the average). Almost as impressive was Wes Anderson’s most recent release, “Moonrise Kingdom,” which two years ago managed $130,000 in four.
Significantly the Saturday increase from Friday for “Budapest” looks a little better than those two films, suggesting an initial positive response to go along with the huge pre-opening interest. That bodes well for the film. As a look at the other recent big openings shows, none of this guarantees huge crossover success. Among “Moonrise,” “Jasmine” and “The Master,” only Wes Anderson’s film managed to pass $40 million (“The Master” only reached $16 million). And some factors that benefited “Budapest” initially — a dearth of other recent limited offerings, Anderson’s significant big city following, the ability of these theaters to maximize seating and showtimes and in some cases add shows (because of the less-competitive showtime) all helped goose the gross.
But still, this is, to say the least, impressive. Pre-opening, some thought the period Europeanized look and feel for the film might make it of less interest than the more American and contemporary “Moonrise.” And that still might end up being the case as it expands. But the clear initial takeaway has to be that this has enormous potential, and surpassing “Moonrise,” for starters, seems quite possible. And the lack of similar high-profile upscale audience releases on the immediate horizon should just elevate this even more, again assuming positive response (and possible repeat viewings) come to pass.
Meantime, this reinforces the idea that Oscars and other awards are nice, but smart distributors know that even if early in the year placement might make them less likely (and there have been exceptions), being the fresh new film with great reviews in late winter can be a great way to maximize appeal and box office with much less competition.
What comes next: Expansions in NY/LA plus several other cities will bring this to up to 75 theaters next week (“Moonrise” only had 16 its second), with an inevitable wider break likely before too long.
“Particle Fever” (Abramorama/Bond 360) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 89; Festivals include: Sheffield Doc 2013, Telluride 2013, New York 2013
$41,200 in 3 theaters; PSA; $13,833
Though the gross is far down from the huge numbers for “Budapest,” on its own terms this is a very impressive result for this unheralded documentary handled very independently, but still able to corral appropriate theaters (New York’s essential Film Forum and Los Angeles’ ideal Nuart, along with a suburban Orange County CA venue). The two core theaters had an even better PSA of $17,000 (though the suburban run was above average as well). This is a doc about big ideas — basically, efforts physicists are making to discover how the universe was created. It didn’t have a big campaign or much elevated festival exposure, but it did have great, prominent reviews (even scoring a bit ahead of “Budapest” so far) to go along with its appropriate placement. The result is a very promising start. The ideas here don’t seem to be the kind of subject that should be limited to these cities, but now that it has broken out initially should find a broader interest. And the grosses are strong enough to increase exhibitor interest ahead.
What comes next: This has already been booked at select Landmark theaters in upcoming weeks, but look for it to have a wider profile in upcoming weeks.
“The Face of Love” (IFC) – Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 52; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, San Sebastian 2013, Vancouver 2013
$25,800 in 3 theaters; PSA: $8,600
With a cast headed by Annette Bening and Ed Harris (with Robin Williams showing up as well), Arie Posen’s (“The Chumscrubber”) tearjerker (about a widow who thinks she has found a lookalike for her late husband) seemed at Toronto to be have potential theatrical appeal. The three New York/Los Angeles theaters (all top-rate) managed to overcome the weak reviews to manage a modest gross. However, IFC decided to in advance to maximize this as a Video on Demand film (it starts its play this Thursday), which seems justified by this result.
What comes next: Apart from home access, IFC will get this open in other big cities over the next few weeks.
“Bethlehem” (Adopt) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 68; Festivals include: Venice 2013, Toronto 2013
$69,700 in 26 theaters; PSA: $2,681
Adopt two weeks ago opened Oscar Foreign Language nominee “Omar” (from Palestine, but sharing themes and settings with this Israeli film) much wider than normal (53 theaters), with the award tie-in suggesting a reason to move out quickly. The same pattern, though on a more narrow scale, was used for this film. The result, even at half the theaters in 13 markets, still was a lower PSA. Since “Omar” overall wasn’t that special to start off with, this total has to be considered disappointing. Top Israeli films, particularly those distributed in recent years by Sony Pictures Classics, have shown the ability to slowly roll out and end up with $1.5-$2.5 million nationwide. This quicker initial showing makes that result much less likely here, although the interest in similar releases means that it still should be able to find playdates at many of the same theaters.
What comes next: Adopt hopes to roll this out to around 100 theaters over upcoming weeks.
Sony Pictures Classics pushed their Bombay-set romance “The Lunchbox” more widely than their normal pattern for subtitled films, now at 13 (+10) to gross $126,000 (PSA $9,672). This is a result better at this stage of a the run than any of the company’s foreign language films since “Amour” (including some with a much higher director and/or country profile), and suggests good word of mouth and initial interest that should propel this easily into a $2 million + ultimate gross. SPC also has “Tim’s Vermeer” in its sixth week, with $180,000 in 65 (+12), with $727,000 so far.
Two other wider second week limited releases had variable results. Lionsgate/Code Black’s “Repentance” at 157 theaters (+5) fell 42% to gross $290,000/$912,000 total. Sony’s Russian IMAX release “Stalingrad” collapsed with a 79% drop in 143 (-165), doing only $105,000 in near empty theaters (now at $863,000.) In its third week, Buena Vista’s “The Wind Rises” is doing much better, with $871,000 (-43%) at the same 496 theaters, $3.3 million so far.
The post-Oscar haul was uneven, more so with many of the winners already viewable at home. “12 Years a Slave,” (Fox Searchlight), despite its DVD release last week, managed to make #9 with an additional $2.2 /$53.1 million. Two acting Oscar winner “Dallas Buyers Club” (Focus), also viewable on VOD, added another $637,000 in 312 (+96) to reach $26.6 million. “The Great Beauty” (Janus), Foreign Language winner, at 77 grossed $160,000 to reach an impressive $2,433,000 as it gains new life. Non-winners “Philomena” (Weinstein) and “Nebraska” (Paramount) added $708,000 and $200,000 respectively (the latter already out on DVD).