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‘Citizenfour’ Tops Specialty Openers, ‘Birdman’ Soars in Expansion, Whither ‘Whiplash’?

'Citizenfour' Tops Specialty Openers, 'Birdman' Soars in Expansion, Whither 'Whiplash'?

Edward Snowden doc “Citizenfour” is the standout performer of this week’s strong lineup of new films. The Radius release boasts the best limited documentary gross of the year. Lynn Shelton’s Keira Knightley comedy “Laggies” (A24) and Swedish Oscar entry “Force Majeure” (Magnolia) also generated upbeat audience response.

Oscar contender “Birdman,” last week’s huge opener from Fox Searchlight, maintained its strength in new dates, while “Dear White People” (Roadside Attractions) did not sustain its initial heat as it broke wider. The mystery is why festival crowdpleaser “Whiplash” (Sony Pictures Classics) is failing to catch fire. 

Opening

“Citizenfour” (Radius/Weinstein) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 89; Festivals include: New York, London 2014
$125,172 in 5 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $25,034

Laura Poitras’ riveting on-the-scene documentary about Snowden’s NSA revelations opened, if the estimate holds up, to the best results of any limited non-fiction film this year. Even more impressively, this came from a four-city run, rather than the usual top two. It outpaced other initial multi-theater successes “A Trip to Italy,” “Finding Vivian Maier” and “Tim’s Vermeer.” Those films, though well-received, didn’t nab the same level of overwhelming acclaim, but they fit into a more conventional mode of doc theatrical success than this serious political film. Also, the two added cities – San Francisco and Washington, while they are strong specialized markets, normally don’t throw out first weekend numbers equal to New York and Los Angeles, making this overall result more impressive.

What comes next: Radius gives the film an expedited specialized expansion starting this Friday. How far it will go to be determined both by wider response as well as likely awards attention. This is set for HBO showings next year.

“Laggies” (A24) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 62; Festivals include: Sundance, Toronto, Hamptons 2014
$78,470 in 5 theaters; PSA: $15,694

Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton has been a consistent indie presence for several years, from breakout “Humpday” to best performer  “Your Sister’s Sister.” This time, the movie stars Keira Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell in in a Seattle-set story about a late 20s engaged woman escaping into a teen’s world as she faces indecision about her future. This had a three-city opening, with Seattle added to the usual top two markets. With positive but not sensational reviews and an extra city, the result is decent but not spectacular, with word of mouth still to be determined.

What comes next: The next wave of markets opens this Friday. A24 has been fairly aggressive in trying to reach a wide younger audience, and goes substantially wider on November 7.

“Force Majeure” (Magnolia) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 85; Festivals include: Sundance, Toronto, Hamptons 2014
$24,000 in 2 theaters; PSA: $12,000

Sweden’s Foreign Language Oscar contender received terrific reviews and strong theater placement for its New York openings. The $12,000 PSA is good these days for a subtitled limited opening (one of its top competitors, Poland’s “Ida,” opened to $18,500 in three locations before going on to an excellent $3.7 million). This French mountain-set domestic study doesn’t have a name director or stars, so its future is going to depend on audiences responding to its compelling story and word of mouth propelling it forward.

What comes next: Los Angeles and four other cities open this Friday, with further expansion on November 7.

“Happy New Year” (Yash Raj)
$est. $2,000,000 in 255 theaters; PSA: $est. 7,843

This opened to record numbers in India this week, so the strong U.S. showing isn’t a surprise, as Bollywood films increasingly show strength across the country. This is a diamond heist caper with superstar Shah Rukh Khan (roughly the George Clooney of India).

What comes next: Despite the strong numbers, likely to stay at core theaters.

“Low Down” (Oscilloscope) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 50; Festivals include: Sundance, Karlovy Vary, Hamptons 2014
$7,000 in 1 theater; PSA: $7,000

Out of the Sundance dramatic competition, this John Hawkes/Elle Fanning film about a musician’s daughter opened at New York’s Sunshine Cinema to modest results after decidedly mixed reviews. The film’s producers are Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, the veteran duo behind “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Nebraska.”

What comes next: With Landmark involved, this likely gets reasonable national exposure, but this looks to get limited play.

“Glen Campbell – I’ll Be Me” (A23a) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 81; Festivals include: Nashville, Vancouver 2014
$86,800 in 10 theaters; PSA: $8,680

Campbell took his final concert tour in 2011 as the ravages of Alzheimer’s were clearly already affecting his performances. This film records that tour and the support of those around him. With strong reviews and placement including outside just New York and Los Angeles (where this has yet to open), the grosses are encouraging and suggest a wider audience awaits.

