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Arthouse Audit: ‘Love & Mercy’ Opens Well, ‘Testament of Youth’ Modest

Arthouse Audit: 'Love & Mercy' Opens Well, 'Testament of Youth' Modest

All had Metacritic scores of 80 or above, putting them ahead of hits like “Ex-Machina” and “Wild Tales.” “Love and Mercy,” the story of Brian Wilson told at two different points in his career, went national in a wider break, while World War I English romance “Testament of Youth” played four top New York/Los Angeles venues. Veteran Swedish director Roy Andersson’s “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” had two appropriate Manhattan dates. The results were uneven, with each showing some draw — and “Love and Mercy” showing some initial significant success.

We also discuss the unusual initial dates for “An Open Secret,” Amy Berg’s controversial documentary about young actors being preyed on by older film business power brokers. It showed, to poor results, at several mostly suburban general audience multiplexes in Denver and Seattle.

Opening

“Love and Mercy” (Roadside Attractions) Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: 80; Festivals include: Toronto 2014, Berlin, South by Southwest, Seattle, San Francisco 2015
$2,222,425 in 483 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $4,601

Roadside Attractions took a gamble releasing this Beach Boys biopic in a wider-than-usual release initially. This had the review heft, theater access and, in Los Angeles, the special event status (Brian Wilson appearing at Q&As at two theaters) to have guaranteed a strong initial four-theater opening (unseen over the last couple months) had it gone limited. Instead, those theaters did well anyway, and the national performance was good enough to place the film at #11 for the weekend. 

To make some recent comparisons, this looks quite decent. The number is similar to “Far from the Madding Crowd” when that film reached 865 theaters. It isn’t in the league of “Woman in Gold,” which scored $2.1 million in 258 theaters initially, but then this isn’t a film driven by a top drawer actress aimed squarely at currently dominant older audiences in their comfort zone, and never was likely to reach the $30 million level that film has managed. 

The 42% jump yesterday from Friday actually bested all but one of the Top Ten films, and puts this way ahead of a normal second day jump for a new release (“Gold” was up 30%). This is crucial – the competition for screen space in most high-end studio-oriented complexes will be brutal over the next few weeks. The best grossing of its locations had this much higher in individual gross rankings, guaranteeing holdovers and a legitimate call on holding in many for several weeks as long as this holds above average next weekend.

What comes next: The gross is good enough to anticipate additional exhibitor interest for some expansion and will justify their strategy. This isn’t a cookie-cutter kind of easy release, but expect Roadside could take its success far further in weeks ahead, with next weekend being critical.

“Testament of Youth” (Sony Pictures Classics)  Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 80; Festivals include: London 2014
$53,008 in 4 theaters; PSA: $13,252

After their impressive success with “Still Alice” and the more limited “Wild Tales” — but “Lambert and Stamp,” “Saint Laurent” and “Aloft” made less impact — SPC has had a soft run of late. But the modest initial results for “Testament of Youth” are particularly disconcerting. This was backed with above-average marketing for this (non-awards) time of year, elevated publicity (its two leads are current and future stars, Alicia Vikander of “Ex Machina” and Kit Harington of “Game of Thrones), great New York/Los Angeles theater placement, and then as a bonus, unusually strong reviews.

Its under-performance is not bad by any means, but it’s just much below what the elements suggested. It might be due in part to a romantic World War I memoir not having immediate contemporary appeal for high-end urban audiences, and not having a name director, though James Kent comes from top TV and cable period dramas. But the performance scarily seems more to suggest the increasing capriciousness and narrowing interests of specialized audiences, through no fault of its distributor. That said, backed by their support, likely continued decent reviews and with the continuing lack of new competition, this could fare better with word of mouth and more willing audiences as it expands.

What comes next: The usual careful slow SPC rollout starts with Washington, Chicago and San Francisco next week.

