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Arthouse Audit: ‘Life Itself’ Leads New Releases While ‘Begin Again’ and ‘Snowpiercer’ Show Life

Arthouse Audit: 'Life Itself' Leads New Releases While 'Begin Again' and 'Snowpiercer' Show Life

Independence Day weekend doesn’t tend to be a big specialized release date. In the last six years, only "The Way, Way Back" in 2013 stands out as a significant new release over the holiday. So it isn’t surprising that the pickings were modest this year.

Magnolia’s Roger Ebert documentary "Life Itself" is the only new film even reporting numbers, which turned out decent in a multi-city run (while also available on Video on Demand).

The rest of this month promises the strongest lineup of new indie films since late last year, starting with Richard Linklater’s acclaimed "Boyhood" this Friday, several other significant Sundance films as well as the latest Woody Allen effort upcoming as well. These could join The Weinstein Company’s "Begin Again" (which is showing significant early crossover strength in its second week) and RADiUS/Weinstein’s "Snowpiercer" as summer successes after a series of disappointments in recent weeks (other than A24’s "Obvious Child," which continues to perform well, without appearing to show major wider appeal).


"Life Itself" (Magnolia) – Criticwire: A-, Metacritic: 87; Festivals include: Sundance, Cannes (2014); also available on Video on Demand
$138,000 in theaters; PSA (per screen average): $6,000

Roger Ebert has become a larger-than-life figure, and his ability to cope for years with devastating disease only increased his stature and made for an even more compelling story. This documentary fits into a pattern for similar successes (creative personality with intimate, close-up details adding to what is already known), plus elements of a known filmmaker (Steve James) and a subject (to state the obvious) familiar to film critics and moviegoers, so strong interest seemed likely. Magnolia, who is handling theatrical and streaming for this film (CNN partnered on the project and will present this later on, likely in a shortened and content-edited version), decided, as they frequently do, to present a Video on Demand parallel to theatrical release. This accounts for the wider than usual initial release. The theatrical results would be considered positive even if this weren’t on VOD. With that (and the significantly additional media coverage the film received benefiting all venues) this has to be considered, at least initially, as successful.

What comes next: 25 more theaters planned for this week, 100 the week after. The reviews make this one of the most acclaimed docs of the year, which could have some impact later on when we enter awards season.

"A Hard Day’s Night" (Janus) (reissue)

$160,000 in 102 theaters; PSA: $1,569

50 years after its initial release, restored to what is said to be the most pristine version ever, this still-popular Beatles’ film played a fairly wide reissue break to decent results, likely to bolster its future playoff on multiple media. Only two of the engagements included full showtimes, including New York’s Film Forum, the top repertory/revival theater in the country, which had its best showing of the year with this. Most of the rest were single or limited shows (including midnights), making the results more impressive.

What comes next: More extended runs will continue in 30 series this weekend.

Also opening:

Bernardo Bertolucci’s "Me and You" (Emerging), his first feature in a decade and only his third Italian language film since 1970 opened in two prime New York theaters two years after its Cannes premiere, but no grosses are available.

Last week’s openers:

"Begin Again" (Weinstein) – $1,316,000 in 175 theaters (+170); PSA: $7,520; Cumulative: $1,853,000

Taking a significant risk (and adding marketing expense) with this wider-than-usual second week release, Weinstein seems to have succeeded in justifying the benefit-of-the-doubt reaction to their decent if not spectacular initial New York/Los Angeles grosses (which ended up coming in 10-percent less than they estimated). The PSA for this level of theaters puts the film on track for at least a $15-20 million domestic gross, with the potential for much more if word-of-mouth continues to overcome mixed reviews.

TWC’s "Quartet," for example, went to 163 theaters on its third weekend with a PSA of $7,110 before getting to $18 million. "Chef," which is heading to $25 million or more, played far fewer theaters its second weekend (with a resulting better PSA) and averaged $8,843. This is ahead of "Enough Said," "The Way, Way Back" and "Belle" at comparable stages. This opened in most of these theaters on Wednesday. Friday showed by far the biggest percentage jump from Thursday of any film in the market and Saturday had a decent improvement on that figure.