What comes next: Further expansion seems likely, with substantial post-theatrical life also guaranteed, particularly after this initial exposure.

“Life of Reilly” (Kino Lorber) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 68; Festivals include: Berlin, New York 2014
$3,000 in theaters; PSA: $3,000

Give credit to Kino Lorber for acquiring and Dan Talbot of the Lincoln Plaza Theater (the most valuable theater for subtitled films in the country) for booking French master Alain Resnais’ final film, which premiered at Berlin earlier this year shortly before he died at age 91. But without extraordinary reviews, in line with Resnais’ other later, less accessible works, this was always going to be a tough sell.

What comes next: On Resnais’ name, expect this to get limited calendar and similar bookings in major cities ahead.

Second week

“Birdman” (Fox Searchlight)
$1,436,070 in 50 theaters (+46); PSA: $28,721; Cumulative: $2,067,000

By any measure, these are very strong grosses — easily the biggest of the fall, and (because it is playing in more theaters its second week) a PSA favorably comparable to the second weekend of “Boyhood.” So early in its release, this makes a very strong art house film. The best comparison: Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” last summer, which also played in 50 theaters its second weekend (after a nearly equal limited opening). “Jasmine” grossed $1,859,000, which is more than $400,000 more. That film got to $37 million without the benefit of much awards parallel play. “Birdman” has been released later, but still will have the bulk of its initial release before December (although it will be positioned to benefit from later attention). In any event, we need to see how this holds and then plays at it expands further. These are unquestionably encouraging numbers, certainly enough to keep this among the leading contenders.

The movie has not yet crossed over to the mainstream–which it needs to do with both audiences and Oscar voters. 

“Dear White People” (Roadside Attractions)
$1,314,000 in 384 theaters (+373); PSA: $3,422; Cumulative: $1,757,000

Roadside Attractions’ quick expansion of its provocative indie comedy about racial issues at a top private university didn’t duplicate its initial strong results last weekend. The result is still OK overall, but only about one third of what “12 Years a Slave” (which also attracted a multiracial audience) achieved in its third weekend at slightly more theaters. Saturday did go up a tad from Friday (not always guaranteed for a younger audience film). This film’s future will be determined by word of mouth from these dates, most of which were new this week. It is faring much better than it likely would have with a conventional specialized roll out.

“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” (GKids)
$63,467 in 20 theaters (+17); PSA: $3,173; Cumulative: $140,947

This Studio Ghibli animated feature came down to earth after its strong limited openings last week: new openings are more ordinary. The important thing for GKids though is the continued accumulation of strong reviews, which should help the film’s Oscar chances.

“Listen Up Philip” (Tribeca); also available on Video on Demand
$58,900 in 22 theaters (+20); PSA: $2,677; Cumulative: $91,700

VOD was added this week to the theatrical component for this Sundance indie drama. That limits its theatrical reach, which is reflected in the minor result this weekend.

Ongoing/expanding (grosses over $50,000)

“Whiplash” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 3
$265,792 in 46 theaters (+25); Cumulative: $747,865

This week confirms what the first two hinted at — despite some of the best reviews of the year and consistent enthusiastic audience response, SPC is having a tougher than expected time building the numbers this film deserves. At a similar number of theaters, it is doing less than 20% of the business that “Birdman” is doing. At some point soon, this needs to have word of mouth kick in or the movie will have difficulty crossing over to any wider audience.

“Kill the Messenger” (Focus) Week 3
$150,000 in 211 theaters (-216); Cumulative: $2,225,000

Pretty much over in its third week, this has been a disappointment despite a fairly wide specialized release.

“Pride” (CBS) Week 5
$154,000 in 124 theaters (+9); Cumulative: $1,107,000

Runs are adding on, but the result remains disappointing.

“My Old Lady” (Cohen) Week 7   
$133,710 in 103 theaters (-125); Cumulative: $3,525,000

This should reach a respectable if not spectacular $4 million, better than most of this year’s early post-festival releases.

“The Skeleton Twins” (Roadside Attractions) Week 7
$125,000 in 102 theaters (-57); Cumulative: $4,930,000

Ending its impressive run with $5 million coming soon.

“Men, Women and Children” (Paramount) Week 4
$60,000 in 542 theaters (-66); Cumulative: $644,000

The PSA for Jason Reitman’s film was $111, meaning about maybe 12 people per screen for the whole weekend.

“Awake: The Life of Yogananda” (Counterpoint Films) Week 3    
$58,672 in 14 theaters (+5); Cumulative: $217,710

Coming down to earth after after a strong start, but still getting steady response for a niche documentary.

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