“A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Contemplating Its Existence” (Magnolia)  Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: 83; Festivals include: Venice, Toronto 2014, Miami 2015
$18,586 in 2 theaters; PSA: $9,293; Cumulative: $26,500

Veteran Swedish director Roy Andersson, whose career goes back to the late 1960s, has always been a high-end, niche talent rather than a domestic arthouse success. His two most recent (and acclaimed) films combined only grossed $100,000 ($80,000 from “Songs from the Second Floor” in 2001). His seventh film, this black comedy has been given careful attention by Magnolia after top-end festival acclaim, including a Venice win that bested even “Birdman,” and now very strong reviews in New York. It opened appropriately at the Film Forum and Lincoln Plaza last Wednesday to, in context, respectable results so far. This is high end, niche arthouse fare, and needs the careful oversight. These numbers should enhance interest in smart theaters across the country.

What comes next:  Expect to find this in all top markets but at a slower schedule than usual. Los Angeles is set for July 17 at Cinefamily (along with a partial Andersson retrospective), and similar locations around the country should see this over the summer.

“An Open Secret” (Rocky Mountain) Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 68; Festivals include: DocNYC 2014
$(est.) 2,000 in 9 theaters; PSA: $(est.) 222

Amy Berg has had a stellar career as a documentary director, including an Oscar nomination for “Deliver Us from Evil” and acclaim for “West of Memphis,” both of which had modest but credible box office results. She has focused on, as she does here, victimized young people. But she ran into apparent road blocks this time around. The subject – the exploitation (including molesting) of aspiring teen male actors by a group of industry figures – got little festival support and less distributor interest despite her past work. Its distributor has handled docs in the past, but only those aimed at a right-wing, often faith-based crowd (“2016 Obama’s America did $33 million). Their initial dates, likely as a test, were mostly suburban theaters aimed at a similar audience in Seattle and Denver. The results don’t suggest any interest going this route. The film’s website lists this as opening in New York this Friday (at a commercial 42nd St. multiplex, not a specialized-oriented location), but no Los Angeles or other date yet.

What comes next: It’s hard to see this gaining much further traction, though it might continue to get publicity.

“The Nightmare” (Gravitas Ventures)  Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 68; Festivals include: Sundance, South by Southwest, Seattle 2015; also available on Video on Demand
$(est.) 14,000 in 17 theaters; PSA: $(est.) 824

This Sundance-premiered doc from Rodney Ascher focuses on sleep paralysis. Its theater exposure alongside VOD play yielded minimal results.

What comes next: VOD will be its home.

“Charlie’s Country” (Monument)  Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 75; Festivals include: Cannes, Toronto 2014, Palm Springs, Seattle 2015
$(est) 5,000 in 4 theaters; PSA: $(est.) 1,250

Veteran Australian director is best known for “The Quiet Room.” His films, like this widely festival-shown one, mostly focus on Aboriginal characters (this actually was an Oscar Foreign Language submission). Despite OK reviews, this got minimal initial response.

What comes next: Some niche placement likely, but not much more.

“Beyond the Mask” (Freestyle) 
$(est.) 240,000 in 111 theaters; PSA: $(est.) 2,162

This historical/more action oriented faith-based film (involving a British spy in colonial India) did minor business mostly in the Bible Belt and outlying suburban theaters nationally. The gross drop yesterday from Friday suggests it was boosted by opening day group sales.

What comes next: Doesn’t look to have much potential for growth.

“Dil Dhadakne Do (Eros)
$(est.) 1,300,000 in 238 theaters; PSA: $(est.) 5,462

Anil Kapoor (best known to Westerners for his roles in “Slumdog Millionaire” and “24”) is one of the stars in this rom-com about siblings and their parallel attempts to overcome parental marital resistance during their 30th anniversary cruise. You won’t see this on some weekend BO reports, but this actually came in #10 despite its small total theaters, with a PSA ahead of “Love and Mercy,” (helped by being on fewer screens.)

