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‘Imitation Game’ Breaks Box Office Code With Awards Season Best Opening

'Imitation Game' Breaks Box Office Code With Awards Season Best Opening

The winners also are the Weinstein distribution team, whose last minute decision to push the opening back a week played a big role in beating out “Birdman” for top fall opener.

Meantime, three of the earlier top debuting films grossed over $500,000 this weekend. Two landed in the Top Ten again: “The Theory of Everything” and “Birdman.” That’s impressive, but the three-day Labor Day weekend, which is not considered prime season for specialized films, had six, only one of which (“Boyhood”) is in the thick of the awards chase.

Opening

The Imitation Game (Weinstein) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 71; Festivals include: Telluride, Toronto, Hamptons 2014
$482,071 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $120,518

Second only to the staggering opening of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” ($811,000 in four theaters), “The Imitation Game” comes roaring out of the gate with a huge number in a hugely competitive marketplace. This is a crucial indication of long-term audience approval. After winning key audience awards at Toronto and the Hamptons fests, “The Imitation Game” boasts a Cinemascore of A+.

Thus the Weinstein distribution team won the inside game of perception of initial success. Perhaps inspired by the high level of smarts portrayed in the story of Alan Turing and his team breaking the Enigma code, Weinstein made a key late-in-the-game switch that resulted in a gross perhaps 50% more than they would have scored had they stuck to their original November 21 date.

Why? Two factors. The holiday — with Friday the equal of a normal Saturday, and Saturday far bigger than most Saturdays — by itself boosted attendance. But key also at three of the theaters (the fourth is the single screen Paris in Manhattan) was the ability to increase theaters and capacity overall. 21 shows at the Angelika in New York, three screens at the tightly booked The Landmark in Los Angeles and an elevated presence at the Arclight Hollywood — where it replaced “Mockingjay” on that theater’s big-seated Cinerama Dome as well as playing on other screens — all contributed to a far higher number than would have been otherwise possible.

“The Imitation Game” ranks ahead of “Birdman” and its $103,000 PSA a few weeks back. The timing also allows for “Game” to expand over the next few weeks, with it being primed to expand to other top markets over the next few weeks, go wider over Christmas, then maximize in mid-January just as the nominations are announced. That is, just like “The King’s Speech” and “The Artist,” both of which opened the Friday after Thanksgiving, both to lower initial numbers.

What comes next: Weinstein hasn’t had a platform opening this big since “The Master” (which failed to translate to wider audiences), so watch them push this aggressively, more so with top Oscar races being wide open.

“The Babadook” (IFC) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 86; Festivals include: Sundance, New Directors/New Films, Seattle 2014; also available on Video on Demand
$27,000 in 3 theaters; PSA: $9,000

IFC’s Midnight division releases many films throughout the year, often with minimal theatrical presence to go along with their automatic Video on Demand showings. “The Babadook” is different. Similar to “Snowpiercer” some months earlier (whose early VOD dates precluded many theaters from playing it), this Australian thriller (from a first time director, with less fanboy anticipation) is critically acclaimed and set apart from many other genre releases that are missed by most other than die-hard live streaming fans.

“The Babadook” actually had a more conventional two-city platform opening, as befits its strong critical response. The results – with VOD bleeding some of the audience and in Los Angeles finding a booking at an appropriate (Cinefamily) but not normally top first run venue, with New York’s IFC Center once again (as it has for several releases in recent weeks) providing the biggest share of the gross – is far above most other IFC Midnight entries.

This had to be a tricky film for IFC. VOD provides a regular and steady income for similar films (once again, no figures for this available, although it ranks #1 on ITunes Horror chart), but the loss of many top theaters can affect perception of a film. Despite this, both the New York and Los Angeles Times on Friday gave this prominent reviews (in the latter, actually placed equally with “The Imitiation Game,” with both reviews raves). And this could see Ten Best list placements and possibly Best First Film wins from critics’ groups (which might be the reason for going on this date).

What comes next: This will expand theatrically though out December.

“Antarctica: A Year on Ice” (Music Box) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 69; Festivals include: New Zealand 2013, Cleveland 2014
$32,000 in 8 theaters; PSA: $4,000

Music Box opened this visually stunning documentary about life at the South Pole in six markets to decent results. This is another case of a non-fiction film without much festival presence or high-end critical backing getting the marketing that reaches something of an audience based on interest in subject matter.

What comes next: The next two weeks will see this expand to 19 more markets.

