Though shunned by most distributors, Labor Day weekend does provide an opening for both specialized and mainstream films for those willing to take a chance. This year, Samuel Goldwyn Films did that with Kevin Kline starrer "The Last of Robin Hood." Despite low expectations and mixed reviews, it actually popped a decent two-theater gross. Also showing some initial strength was the Sundance documentary "Though A Lens Darkly," with a decent five-day figure at New York’s Film Forum. But the big story was the strength of films now in wider release — a stunning seven grossed over $500,000 this weekend, a total more typically seen during the holiday and awards season.
The overall top new performer came from outside the normally specialized arena — "Cantinflas," from Pantelion and Lionsgate, had a strong showing in Mexican-American-adjacent theaters regionally.
Note: Several distributors, between the holiday weekend and attention focused on Telluride, didn’t report important three-day estimates today. In these cases, I’ve made my own projections based on available two-day numbers. These are indicated by (est.) in front of their grosses.
"Cantinflas" (Pantelion/Lionsgate) – Criticwire: D
$2,625,000 in 382 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $6,872
This biopic about the internationally known Mexican comic actor is the latest release from the partnership of Pantelion and Lionsgate. Exactly a year ago, they opened the sleeper hit "Instructions Not Included" in slightly fewer theaters to almost triple the gross. But that film starred a contemporary star (Eugenio Derbez) who helped spark that film’s success. This is still a strong figure for this number of theaters, with a very impressive 12th place showing among all films this weekend.
What comes next: This increased a bit Saturday from Friday, a positive sign. This has room to expand (it appears to have not opened in the New York area) but whatever happens it already looks like, at least, a modest success.
"The Last of Robin Hood" (Goldwyn) – Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 49; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, Sarasota 2014
$26,000 in 2 theaters; PSA: $13,000
This may not be a great figure, but considering the tepid reviews, it shows that the film (Errol Flynn’s final days before his premature death) has some appeal. Helped by play at two strong theaters with a history of great older audience appeal (the Paris in New York and Landmark in Los Angeles) and a lack of other strong new openings this holiday weekend, this did well enough to suggest some chance at modest early fall success before the avalanche of major new films starts.
What comes next: Capitalizing on the dearth of new product, Goldwyn expands this to around 75 theaters this Friday.
"Starred Up" (Tribeca) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 83; Festivals include: Toronto, London 2013, Rotterdam, Tribeca, Seattle 2014
$11,000 in 2 theaters; PSA: $5,500; also available on Video on Demand
By far the standout in terms of critical reaction this weekend, this British prison drama featuring conflict between a father and son placed in the same facility opened, at best, modestly in two New York theaters. The VOD play should have made less impact than usual: Manhattan moviegoers seem less affected by this, and both the theaters playing this have had much better parallel results in the past. The subject matter likely was a tough sell despite its acclaim.
What comes next: This opens in Los Angeles this Friday and will expand throughout September.
"Life of Crime" (Roadside Attractions) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 59; Festivals include: Toronto 2013; Also available on Video on Demand
$99,500 in 36 theaters; PSA: $2,763
Like "Cantinflas," this is another Lionsgate co-venture, in this case with regular partner Roadside Attractions (which is handling distribution). They picked this crime caper up at last year’s Toronto, where it was the closing night film. It has the kind of cast that might catch VOD customers (Jennifer Aniston, Mos Def, Tim Robbins, John Hawkes among others), with its roots in an Elmore Leonard novel also being a hook for older audiences. The reviews were mixed, and the VOD component limited theaters, which makes the theatrical take look better than it might under different circumstances.
What comes next: The next theatrical expansion is scheduled for September 12.
"The Notebook" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 55; Festivals include: Karoly Vary, Toronto, Hamptons 2013,
$3,154 in 2 theaters; PSA: $1,577
This visually striking, tough-minded Hungarian World War II film (black and white/CinemaScope) focuses on two brothers sent to live with their less than welcoming rural grandmother, and how they adapt to their circumstances. It is the kind of story, when submitted as a Foreign Language Oscar contender, that sometimes gets nominated. SPC usually leads in acquiring contenders, and that seemed to be their plan when they bought it sometime after its festival showings last fall. It failed to advance, though, and is only now being released. Worse for the film’s chances, its reviews were mediocre. SPC seems to have anticipated all this (including the low-impact date) — they normally play all their top films at New York’s Lincoln Plaza, but instead it is playing at the Quad, normally not a theater that plays the company’s limited openings (it is at the Royal in Los Angeles, their frequent home for subtitled openers).
What comes next: Hard to see this having much more than calendar and similar single-week bookings ahead, but count on SPC to get this placed as wide as possible.