This film is in Weinstein’s wheelhouse. That doesn’t mean it’s a guaranteed success. But the high-end marketing/advertising support, the timing (lighter-weight, more general audience appeal film with some sophistication) at a time with little else for adults in the market (particularly older female) and most importantly strong word of mouth are all combining to make this look even more like a strong crossover success than it initially appeared.

This will get to around 800 or so screens (a very quick expansion) this Friday.

"Snowpiercer" (Radius/Weinstein) – $998,325 in 250 theaters (+242); PSA: $3,993; Cumulative: $1,501,844

Last week was no fluke. This quick expansion of Bong Joon-ho’s ice-age-survivors-on-a-train story resulted in a very impressive number once again. The numbers are below "Begin Again," but it’s astounding considering the normal level of performance of the theaters playing it. The film’s Video on Demand availability on July 11 means most of the usual theaters that play top specialized films aren’t present — including the Landmark chain. Within that context, these numbers suggest that had this gone a normal theatrical pattern (with an expedited and well-supported marketing campaign) the potential was there for a $20 million-plus crossover appeal film.

Last summer, Weinstein, after authorizing a reedited cut for US theaters, opened Wong Kar-wai’s "The Grandmaster" and went as wide as 800 theaters with a $6.5 million gross. That’s impressive for a subtitled film. "Snowpiercer," which Weinstein finally didn’t cut, is in English, with a combination of great reviews and some action/genre appeal (both ahead of "Grandmaster") yet seems to have been relegated, at least theatrically, to a second-tier treatment.

The strong opening suggests significant interest, particularly from younger (less typical) specialized moviegoers, exactly the kind of viewers who gravitate to streaming services. And, though it might not have been the intent, the pattern here — top-drawer film gets attention, even without great theaters, then quickly goes to VOD (which is not the established method — usually films either go VOD at the same time, or perhaps after one week; third week or soon after is quite unusual) — could if successful end up being used for other films. That would be risky — as the playoff here shows, it cut outs many of the best specialized theaters. But this might turn out overall to become one of the most telling releases of the year.

 "Yves Saint Laurent" (Weinstein) – $38,722 in 10 theaters (+8); PSA: $3,872; Cumulative: $86,110

This failed to live up to its mildly promising New York debut last week with a minor expansion. Because it is Weinstein, expect for this to get dated in big cities eve eventually, but it looks headed for a modest playoff at best.


Others over $50,000 for the weekend:

"Chef" (Open Road) Week 9- $1,678,000 in 686 theaters (-115); Cumulative: $22,040,000
"Obvious Child" (A24) Week 5 – $382,652 in 202 theaters (+6); Cumulative: $1,942,046
"Ida" (Music Box) Week 10 – $220,000 in 100 theaters (-127); Cumulative: $2,852,084
"Belle" (20th Century Fox) Week 10 – $190,000 in 123 theaters (-52); Cumulative: $10,000,196
"Third Person" (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 3 – $119,859 in 34 theaters (+18); Cumulative: $291,794
"Words and Pictures" (Roadside Attractions) Week 7- $91,300 in 58 theaters (-47); Cumulative: $1,866,400

Of note:
–"Chef" fell out of the top 10, but is still on a trajectory to easily pass $25 million, and push even higher. It now has surpassed other first-half of the year successes like "Mud," "A Place Beyond the Pines," "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and also is ahead of some of last summer’s crossover successes.
— "Obvious Child" looks like it will get somewhere in the $3-4 million range, better than most Sundance low-budget successes. It should end up a little under what the somewhat similar New York-based "Frances Ha" attained last year.
— "Ida," which would have looked like a success at $1 million is now barreling toward $3 million and even has an outside chance of challenging "The Lunchbox" as the top subtitled release so far this year, despite its downbeat Eastern European story and black & white format.

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Matt Gamble

Life Itself is a Magnolia film, who are owned by the same company that owns Landmark Cinemas.

Tom, I'm confused by your comments on vod and snowpiercer. You mention the absence of landmark and imply that it's due to pending vod. Yet life itself is on vod and playing at landmark venues. Please clarify.

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