"The Theory of Everything" (Focus) gave the uneven fall specialized season a needed shot in the arm with a very good start in three cities. Its $41,000 per-screen-average makes it the second best of the fall after "Birdman" and should give the film traction for its wider expansion and awards consideration.
"National Gallery" (Zipporah) the latest documentary from Frederick Wiseman, showed strength as well at New York’s small Film Forum, but no other new openers made a dent. "Birdman" (Fox Searchlight) continues to be, by far, the best wider release even though it doesn’t seem to be doing nearly as well in a week where its theater count doubled.
"Foxcatcher" (Sony Pictures Classics) and "The Homesman" (Roadside Attractions) lead next Friday’s new films, as the battle is joined by other distributors. Most weeks between now and the end of next month should see multiple new players. At this point though it’s hard to see that any of those released so far will manage to be the kind of popular success that helped such previous major awards players like "12 Years a Slave," "The King’s Speech" or "Slumdog Millionaire" cross over on multiple levels.
"The Theory of Everything" (Focus) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 70; Festivals include: Toronto, Mill Valley 2014
$207,000 in 5 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $41,400
Though the English biopic genre is getting a little crowded (two more — "The Imitation Game" and "Mr. Turner" are among other awards-oriented ones to open soon, hoping to follow in the wake of "The King’s Speech" and "Philomena"), this portrait of Stephen Hawking and his wife did strong initial business in five prime New York/Los Angeles/Toronto theaters. It comes in as the second best opener of the fall season (about 40% of what "Birdman" did), and better than 2013 openings for "Philomena," "Nebraska" and "Dallas Buyers Club" (the latter opened in nine theaters). This despite lower-than-expected critical response (overall favorable, but mixed ones included the key New York Times review). This is certainly a promising start and should buttress the film’s early position, particularly for acting citations ahead.
This is particularly gratifying for Focus Features, one of the most reliable providers of year-round and particularly year-end top films. This is the first major awards contender released under the new Los Angeles-based management. Though this opening figure isn’t at the level of some of their top openers ("Moonrise Kingdom," "A Place Beyond the Pines," "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" in recent years), it is a standout for the current season, which has been lagging across the board. And it is another success (at least so far) coming out of their longterm relationship with parent company Universal (recently "Rush," "The World’s End," "Les Miserables" and "Anna Karenina.")
What comes next: Expect this to get one of the more elevated expansions over the next three months, timed to benefit from certain nominations and awards.
"National Gallery" (Zipporah) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 88; Festivals include: Cannes, Toronto, New York 2014
$9,650 in 1 theater; PSA: $9,650; Cumulative: $12,766 (5-day)
Master documentary director Frederick Wiseman has been making films for nearly 50 years, and this one, a three-hour view of the inner workings of London’s famed art museum is typical in form and rigor. It received high-end critical praise for its New York Film Forum debut, and despite its length, three daily shows and seat (140) limitations, it had in context a strong start and suggests some real interest.
What comes next: Boston and Washington are added next Friday, with Los Angeles and Chicago right after with at least 25 additional markets before the end of the year.
"On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter" (Hannover House) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 48
$344,000 in 231 theaters; PSA: $1,489
This motorcycle racing doc was directed by the son of Barry Brown, whose surfing film "The Endless Summer" was a sleeper hit in the mid 1960s. He then later made "On Any Sunday" with the backing of fellow enthusiast Steve McQueen. The result more than 40 years (and much wider) later is a minor gross despite placement in heartland theaters where the fans should be.
What comes next: This doesn’t look due for further expansion, but could find life on other venues ahead because of the strong interest among fans of the sport.
"Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain" (Vitagraph) – Metacritic: 46; Festivals include: Art of the Real 2014
$(est.) 6,000 in 1 theater; PSA (est.) $6,000
Another environmental disaster doc – this one about the 1980s Indian chemical plant explosion – opened to fair New York business, with about half of its take coming from opening day.
What comes next: Films like this do find a consistent if usually minor audience across the country, including non-theatrical venues, so this likely will get further exposure.
"Elsa and Fred" (Millennium) – Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 49; Festivals include: Miami, Seattle 2014; also available on Video on Demand
$(est.) 60,000 in 34 theaters; PSA: $(est.) 1765
Christopher Plummer and Shirley Maclaine costar in this remake of a Brazilian film about the unlikely romance among two seniors. It got minor festival play over the last few months before its parallel theatrical and VOD launch this week. The action as usual will mainly be in the latter, with these minor grosses not likely to sustain much further theatrical attention.
What comes next: Primarily VOD play.
"The Way He Looks" (Strand) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 72; Festivals include: Berlin, Seattle, Frameline 2014
$25,000 in 9 theaters; PSA: $2,788
This is Brazil’s foreign language Oscar submission, one of an unusually large number to get a release this early. It’s the story of a blind adolescent who has ambition and self-confidence, but then is confronted with unexpected romance as he encounters a wider world. These initial numbers (playing wider than normal for a subtitled release) aren’t significant, but any publicity that elevates a film ahead of the other 83 contenders is usually an asset.
What comes next: Strand has good access to calendar and independent theaters across the country, so expect this to go wider ahead.
"Actress" (Cinema Guild) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 72; Festivals include: South by Southwest, Miami 2014
$ (est.) 5,000 in 1 theater; PSA: $5,000
Another doc, this time about a "The Wire"’s Theresa D’Agostino and her stab at an acting comeback after prioritizing family life. It opened at New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center complex for a one week run to modest results.
What comes next: Cinema Guild plans to slowly roll this out over the next few months.