"The Congress" (Drafthouse) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 62; Festivals include: Cannes, Karoly Vary, AFI 2013, Seattle 2014; also available on Video on Demand
$(est.) 30,000 in 15 theaters; PSA: $2,000
Israeli director had a hit with "Waltzes With Bashir" five years ago ($2.2 million gross via Sony Pictures Classics and an Oscar nomination for animated feature). "The Congress," a hybrid live action/animated film starring Robin Wright as a leading but aging actress who consents to being technologically recreated to stay young in the future, was launched at Cannes 2013, but otherwise has had a lower-profile history. More than a year later, Drafthouse launched this with VOD as its major component several weeks ago. The theatrical numbers, though modest, show some sampling among ticket-buying customers in addition to the review attention that could enhance its home viewing.
What comes next: This looks to have a limited future value in theaters.
"Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People" (First Run) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 61; Festivals include: Sundance, Santa Barbara 2014
Estimated $10,000 in 1 theaters; PSA: $10,000
Here we go again: another documentary about the creative process with an inside look and revealing an area of interest that hasn’t had wide exposure previously, and the result again is a solid initial number at New York’s Film Forum, quite often the site of these openings. This opened on Wednesday, with the five day gross approaching $15,000.
What comes next: Likely already set in top markets, this gross should allow First Run to expand it further.
"Love Is Strange" (Sony Pictures Classics)
$261,270 in 27 theaters (+22); PSA: $9.691; Cumulative: $424,761
Okay, though not spectacular, expansion for Ira Sachs’ well-received, long-term gay couple drama facing crises after one of the two loses his job due to their marriage. This is, as last week’s initial figures suggested, to be a solid specialized success with some crossover among older audiences. Its long term prospects need a couple more weeks of grosses to determine how word of mouth is going, but this looks like it has potential to reach at least the $4-5 million level.
"The One I Love" (Radius/Weinstein); also available on Video on Demand
$87,492 in 49 theaters (+41); PSA: $1,786; Cumulative: $154,182
The theatrical adjunct to the Video on Release play for this off-beat Sundance premiered comedy is playing at the low level of grosses normal for this level of expansion, with most of its action on home viewing venues. Unlike last week, Radius didn’t report figures from the latter, presumably higher.
"May in the Summer" (Cohen)
$7,071 in 7 theaters (+); PSA: $1,010; Cumulative: $11,705
A weak expansion for this U.S. indie filmed in Jordan and initially shown as part of the 2012 Sundance dramatic section.
Ongoing/expanding (grosses $50,000+):
"Boyhood" (IFC) Week 8
$(est.) $1,500,000 (-10%) in 640 theaters (-94); Cumulative: $18,500,000
The ongoing rise in the total is impressive, but even more so is that in week eight the PSA actually climbed a little this weekend. This is still well on the track to reach at least $25 million.
"Magic in the Moonlight" (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 6
$824,618 (-32%) in 438 theaters (-349); Cumulative: $8,014,000
Considering the theater drop, this actually held up quite well, with its PSA actually increasing. Any doubt that this would top $10 million (low for recent Woody Allen films, but still among the better initially limited films for the year) seem to have disappeared.
"Begin Again" (Weinstein) Week 10
$784,000 (+2,094%) in 335 (+296); Cumulative: $15,325,000
awards-oriented reissue (particularly for Best Song) actually showed
some dividends with a better than $2,000 PSA – hardly great, but enough
at this time of year to actually get a lot of these held over.
"Chef" (Open Road) Week 17
$664,052 (+369%) in 757 theaters (+652); Cumulative: $30,440,000
relaunched to push early awards attention and to get the gross over $30
million, but this seems to have just about hit the wall
"A Most Wanted Man" (Roadside Attractions) Week 6
$585,400 (-31%) in 333 theaters (-100); Cumulative: $14,922,000
This is winding down but still among the top summer specialized successes.
"Calvary" (Fox Searchlight) Week 5
$520,000 (+2%) in 322 theaters (+82); Cumulative: $2,323,000
With the help of a holiday weekend, the three-day total stayed steady as this continues to find modest response in specialized and some crossover theaters. This looks like it is headed for somewhere between $4-5 million.
"The Trip to Italy" (IFC) Week 3; also available on Video on Demand
$(est) 510,000 (+481%) in 52 theaters (+42); Cumulative: $771,000
These would be decent numbers (in twice as many theaters, the PSA is the same as "Love Is Strange") even if this weren’t also on VOD. The older audience clearly is responding to this so far, with it looking like it might match the performance of the filmmakers’ earlier "The Trip" (just over $2 million gross).
"What If" (CBS) Week 4
$300,000 (-55%) in 197 theaters (-483); Cumulative: $2,896,000
CBS hasn’t given up on this disappointing Daniel Radcliffe rom-com, but it is getting closer to its run, with its PSA actually better than it was the two previous weeks.
"Frank" (Magnolia) Week 3
$(est.) 123,000 (+223%) in 41 theaters (29); Cumulative: $225,000
A continued modest performance for this acclaimed Irish obscure rock group story with Michael Fassbender. This shows the trickiness in getting films that should appeal to a younger audience that has been plaguing specialized films all year.
"Land Ho" (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 8
$70,453 (-9%) in 65 theaters (+14); Cumulative: $462,405
SPC keeps moving this along, with continuing minor results.