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‘St. Vincent’ and ‘Whiplash’ Score Decent Debuts, Focus Dumps ‘Kill the Messenger’

'St. Vincent' and 'Whiplash' Score Decent Debuts, Focus Dumps 'Kill the Messenger'

Two highly anticipated specialized films– Weinstein Co. comedy “St. Vincent” starring Bill Murray and Sony Pictures Classics’ “Whiplash”– opened to similar good
results. Neither delivered blockbuster numbers –they’re on the same order as “The Skeleton Twins”  last month. Two years ago “The Sessions” opened to a $28,000 PSA in
four theaters before going on to $6 million with a significant push from Fox
Searchlight. But as this year has seen more disappointments than successes
among top-level new films, these numbers offer reasons to be hopeful that upscale
audiences have new films to discover.
 
Beyond the usual arthouse fare, two other openers way outside normal
release patterns showed strength. “Meet the Mormons” (Purdie) scored about $3.2 million. And with limited shows daily, 700 theaters showing “One
Direction” (Arts Alliance), another concert film from the pop group, looks to
take in the same amount. More Top Ten Takeaways later today.
 
Still other new films not detailed below opened to smaller results — the
faith-based “The Christian Mingle” did $20,500 in 15 (a majority its first
night), the Hillary Swank-starring “You’re Not You” (EOne) about $9,000 on five
(also on Video on Demand) and Focus World’s doc “I Am Ali” (on VOD as well) just
over $4,000 on one.

Opening

“St. Vincent” (Weinstein) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 63; Festivals include: Toronto, Hamptons 2014
$121,054 in 4 theaters; PSA: $30,263

As a Weinstein production (working with ex-Fox chief Peter Chernin and long time Coppola associate Fred Roos among others) and an economical $13 million budget, this would already be one of their most important films of the year even if it didn’t come at a time when several recent highly touted films fell short. Thus, the initial success at four theaters in New York/Los Angeles is even more gratifying for them. Add to this a strong 67% uptick yesterday from Friday, high end audience survey responses per Weinstein execs and interest from younger audiences (38% under 35, an encouraging sign) and this looks positioned to justify TWC’s plans to aggressively expand this over the next few weeks. This is about 50% better than Bill Murray’s most recent top-billed film (“Hyde Park on Hudson”), which without getting to 250 theaters still managed to gross over $6 million. Add Melissa McCarthy as co-star and Weinstein’s likely aggressive backing and the elements seem there for a potential breakout success.

The opening looked to be uncertain, with the review consensus just barely into favorable territory. This isn’t necessarily a guaranteed financial success — its initial cost plus the considerable marketing likely to be thrown its way means it needs to do significant business ahead. But it appears at least it got the initial results they hoped for. The initial take is slightly better than “Begin Again” (PSA $26.8 in five theaters), but with this as an awards contender with a strong cast in prime fall playtime, this has a shot at exceeding that film’s $16 million haul.

What comes next: Moving quickly to 60 theaters this weekend and much wider (numbers to be determined) the following week, this looks to be Weinstein’s biggest initially platformed performer since “August: Osage County” (which got to over $37 million).

“Whiplash” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 88 ; Festivals include: Sundance, Cannes, Toronto 2014
$143,503 in 6 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $23,917

The PSA for Damien Chazelle’s Sundance hit and now top-end reviewed film about an aspiring jazz drummer and his sadistic teacher is below that of “St. Vincent,” but that comes from two factors — playing at one extra theater each in New York and Los Angeles, both of which lagged some distance behind the other four and likely took away some business away from the others. And in some cases sellouts depressed the figure somewhat (this played in only one screen at some of these venues – in the case of LA’s Arclight, on fewer than 200 seats). The 50% Saturday jump from Friday under these circumstances is healthy, as are the grosses overall.

What is key for the film in this tough market is continuing reports — now from paying customers — of strong audience reaction as this crowd-pleaser goes beyond festivals and advance screenings. As “Pride” reminds, pre-release enthusiasm doesn’t automatically make a film a hit. But add likely awards interest ahead (with J.K. Simmons being a prime supporting actor contender), this is likely to be a significant specialized player in weeks ahead before testing the waters for crossover appeal.

