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Arthouse Audit: ‘Ida’ and ‘Belle’ Both Post Strong Openings, ‘The Lunchbox’ Passes $3 Million

Arthouse Audit: 'Ida' and 'Belle' Both Post Strong Openings, 'The Lunchbox' Passes $3 Million

Two high-profile festival entries, “Ida” and “Belle,” posted solid debuts in their New York/Los Angeles openings. Lacking big-name directors, stars or high-concept story lines, both specialized films’ initial success should help them to find a wider audience. They follow several April releases which also had decent starts but are now facing varying levels of wider response, with none coming close to the spectacular success of this year’s breakout hit “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (which jumped back into the Top 10 at #9 this weekend).

Among the films struggling to gain traction is the second week expansion of “Locke” (A24), which despite solid critical response, rising star Tom Hardy, and a high concept, had a disappointing result. But over the long haul, Indian low-budget indie “The Lunchbox” (Sony Pictures Classics) passed the $3 million mark, showing that a discerning audience remains for subtitled films that build word-of-mouth over long slow exposure.

Opening

“Ida” (Music Box) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 88; Festivals include: Telluride 2013, Toronto 2013, London 2013

$50,000 in 3 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $17,667

The top Metacritic-scored release of 2014 so far (along with “Budapest”), “Ida” (pronounced EE-duh) is among the least likely art house successes of late. A black-and-white, classically-framed (make sure your local theater is showing this in the correct 1.33×1 ratio) 80-minute story set in 1960s Poland, this needed strong reviews (landing raves in the critical New York and Los Angeles Times) to break out initially. Though director Pawel Pawlikowski has had some pan-European success (including “Last Resort,” “The Summer of Love” and “Woman in the Fifth,” the best of which grossed $1 million domestically), this return to his native land recreates the period of his childhood before leaving for Western Europe. The concise but multi-layered plot brings a young novitiate, just before taking her vows, to meet her sole living relative (a troubled aunt who has been a high-up in the judiciary) and be exposed to the outside world for the first time in her life, as well as an unexpected family history.

Though the feel and story of the film place it firmly within historical art-house territory, and with surface similarities to past greats like Bresson, Bergman an others, the contemporary specialized world no longer gravitates to such films, irrespective of their festival acclaim. Music Box not only took a chance on this film, but also booked the right initial theaters. They were all ideal for the film, even if on average they gross slightly less than the core theaters such as this week’s “Belle” usually get, as well as facing capacity issues that can reduce a gross. That they achieved an initial PSA similar or above such other recent foreign language successes as “The Lunchbox,” “Gloria,” “The Great Beauty” and “Amour” (all with larger ad budgets and, for their own strong attributes, more accessible) is a stand-out achievement in this climate.

This opened in Poland last October, which makes this eligible (and with this opening likely) to be that country’s Oscar submission for 2014, as well of course of becoming a leading contender for critics’ groups awards, despite its first half of the year opening.

What comes next: Before this opening, any domestic gross of over $1 million would have been considered unlikely. This needs to have audience reaction similar to critics to go beyond that, but Music Box already has this set to open in appropriate theaters in a slow roll-out over upcoming weeks to give it a chance to thrive. This is one of the most encouraging of recent openings.

“Belle” (Fox Searchlight) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 63; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, Palm Springs 2014, Newport Beach 2014, San Francisco 2014

$104,493 in 4 theaters; PSA: $26,123

Landing weaker reviews than most of the recent high-profile openings except for “Fading Gigolo” (with its PSA $10,000 better), “Belle” shows how a top-draw studio-based specialized company can still reach an appropriate audience. Sharing a story with slavery-based roots with Fox Searchlight’s 2013 success “12 Years a Slave,” this different tale falls closer to conventional (and often successful) period English-set stories even as it tells the unusual true story of the half-black daughter of a young aristocrat (Matthew Goode) who lives with her noble upscale family in a sort of limbo that challenges her chances for happiness and any real self-identity. Directed by Amma Asante, a one-time British child actress who directed a previous little-seen feature “A Way of Life,” it stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw (already being compared to Lupita Nyong’o) as well as the better known Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson.

Having Searchlight attached to a film hardly guarantees success (though it helps gain access to top theaters) — their “Dom Hemingway” recently opened, and with only slightly more mixed reviews and with Jude Law in the lead, managed less than a third of this gross. This period British upper-class setting clearly helped (the audience for such films is underserved, with Weinstein’s “The Railway Man” the only recent similar release).

What comes next: Expect this to widen out to a fairly extensive national audience, with potential for mid-level success. This won’t come close to “12 Years” in gross or acclaim, but should find a receptive response over the upcoming weeks.