“Women Who Flirt” (China Lion) – Criticwire: B-
$80,000 in 26 theaters; PSA: $3,077; Five day total $140,149

Average grosses at theaters who respond to Chinese commercial films, in this case a rom-com about sophisticated young people whose long-time friendship is a barrier to love.

What comes next: Like most of China Lion’s releases, this will be limited mainly to these core theaters across the country.

“Touch the Wall” (Independent) – Festivals include: Denver 2014
$6,150 in 2 theaters; PSA: $3,075

Opening in New York and Denver (the latter right after its festival premiere), this documentary about two Olympic swimming hopefuls – one a veteran, the other in high school – had modest initial results.

What comes next: This adds runs in California urban areas around where swimming competition flourishes in upcoming weeks.

Week 2

“A Girls Walks Home at Night” (Kino Lorber)
$17,000 in 4 theaters (+3); PSA: $4,250; Cumulative: $58,238

Ana Lily Amipour’s black and white American-indie vampire film (in Farsi) added three outlying Los Angeles dates this week. The stand out, comprising most of the gross, remains at New York’s IFC Center. San Francisco opens next.

Ongoing/expanding (Grosses over $50,000 in under 1,000 theaters)

“The Theory of Everything (Focus) Week 3
$5,082,000 in 802 theaters (+662); Cumulative: $9,064,000

The holiday was a factor, but this gross is over twice as big as any weekend “Birdman” has had so far, even with that film twice playing in more theaters than “Theory” has. This is a popular success, showing significant word of mouth and well positioned to sustain a strong December presence, including likely more Christmas dates than the earlier-released “Birdman.”

“Birdman” (Fox Searchlight) Week 7
$1,880,000 in 710 theaters (-152); Cumulative: $17,237,000

Despite shedding some theaters, “Birdman” went up slightly this weekend. This looks likely to be able to hold enough core theaters through Christmas to approach $25 million before it gets its expected Oscar nominations in January. By comparison, “12 Years a Slave” after Thanksgiving last year (also in its seventh week) had taken in $33 million.

“Foxcatcher” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 3    
$1,032,428 72 in theaters (+48); Cumulative: $2,125,888

Again boosted by the holiday, “Foxcatcher” had a strong weekend (PSA $14,339). This is significantly better than their “Whiplash” at a similar stage, but lags behind both “Birdman” and “The Theory of Everything” as they expanded earlier.

“Whiplash” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 7  
$496,336 in 331 theaters (-152);  Cumulative: $3,964,754

The PSA jumped to $2,773 between the holiday and shedding lower grossing theaters, up two thirds. With some weak-grossing weeks ahead, this should allow the film to have a chance to hold most of these theaters and continue to develop word of mouth, which has developed more slowly than expected.

“Rosewater” (Open Road) Week 3
$355,906 in 216 theaters (-155); Cumulative: $2,643,000

The holiday didn’t help Jon Stewart’s Iran-set drama which continues to lag behind expectations.

“Saving Christmas” (Goldwyn) Week 3 
$263,150 in 277 theaters (-113); Cumulative: $2,475,000

Kirk Cameron’s polemical documentary is one film that didn’t benefit much from the holidays, falling close to 60% this weekend. Still, it’s an impressive total for a film some critics have called a glorified home movie. Note that the to date total lags just behind “Rosewater” despite a fraction of the publicity.

“Citizenfour” (Radius/Weinstein) Week 6
$186,997 in 103 theaters (+17); Cumulative: $1,500,257

Lauren Poitras’ documentary is expected to start winning critics group awards this week, which should help it continue to show passable results as it expands. Curiously, the PSA dipped about 10% this weekend, with the film not getting the same bump some others did.

“The Homesman” (Roadside Attractions) Week 3
$213,700 in 50 theaters (+15); Cumulative: $483,533

A nice PSA increase even as the theater count rose, partly holiday influenced but also a sign of some interest in Tommy Lee Jones’ western.

“Force Majeure” (Magnolia) Week 6   
$ est. 90,000 in 50 theaters (-14);  Cumulative: $ est. 720,000

This took a bit of hit in its theater total for this prime weekend, but the PSA increased. This Oscar Foreign Language contender looks to be headed to a $1 million+ take, not bad these days for a subtitled film.

“Dear White People” (Roadside Attractions) Week 7
$85,350 in 46 theaters (-24); Cumulative: $4,205,000

This is Roadside’s third 2014 release to pass $4 million so far, compared to the same number among initial platform releases as Weinstein and ahead of other powerhouses like Focus and Sony Pictures Classics (although at least two of those will surpass three by year’s end.)

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