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Arthouse Audit: ‘Still Alice’ Tops Newbies Amid Oscar Contender Scramble

Arthouse Audit: 'Still Alice' Tops Newbies Amid Oscar Contender Scramble

The Academy nominations on Thursday threw the specialty box office into disarray as theaters tried to maximize on the lucky contenders. As “Boyhood” and “Grand Budapest Hotel” are already on DVD, the other leading nominees took full advantage to solid numbers.

One prime contender, Sony Pictures Classics’ “Still Alice,” debuted to a respectable five theater break, as Julianne Moore cruises forward to her first Best Actress victory.

Oscar-campaigning is a risky business. When movies are late in their runs, theaters usually pay much lower film rental back to distributors and additional marketing costs can run higher than new revenue brought in. But theater play can boost chances of winning and future play when theatrical runs are over.

Opening

“Still Alice” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 72; Film Festivals include: Toronto, Hamptons, AFI 2014
$212,432 in 13 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $17,703; Cumulative: $282,332

Julianne Moore is the strong favorite to win Best Actress despite her film having been barely seen by ticket-buying audiences (it had a two city one week qualifying run in December, accounting for the additional gross in the total). But the one missing element has been confirmation of audience interest. This five city official debut is credible. The Alzheimer’s-at-an-early-age story isn’t a guaranteed box office draw, so this looks like a response to Moore’s acclaim (as well as favorable reviews overall). The most relevant comparison is to the similarly-themed “Away from Her,” which opened in May 2007, also in 13 theaters, to a gross of $114,000 before grossing $4.5 million (all totally removed from awards season, with Julie Christie competing for Best Actress the following February).

This isn’t close to SPC’s opening weekend for Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” which had a first weekend gross of $612,000 in six theaters and played through last year’s eventual Best Actress win for Cate Blanchett. SPC acquired this film in September after its Toronto premiere, clearly intending an early release and major Oscar campaign for Moore. Their release pattern — five cities initially is unusual for them — is aimed at maximizing the nomination period, and then going widest after her expected win. This is likely to be one of the lower total grossing winners in recent years (the low this century is “La Vie en Rose” at $10 million, but that was out on home video during awards time; $27 million has otherwise been the low end for a lead acting winner in recent years).

What comes next: A quick expansion to other major cities, with most metropolitan areas playing this before the Oscars,

“Spare Parts” (Lionsgate) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 50
$(est.) $1,300,000 in 430 theaters; PSA: $(est.) 3,023

Director Sean McNamara is best known for the faith-based success “Soul Surfer,” which Sony pushed to $44 million in 2011. Produced by George Lopez (who costars with Marisa Tomei and Jamie Lee Curtis as adults in a story about undocumented kids competing in a robotics event). This is another of Lionsgate’s Latino-oriented ventures with Pantelion Productions. 

What comes next: Earlier Pantelion efforts with similar results have seen an expansion beyond their initial runs, so this could see some wider exposure.

“Human Capital” (Film Movement) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 64; Festivals include: Tribeca, Seattle, Karlovy Vary 2014
$(est.) 7,500 in 3 theaters; PSA: $: 7,500; Cumulative: $(est.) 9,000

Italy’s entry in the Oscar Foreign Language derby didn’t make the shortlist, but remained set to open this weekend. With mild reviews and not much momentum behind it, this had a mediocre start despite a Wednesday opening at New York’s Film Forum among its theaters.

What comes next: Not likely to get more than spotty bookings in other cities.

“Appropriate Behavior” (Gravitas) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 75; Festivals include: Sundance, BAM, London 2014; also available on VIdeo on Demand
$18,500 in 10 theaters; PSA: $1,850

One of two American films that premiered a year ago at Sundance (the other, “Little Accidents,” managed just over $5,000 in seven theaters), this first feature about a young Persian-American bisexual woman maturing in Brooklyn, away from her close-knit family, managed only modest business in its initial dates.

What comes next: VOD looks to be its future.

“Match” (IFC) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 60; Festivals include: Tribeca 2014, Palm Springs 2015; also available on Video on Demand
$6,000 in 3 theaters; PSA: $2,000; Cumulative: $8,313

Patrick Stewart stars in this Broadway adaptation that opened to minimal business in New York and Los Angeles.