This movie also has younger audience appeal, which in recent months has meant problems for a wide number of new films. Miles Teller, who plays the lead here, was the costar of one of the last youth interest specialized successes, last year’s “Spectacular Now” (whose star Shailene Woodley followed up with “The Fault in Your Stars.”) Although without a wide release this won’t likely reach that level, this could have the elements to reach the widest audience of any SPC release since “Blue Jasmine” last year. SPC acquired the film for a reported $2.5 million at Sundance (for North America, Germany and Australia), making their investment far more modest than TWC’s for “St. Vincent” (as well as likely not spending as much on marketing).

What comes next: Twelve new markets are set to open this Friday, with SPC as usual moving somewhat slower than Weinstein and others, which more often than not has still managed to maximize their returns.

“Kill the Messenger” (Focus) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 60; Festivals include: Denver 2014
$939,000 in 374 theaters; PSA: $2,511

Taking a similar quasi-wide initial opening route to Warner Bros.’ approach with “The Good Lie” last week, this true story of a journalist put in peril after revealing CIA secrets performed similarly, with a better PSA of about one third (though that  played in about 85 fewer theaters). This was a pre-production Focus acquisition, initiated by the previous management. It had major specialized elements — the return to feature directing by Michael Cuesta (“L.I.E.,” “12 and Holding”) after his significant involvement with cable dramas (including “Six Feet Under” and particularly “Homeland”) and rising star Jeremy Renner in the lead.

But it followed a different path pre-opening, with barely any festival presence despite its fall release date–which signals that Focus wasn’t pushing the movie. The reviews weren’t unanimously strong. These numbers don’t suggest a basis for much further expansion. Roadside Attraction’s “A Most Wanted Man” opened at about the same number of theaters a couple months ago and grossed three times as much before it went on to substantially more theaters and over $17 million. This doesn’t look likely to go much above $3 million.

What comes next: Holding these theaters and seeing if it gets a good audience response seems the best hope for this before committing much more marketing to it.

“Awake: The Life of Yogananda” (Counterpoint/Self-Realization Fellowship)
$18,303 in 1 theater; PSA: $18,303

This documentary about an Indian mystic whose followers were among those who brought yoga to the western world popped, with little marketing expense but major grassroots work, a very strong gross at New York’s usually not prominent Village East Theater.

What comes next: Grosses similar to this seem quite possible in a range of other cities, with this at least having significant calendar and special event theater possibilities ahead.

“The Overnighters” (Drafthouse) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 88; Festivals include: Sundance, San Francisco, Los Angeles 2014
$4,750 in theaters; PSA: $4,750

No place, not even Alaska, likely is less visited by its fellow Americans than out of the way North Dakota. But that state is enjoying an energy boom and has become a magnet for blue collar and other workers willing to travel for good pay. “The Overnighters,” which won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance, isn’t a documentary that easily translates into big city audience interest. Despite receiving some of the best reviews of any doc this year, the initial number at the IFC Center in New York, a fine venue for films like this, is nothing special. This might be more of an awards contender than a box office draw.

What comes next: Austin (where Drafthouse is based) opens this Friday, with San Francisco and Los Angeles over the next two weeks before other cities open in November.

“One Chance” (Weinstein) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 52; Festivals include: Berlin, Toronto 2013; previously available on Yahoo
$32,800 in 43 theaters; PSA: $763

This English comedy/drama, based on the true story of the unlikely Welsh opera singer who won “Britain’s Got Talent” some years ago, was a Weinstein production which latched on to David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada,” “Marley and Me” and “Hope Springs”) as its director. This actually officially got a Los Angeles qualifying run last year (which earned it a Golden Globe song nomination) but otherwise has seen its release delayed. In the meantime, to enhance its word of mouth exposure, they had a free access Yahoo availability briefly a couple weeks back. This is the kind of film that the Weinsteins used to release a couple times a year, but as the more highly acclaimed “Pride” proves, even with acclaim (which “One Chance” didn’t get) is tough to get current audiences into theaters.

What comes next: This likely will get little further theatrical attention.