What comes next: These numbers justify a second week and more, with a $3 million total possible.

“The Cokeville Miracle” (Excel Entertainment)
$(est.) 210,000 in 51 theaters; PSA: $(est.) 4,118

A real-life school hostage situation is the basic of this faith-based story that opened in the Bible Belt and similar communities to better results on average than the more widely opened “Beyond the Mask.”

What comes next: This could see more openings ahead.

Week Two

“Gemma Bovary” (Music Box)    
$15,000 in 8 theaters (+3); PSA: $1,875; Cumulative: $44,388

With Los Angeles still reeling from its local review snub, this French modern variation on the Flaubert classic is doing minor business ahead of further top market expansion and hopefully better response.

“Results” (Magnolia) – also available on Video on Demand   
$(est). 23,000 in 16 theaters (+21)); PSA: $(est.) 1,438; Cumulative: $(est.) 48,000

Not much theatrical life for the second week expansion (including Los Angeles) for this Austin-based gym-set romance.

“Heaven Knows What” (Radius/Weinstein)
$7,058 in 3 theaters (+1); PSA: $2,353; Cumulative: $31,765

Despite adding one theater to the initial two and continued support from Radius, this urban, young, heroin drama dropped more than half its second weekend. The Los Angeles part of the run (where the local Times mostly ignored the film in print on opening) was hurt by being pulled by the prime Arclight Hollywood after just one week due to relatively low initial grosses.

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

“Far from the Madding Crowd” (Fox Searchlight) Week 6
$725,000 in 610 theaters (-292); Cumulative: $9,914,000

This latest adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic continues to find audiences, but is now in its later stages. It looks to top out somewhere over $12 million, a bit better than Searchlight’s “Belle” last year, but only after playing at many more theaters.

“I’ll See You in My Dreams” (Bleecker Street) Week 4     
$558,144 in 165 theaters (+80); Cumulative: $1,855,000

Expanding now more slowly than their debut release “Danny Collins” (that film broadened to 739 theaters its fourth week), their AARP-age romance continues to show healthy results. This is likely to be a slower build film, but don’t be surprised to see similar or better ultimate results.

“Ex Machina” (A24) Week 9
$388,976 in 302 theaters (-204); Cumulative: $24,330,000

Getting close to $25 million, and just little less than double the gross of A24’s previous top release, “Spring Breakers.”

“Woman in Gold” (Weinstein) Week 10
$225,000 in 277 theaters (-187)); Cumulative: $31,925,000

When was the last time a Weinstein release has ever been said to have “quietly” made it to $30 million and up? This non-awards season entry (though don’t be surprised to see a Helen Mirren push ahead) has, with more of a broader audience than arthouse/limited push, outgrossed “The Iron Lady” and come close to “The Reader,” both Best Actress winners. And likely less expensively, since the extra cost of a high end awards campaign won’t eat into profits. Amazingly this, not “Ex Machina,” is the top specialized film of 2015 so far. This indicates strength in older-audience numbers.

“When Marnie Was There” (GKids) Week 3   
$73,349 in 29 theaters (+19); Cumulative: $181,562

This Studio Ghibli animated release is expanding much like “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” last year, with a nearly identical result this weekend. That suggests future success and a possible healthy total of approaching $700,000.

“Iris” (Magnolia) Week 6    
$66,000 in 79 theaters (-13); Cumulative: $1,024,000

Albert Maysles’ documentaries were many things during his life, including timely and groundbreaking, but few of his features managed to total over $1 million, even inflation adjusted. (One was the co-directed “Gimme Shelter” in 1971, 44 years ago). His second to last one did the trick, as this New York fashion-fixture portrait has had an impressive run.

“The 100 Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” (Music Box) Week 6     
$600,000 in 56 theaters (-16); Cumulative: $547,112

Still adding gross, this much better than expected performing Swedish film continues to find at least modest interest.

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