Arthouse Audit: ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ Tops Trio of New Big-Name Openings

Arthouse Audit: 'Only Lovers Left Alive' Tops Trio of New Big-Name Openings

The heaviest slate of significant new films to open in one week so far this year, all of which had considerable attention from Cannes to Toronto in 2013, opened to variable results this weekend.

The clear leader is Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” (Sony Pictures Classics) which had respectable numbers in its four New York/Los Angeles theaters. The Weinstein Company’s “The Railway Man,” starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, did about two-thirds as well, for a decent if not spectacular start despite more mixed reviews, and also in four theaters. “Joe” (Roadside Attractions) went much wider to complement its main component, a Video On Demand release, with far weaker results overall. With New York being a major share of its grosses, a rare good-weather Saturday might have cut into the grosses somewhat.

Two other SPC films led the way among other below-the-top-ten specialized releases, with the “The Raid 2” nearly cracking the Top Ten at #11 with just over a million, though playing fairly wide at 954 theaters. Doing comparatively much better is their increasingly successful Indian film “The Lunchbox, holding very well and approaching $1.8 million, already the biggest specialized subtitled release of the year.

Opening

“Only Lovers Left Alive” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 78; Festivals include: Cannes 2013, Toronto 2013, New York 2013, Sundance 2014 SXSW 2014

$97,000 in 4 theaters; PSA: $24,250

Though Jim Jarmusch, along with John Sayles, is the father of contemporary U.S. independent film (his breakout initial film “Stranger Than Paradise” predated Steven Soderbergh, the Coen Brothers and Spike Lee), he has never been an especially big box office draw — in no small part by staying true to his indie roots. His latest effort, also one of his best-reviewed, premiered at Cannes in competition almost a year ago, and has already opened in other significant territories where he maintains a niche or wider following. At home, this opening weekend comes in at a respectable third best first weekend for any limited two-city release so far this year, and easily ranks as the best, and most anticipated, of the three significant new openings.

Jarmusch’s earlier films have had a variety of release patterns, so exact comparisons are at best inexact (without even getting into higher contemporary ticket prices). His best overall grosser was “Broken Flowers” from Focus in 2005, which came out strong at nearly $14 million, and another $34 million worldwide, aided by Bill Murray in the lead shortly after “Lost in Translation.” Significantly, that film’s first weekend had a higher PSA (almost $29,000) despite playing much wider initially (27 theaters, most of them with lower normal grosses than the core ones in New York and Los Angeles). Relatively speaking today, “Lovers”‘ grosses are in line with more genre-oriented, and thus trickier to market, specialized dramas from last year, and those currently in play. “Lovers” holds its own, and because of its better reviews and potentially better word of mouth, stands a shot at surpassing all or most of these.

The most recent of these was the similarly well-reviewed “Under the Skin,” which had the clear draw of a bigger name (Scarlett Johansson, the same weekend she appeared in a new blockbuster) and a strong, sexy design, though overlapping somewhat in its supernatural story. “Skin” had a PSA of about $33,000, about 1/3 better. Closer to “Lovers”‘ numbers, in all cases a little less, were early 2013 releases by well-known directors Park Chan-wook (“Stoker,” with Nicole Kidman) and Danny Boyle (“Trance” with James McAvoy and Rosario Dawson), both well-supported by Fox Searchlight, in similar theaters. Millennium’s Michael Shannon-starring murder story “The Iceman” also came in a little less. Those three films managed to take in between $1.7 and $2.3 million. Prospects for “Lovers” could be better ahead. although the initial results suggest that Jarmusch remains a more niche-oriented director and this shouldn’t be expected to cross over to wider audiences despite the current fashion for stylish vampire-related stories.

What comes next: A handful of markets are added next week, with a rollout over the next few weeks across all metro areas. This is a film that should benefit from SPC’s finesse at nurturing smaller films with a slower release, allowing it to build a following while not wasting money on a more expensive early wider playoff — the course A24 seems to be taking with “Under the Skin.”

“The Railway Man” (Weinstein) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 56; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, San Sebastian 2013, Tokyo 2013

$64,500 in 4 theaters; PSA: $16,125

TWC is obviously good at a lot of different kinds of movies, but these days there is nothing they seem to maximize better than a certain kind of British-oriented drama with major name stars (often past Oscar winners), elevating such films ahead of what anyone else might try to do. Though “The Railway Man” opened with mixed reviews — Rex Reed however, as he did with “Philomena,” championed it, reflecting the tastes of the core older audience — it managed enough of an initial gross in New York and Los Angeles to guarantee certain expansion and solid backing in weeks ahead throughout the country.

Colin Firth has up-to-now been unable to propel a lead role into anything remotely like the success of “The King’s Speech” in the years since (although he was in the ensemble of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”). He isn’t currently quite at the level of appeal of the reigning Grande Dames of British cinema: Judi Dench or Maggie Smith, both who’ve thrived of late with Weinstein. “Philomena,” with its massive awards support from the company, particularly for Dench, managed to gross $37 million after a similar first weekend similar-theater opening of about double this number, a very impressive showing. “Quartet” with Smith opened in two theaters for a $24,000 PSA (the greater competition for audiences in New York/Los Angeles markets for “Railway” makes its PSA somewhat comparable),  and even with no nominations its gross got to $18 million.