Second week

“The Good Lie” (Warner Bros.)
$550,000 in 461 theaters (no theaters); PSA: $1,193; Cumulative: $1,703,000 

Under normal conditions, a 35% fall with no change of theaters a second weekend would be decent, but this started from a low level. This will struggle to stay on many of these screens much longer.   

“Men, Women and Children” (Paramount)
$44,000 in 28 theaters (+11); PSA: $; Cumulative: $129,000

Jason Reitman’s film expanded, and if there was any remaining question after last week’s numbers, now looks like a complete disaster. The plan had been to go wide this Friday, but it is hard to believe that Paramount will come anywhere close to its original release plans.    

“Breakup Buddies” (China Lion)
$195,000 in 24 theaters (+4); PSA: $8,125; Cumulative: $535,000

This smash comedy hit right now in China has already in ten days become China Lion’s biggest North American hit, holding up very well in its second weekend.    

“Blue Room” (IFC)
$16,800 in 14 theaters (11); Cumulative: $51,269

Mathieu Almaric’s film (with him as director and lead actor) of Georges Simenon’s murder mystery expanded quickly with minimal impact.

“Nas: Time Is Illmatic” (Tribeca); also available on Video on Demand
$15,650 in 12 theaters (+10); PSA: $1,304; Cumulative: $151,366  

The second week interest for this music doc shifted more to its home-viewing platforms, with most of its theatrical take already having been realized in earlier one-day only shows and its initial two-city weekend grosses. 

Ongoing/expanding (grosses over $50,000)

“The Skeleton Twins” (Roadside Attractions) Week 5
$430,550 in 267 theaters (-174); Cumulative: $4,234,000 

Still the early fall leader among limited films that expanded successfully (actually one of only two that has shown strength so far with wider audiences). This looks like it will end up in the $6-7 million range, making it one of the top Sundance debuting releases of the year, and the second from Roadside (who also have “A Most Wanted Man.”)  

“My Old Lady” (Cohen) Week 5
$318,897 in 198 theaters (-65); Cumulative: $2,786,000 

One of the healthier of the post-Labor Day weekend releases, but this looks to top out somewhere below $4 million. That places it far below to other recent Maggie Smith-starring films, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” ($47 million) and “Quartet” ($18 million).  

“Pride” (CBS) Week 3
$230,000 in 97 theaters (+74); Cumulative: $555,632   

This is still getting sampled at new theaters, but at some point it needs to show signs of plateauing at some stable level if there is going to be evidence of word of mouth success. The PSA is about the same as “Kill the Messenger,” which is at four times as many theaters (and thus tougher to attain higher PSA).

“Hector and the Search for Happiness” (Relativity) Week 4
$100,000 in 144 theaters (-39); Cumulative: $796,000

Despite a significant push from Relativity, this Simon Pegg comedy will fall short of $1 million.     

“Boyhood” (IFC) Week 14
$90,000 in 72 theaters (-66); Cumulative: $23,581,000

Four months into its impressive run, “Boyhood” still charts. This is crucial now that we are only weeks away from the start of the official awards season.    

“Two Faces of January” (Magnolia) Week 3; also available on Video on Demand
$est. $85,000 in 41 theaters (+23); Cumulative: $314,000

Considering the VOD component, this is doing passably as it expands to more theaters despite being denied many because of its alternate venue.

“The Drop” (Fox Searchlight) Week 5
$73,000 in 103 theaters (-306); Cumulative: $10,604,000

About it for this (considering its wider initial release) underperforming Tom Hardy film which premiered only a few weeks ago at Toronto.

“Tracks” (Weinstein) Week 4
$63,000 in 64 theaters (-3); Cumulative: $338,412

This seems to have passed its peak depth in the mark as well as best gross, with this well-reviewed Australian film never managing to connect with specialized audiences.

“The Trip to Italy” (IFC) Week 9; also available on Video on Demand
$60,000 in 72 theaters (-58); Cumulative: $2,763,000

The year’s top day and date VOD release shows that older audiences still can be drawn into theaters for some films also available at home.

“Love Is Strange” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 8
$56,975 in 70 theaters (-64); Cumulative: 2,142,000

Near the end of its modest run which despite getting the usual SPC elevated attention and playoff never managed to cross over to a wider audience.
 

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