“NOW: In the Wings of a World Stage” (Spacey) – Metacritic: 50; Festivals include: Tribeca 2014

$21,538 in 3 theaters; PSA: $7,179

Self-distributed by Kevin Spacey (along with veteran consultant Richard Abramowitz), this documentary about Spacey’s multi-continent roadshow of “Richard III” opened in three cities (New York, Chicago and Washington) this weekend after grossing an additional $16,000 for one-night shows in other locations last week. The results show that the film, despite limited paid marketing or strong critical backing, has some real appeal (similar to other creative-based docs in recent years). This is actually the second film on this subject — in 1996, Al Pacino directed “Looking for Richard,” about his own search for the Shakespeare character (released by Fox Searchlight, it ultimately grossed $1.4 million, with much more money spent on its release).

What comes next: An eclectic mixture of calendar theaters, museums and other venues are set to continue the run throughout May, with this initial response likely to generate more interest.

Also opening:

The largest reported gross among other openings came from “Walk of Shame” (Focus World) with only $38,000 in 51 theaters. Its main exposure was Video on Demand, unusual for a studio-owned company (hence the subterfuge of the subsidiary company). This was a FilmDistrict production thrown into the Focus hopper when their principals took over control of the Universal-owned entity last fall. Likely something of an anomaly (among other things, this wasn’t screened for critics), it remains to be seen if it is a portend for their future product.

“Documented” (Define America), a documentary about a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist who reveals his undocumented citizenship status, had a respectable opening of $6,100 at New York’s Village East Theater. After subsequent theatrical play, it will show on CNN later this year. Film Movement opened the French “For a Woman” (with Catherine Deneuve) in 2 theaters, including the high-end Lincoln Plaza in Manhattan, for only $6,000. Entertainment One opened “Decoding Annie Parker,” a breast-cancer centered drama with Samantha Morton, Aaron Paul and Helen Hunt, in 13 theaters for a minor $14,700.

Ongoing/expanding

A healthy 10 specialized films took in over $50,000 nationwide this weekend in varying degrees of success (including the returning-to-Top 10 “The Grand Budapest Hotel”). The best by far of the second-week expanders is “Locke” (A24), which took in $140,000 in 25 (+21) theaters, PSA $5,600. However, despite continuing to receive some of the top reviews of the year and featuring Tom Hardy, this initial widening comes in lower than the second stanzas for other similar or higher grossing recent limited openings. This reinforces the suggestion from last weekend (when the gross came in $2,000 under the initial opening) of some real resistance to this single-character film (not unlike “All is Lost”). This needs to start showing some signs of positive word of mouth or it might find itself assigned to longer-term cult shelf life.

Other second-week films include Radius/Weinstein’s similarly acclaimed American indie “Blue Ruin.” They deserve credit for getting it quickly up to 60 theaters (+53) despite its VOD presence, though that competition shows in its theatrical take ($73,000 for a PSA of just over $1,200). Sony Picture Classics’ documentary “For No Good Reason” added 6 theaters (up from 4) for only $6,263. Francois Ozon’s “Young and Beautiful” (IFC), also VOD, added another $3,300 at one theater.

The standout among expanders remains “Fading Gigolo,” (Millennium) consistent with its showing the best initial strength since “Budapest.” John Turturro’s film starring  Woody Allen grossed $508,000 in 110 (+73, PSA $4,618, total $1,150,000 in its third week.) This continues to show strength. Grossing the same $508,000, though in more theaters (164, +8) was “The Railway Man” (Weinstein), which impressively saw its gross drop just 12% despite only a small uptick in theaters. In its fourth weekend, it now totals $1,635,000. Both these films should see significantly higher ultimate totals.

Another fourth week film showing some stability, though at a lower level. is Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” (SPC). Adding $243,000 in 67 (+14), its PSA of $3,600 PSA remains close to last week’s, with the total at $836,000. The much bigger opener “Under the Skin” (A24) continues to fall though, only in its fifth weekend, with $173,000 in 125 (-33, PSA $1,384, total $1,844,000). 

Among longer-running films, the standout remains SPC’s “The Lunchbox” with $282,000 in 149 (-16%), totaling $3.1 million, a recent best among subtitled films, and likely to remain among the year’s leaders. “Le Week-end” (Music Box) has now impressively passed the $2 million mark with another $100,000 in 90 (-30). IFC’s documentary “Finding Vivian Maier,” concurrently on VOD, added $144,000 in 80 (+20) and now is at a surprising $915,000.

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