This is a roundabout way of saying that the number, though clearly at best in the mid-range of well-supported, top theater-playing limited releases, has with TWC behind it the potential of becoming a higher-than-average general release film. Its subject matter – a British WWII ex-POW dealing with the trauma of his ordeal years later and trying to confront his torturer – doesn’t have quite the appeal of the other more contemporary, sassier successes. But with the added draw of Nicole Kidman in a supporting role, this should get the full Weinstein treatment.

What comes next: Top 10 markets next Friday, much wider the week after that.

“Joe” (Roadside Attractions) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 72; Festivals include: Venice 2013, Toronto 2013, South by Southwest 2013; also available on Video on Demand

$106,000 in 48 theaters; PSA: $2,208

The highest grossing of this week’s new releases pulled it off by playing fairly wide in 48 theaters, complementing its home viewing venues and drawing attention at least to the film’s merits (with generally favorable or better reviews in most places). Directed by busy Southern-rooted indie director David Gordon Green (“George Washington,” but more mainstream with “Pineapple Express” and HBO’s “Eastbound and Down”) and the most acclaimed performance from Nicolas Cage in years (as well as “Mud”‘s teenaged Tye Sheridan), the low level of gross here suggests they made the correct move on emphasizing VOD.

Roadside was one of the pioneers in broadening the range of VOD films (after Magnolia and IFC pioneered the platforms for more limited films) with “Arbitrage” and “Margin Call.” Both did much better – in 197 and 56 theaters respectively, they both achieved first weekend PSAs of over $10,000, much better than “Joe.”

Roadside also released “Mud,” at first exclusively theatrically, and nurtured that up to a healthy $21.6 million gross (today their biggest performer). It had the advantage of the more marketable Matthew McConaughey (the film likely played a part in his later-year success) and a somewhat less bleak storyline despite other similarities.

What comes next: These numbers suggest most of the viewing is going to be at home, with its main hope of further play being potential strong word of mouth (which of course helps those VOD sales as well, and is part of the reason for trying parallel platforms). Roadside though does have plans to expand the film next week.

Other openings:

IFC brought out two films in limited theater showings the same time as their VOD play, with each doing passable business (all in New York). “Dancing in Jaffa, which premiered at Tribeca last year, got the better reviews and gross, doing $16,000 in two. It is an Israeli-set documentary about an effort to bring Jewish and Palestinian youth together in ballroom dancing classes. Though its main viewing will be VOD, the subject matter likely will help it sustain a modest theatrical presence ahead. “Hateship Loveship” from director Liza Johnson (“Return”), starring Kristen Wiig and Guy Pearce, did $7,000 at the IFC. It premiered at last year’s Toronto. EOne’s British comedy “Cuban Fury,” not on VOD, only took in $55,500 in 79 theaters.

Expansions/ongoing

The two significant moves this weekend came from SPC and A24. The former expanded their Indonesian martial arts sequel “The Raid 2” to 954 theaters (+928) for $1,014,000 for a third week total of just over $1.4 million. The gross is similar to their expansion (in its case, the fourth week) of “The Raid: Redemption” which at that point was already at $2.5 million on its way to a domestic $4.1 million total (that film had a healthy afterlife with a different kind of appeal than most of SPC’s films).

Last week’s top opener.“Under the Skin” expanded quickly — including a number of high-end, center city theaters rather than in some cases normal core art houses – to take in $309,000 in 54 (+50). As its decent opening grosses last week suggested, this film clearly does have appeal, if more cult-oriented than wide release. The comparisons are rough, since each of A24’s previous best films had somewhat different release patterns, but as last week’s initial limited grosses suggested, it likely will lag a little behind them (“Spring Breakers,” “The Bling Ring” and “Spectacular Now”). Still, expect them to keep taking this as wide as possible, with an ultimate gross somewhere in the $3-5 million range possible.

Among other second week entries, “Dom Hemingway” (Fox Searchlight) confirms what was apparent initially. With only $70,000 in 42 theaters (+38), the Jude Law-starring English crime film looks to be one of that company’s least successful releases in some time. “Frankie and Alice” (Lionsgate/Codeblack) stayed in 171 theaters but saw its gross drop 64% from its weak start to $125,000. The IMAX/Warner Bros. short feature “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar” fared better at the same premiere 37 screens, dropping 20% to gross $150,000. Errol Morris’ also-on-VOD doc “The Unknown Known” (Radius/Weinstein) added 62 theaters to earn $64,700 in 80 for a low PSA. Zeitgeist’s documentary “The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden” expanded to 4 theaters (+3) to gross $18,700.

Four other later-in-their-run films took in over $50,000 this weekend (along with ongoing Top 10 smash “The Grand Budapest Hotel”), led by SPC’s ongoing sleeper hit “The Lunchbox,” which did $310,000 in 129 (+26), with the gross only slightly down and now with a $1,762,000 total. Lionsgate/Pantelion’s “Cesar Chavez” took another steep drop, now only doing $275,000 in 305 (-359), although it is now over $5.1 million.

Two more limited films continue to show strength — Music Box’ “Le Week-End” added $267,000 in 145 (+42), now above $1.2 million. Another IFC doc, “Finding Vivian Maier” keeps finding new audiences as it grows, with $108,000 in 20 (+6), for a solid $5,000+ PSA and $320,000 in only its third weekend.

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