What comes next: IFC is expecting more theater play, but this will be another mainly home viewing presentation.

Week 2

“Beloved Sisters” (Music Box)      
$(est.) $6,000  in 4 theaters (-5); PSA: $1,500; Cumulative: (est.) $36,400

Germany’s not-nominated Oscar entry lost more than half its dates, with the PSA also dropping and prospects not great going forward.

Ongoing/expanding

Birdman (Fox Searchlight) Week 14
$1,560,000 in 471 theaters (+243); Cumulative: $28,286,000

With its shared lead “The Grand Budapest Hotel” with 9 nominations, “Birdman” seemed set to have a good rebound. This is a decent addition to the total, with the best PSA among the long-term players and the highest the film has seen since early November (its fourth week). How much this grows and whether it can gain from potential wins will be determined by when Searchlight aims its home video release.

Wild (Fox Searchlight) Week 7
$1,460,000 in 764 theaters (-522 theaters); Cumulative: $33,015,000

Due to Best Actress nominee Reese Witherspoon’s draw and an early wider run, even though “Wild” has been in theaters for less time than “Birdman,” “The Theory of Everything” or “Foxcatcher,” this so far has outgrossed all three. This actually shed about 40% of its theaters this weekend, but has a very competitive PSA performance among the leading Oscar nominees.

“Inherent Vice” (Warner Bros.) Week 6
$1,160,000 in 653 theaters (+8); Cumulative: $6,476,000

Positioned to benefit from possible nominations (it got two, for screenplay and costume design), this fell close to 60% this weekend. It doesn’t look set for further expansion and likely will lose most of these runs pretty soon.

“Foxcatcher” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 10
$1,125,000 in 759 theaters (+522); Cumulative: $10,050,000

SPC got a strong theater count this weekend for their five nominations (though not Best Picture). This is the best weekend gross during its run, although it did just over $1 million over Thanksgiving week at only 72 theaters.

“The Theory of Everything” (Focus) Week 11
$960,000 in 509 theaters (+101); Cumulative: $27,500,000

A decent boost for this film which otherwise was nearing the end of its run. Curiously, it has just about equaled the take that Focus amassed for “Dallas Buyers Club” last year, and should surpass it by some distance. (That film though had home viewing options by the time it won its two acting awards.)

“Whiplash” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 15
$412,000 in 189 theaters (+120); Cumulative: $6,640,000

This film’s impressive five nominations brought in another jump in gross, although with all the alternatives, the PSA actually remained about the same despite many more theaters added.

“A Most Violent Year” (A24) Week 3
$313,404 in 39 theaters (+35); Cumulative: $894,058

A24 released this limited at year’s end to qualify and hopefully ride a wave of acclaim to nominations. That didn’t pan out (even Jessica Chastain’s anticipated supporting nod), but the first wave of big city expansion despite all the competition managed a decent result. There seems to be some real interest in this film, and as the initial surge for nominees abates, the back up plan — being the only new significant specialized release around — looks like it could pay off.

“Boyhood” (IFC) Week 28; Also available on Video on Demand
$243,000 in 136 theaters (+116); Cumulative: $24,600,000

This is nearly all an Oscar boost. Up from $22,000 last weekend, widely available on VOD and DVD, this still played on 136 theaters this weekend.

“Mr. Turner” (Sony Pictures Classics) (Week 5)
$200,793 in 37 theaters (-2); Cumulative: $1,593,000

With four tech nominations, Mike Leigh’s gorgeous art film held on with only a small drop this weekend.

“Two Days, One Night” (IFC) Week 4
$116,710 in 15 theaters (+10); Cumulative: $300,123

Marion Cotillard’s surprise Best Actress nomination made a big difference as this Belgium drama tripled its theater count (with several new cities) with its PSA staying about the same.

“Leviathan” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 4
$54,628 in 6 theaters (+1); Cumulative: $194,189

One of SPC’s two Foreign Language nominees (along with “Wild Tales,” which opens limited two days prior to the Oscars), this clearly got a boost. The gross doubled with only one additional theater.

“Citizenfour” (Radius/Weinstein) Week 13
$50,380 in 41 theaters (-9); Cumulative: $2,346,000

The top-grossing among the documentary feature nominees returned for some minor additional gross.

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