"Viva la Liberta" (Distrib) – Metacritic: B; Festivals include: Karlovy Vary, Chicago 2013
$6,300 in 2 theaters; PSA: $3,150
This new distributor latched on to an Italian film starring "The Great Beauty"’s Toni Servillo as twins, with one standing in for the other in this political satire. Despite a New York release including the prime Lincoln Plaza theater, this got a tepid initial response.
What comes next: Distribs has this booked in 40+ markets ahead, so it should see national exposure.
"The Better Angels" (Amplify) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 52; Festivals include: Sundance, Berlin, Seattle 2014
$(est.) 4,500 in 2 theaters; PSA: $2,250
This black and white film recreating Abraham Lincoln’s childhood was produced by Terence Malick, and told very much in his style by long-time associate A.J. Edwards. It premiered at Sundance to mixed reaction, which continued with the local reviews, including very unhelpful ones from both the New York and Los Angeles Times on Friday. This opened with support from Landmark in those two cities, but without any real success.
What comes next: Boston and Chicago open Friday, with a national big city rollout planned over the next few weeks.
"Virunga" (Netflix) – Metacritic: 96; Festivals include: Tribeca, Hot Docs, Hamptons 2014; Also available on Netflix
Netflix is becoming a player in original theatrical content, but apparently they decided to put an embargo on the grosses of the well-reviewed doc about efforts to save Congolese gorillas from traders. That suggests they place a low priority on conventional reporting (which lowers the awareness of the film among potential awards groups ahead), even while Netflix customers have the ability to see the film right now.
What comes next: Hard to determine.
"Goodbye to Language" (Kino Lorber)
$21,000 in 2 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $10,500; Cumulative: $83,827
Holding up very well in its second weekend (the first in the same two theaters was $27,000), Jean-Luc Godard’s 3D effort continues to show real interest in its initial runs while Kino Lorber continues to struggle to find available theaters in some key markets.
"Horns" (Radius/Weinstein); also available on Video on Demand
$7,928 in 22 theaters (-81); PSA: $360; Cumulative: $164,046
Most theaters dropped out the second week, and those who did had minimal action. The VOD returns were over $1 million as of last weekend, and the hope is that the exposure will elevate those over the next few weeks.
"Point and Shoot" (The Orchard)
$4,389 in 1 theater; PSA: $4,389; Cumulative: $12,285
This doc about an American adventurer getting in over his head in the Middle East actually held up OK from its first weekend at New York’s Sunshine Theater, but it started from a weak level.
"The Great Invisible" (Radius/Weinstein)
$4,162 in 5 theaters (+2); PSA: $832; Cumulative: $10,542
Very little response to the expansion for this doc about the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Expanding/ongoing (Grosses over $50,000)
"Birdman" (Fox Searchight) Week 4
$2,300,000 in 462 theaters (+231); Cumulative: $8,086,000
"Birdman" continues as the standout success among the fall awards contenders by a sizable distance. It placed #11 among all films for the weekend. It still is falling short of the year’s top performers – "Grand Budapest Hotel" had PSAs of $22,000 in 304 theaters and then $8,741 in 977, compared to under $5,000 here. Its performance is roughly similar to the successful "Boyhood" at the same point. And of note is that the total is actually falling a bit short of last weekend despite doubling its theater count. This still looks decent but not breakout, below what some other Best Picture winners achieved prior to nomination and awards boosts.
"Dear White People" (Roadside Attractions) Week 4
$388,485 in 175 theaters (-218); Cumulative: $3,524,000
Mainly due to a steep drop in theaters, the PSA actually went up from last weekend ($2,200 compared to $1,900). This suggests that there remains an interest for this offbeat indie comedy in certain locations even if it failed to get the crossover success Roadside hoped for.
"Whiplash" (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 5
$346,742 in 88 theaters (+27); Cumulative: $1,557,000
Another encouraging weekend for this not-as-strong-as-expected festival hit: its PSA is only down about 10% despite some further expansion. This expands to about 400 theaters next Friday, including some network TV ads, showing SPC’s confidence in this film.
"Citizenfour" (Radius/Weinstein) Week 3
$207,834 in 59 theaters (+22); Cumulative: $667,293
This continues to show strength for a serious issue-oriented documentary, certainly enough to buttress its critical support going forward for awards consideration. The PSA dropped about a third, normal with this level of expansion.
"Force Majeure" (Magnolia) Week 3
$(est.)105,000 in 32 theaters (+7); Cumulative: $(est.) 267,000
Rolling out nationally now, still with modest results despite reviews that place this Swedish family drama among the top films of the year.
"My Old Lady" (Cohen) Week 9
$55,526 in 46 theaters (-38); Cumulaltive: $3,729,000
Longevity is both the theme of this Maggie Smith-starrer but also its history in theaters, but this is now on its last legs after a decent run.
"Laggies" (A24) Week 3 16
$258,264 in 306 theaters (+290); Cumulative: $461,018
Lynn Shelton’s Seattle-set comedy/drama with major star power (Keira Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz) blasted out nationally this weekend, with a very weak result (under $1,000 PSA).
"Awake: The Life of Yogananda" (Counterpoint/Self Realization) Week 5
$86,100 in 21 theaters (+7); Cumulative: $328,145
a 50% jump in theaters, the PSA dropped only slightly. This spiritual
biodoc continues to show surprising strength across the country among
devotees and the curious.
"The Skeleton Twins" Week 9
$50,310 in 51 theaters (-42); Cumulative: $5,164,000
Completing its successful run, this as of now is the third biggest gross among films that played at Sundance last January.
"Pride" (CBS) Week 7 93
$50,000 in 53 theaters (-40); Cumulative: $1,373,000
This crowd pleasing 1980s British-set film is nearing the end of its disappointing run.