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Arthouse Audit: Netflix Doc ‘Miss Simone’ Likely Tops Specialty Box Office, ‘Love and Mercy’ Nears $10 Million

Arthouse Audit: Netflix Doc 'Miss Simone' Likely Tops Specialty Box Office, 'Love and Mercy' Nears $10 Million

On paper, it was a strong weekend for specialized theatrical releases. The titles range from two Toronto 2014 galas starring Oscar winners (“A Little Chaos” and “Escobar: Paradise Lost”) to Sundance 2015 documentary opener “What Happened, Miss Simone?” Eight new releases are already available on Video on Demand or Netflix, and another is heading there after a brief theatrical run. 

The future is here.

The likely standout, although Netflix refused to report weekend estimates, was “Miss Simone.”

The best of the rest are the Slamdance crowdpleaser doc, “Batkid Returns” (Warner Bros.), and indie farm family drama “The Runoff,” which premiered at Los Angeles Film Festival 2014. Neither is VOD-adjacent. Whether either has broad wider appeal remains to be seen, but in this weak new film market expect both to get further attention.

Other films with weak $2,500 per theater averages with similar festival pedigree are “Big Game” (Europacorp/Toronto Midnight), “The Little Death” (Magnolia/Toronto Discovery), Fresh Dressed” (Goldwyn/Sundance Doc Premiere), “Bound to Vengeance” (IFC/Sundance Midnight, as “Reversal”) and “The Strongest Man” (Filmbuff/Sundance Next), which are all on Video on Demand.

The New York Times covered close to all of the 30 openers, while the LA Times dealt with 20, according six snarky one-sentence print dismissals with online links.

As usual, based on our sources, we give estimates on important films even when distributors fail to provide them, which is more the case of late, along with an unfortunate uptick in unreasonably high estimates from a handful of companies.

Opening

“What Happened, Miss Simone?” (Netflix)  – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 75; Festivals include: Sundance, Hot Docs 2015; also available on Netflix
$ (unknown) in theaters

What should be the big story this week is incomplete at best. This Sundance-premiered documentary about the great blues singer/musician is a Netflix production, but for both review branding and awards qualification the movie boasts a two city theatrical presence ( top New York and Los Angeles film critics gave it prominence, which is important as the platform ratchets up its originals).  

While Netflix didn’t report estimated grosses, based on other reliable sources, “Miss Simone” appears to be the top opening of the weekend. Its New York run (the IFC Center) looks to gross over $15,000 for the weekend (it opened on Wednesday there), with its Los Angeles gross unknown. If this figure is close to correct, and even more so considering its Netflix availability, this looks like a lost theatrical opportunity.

What comes next: Netflix obviously will be the main if not sole venue. This is a breakthrough moment which could encourage Netflix to further platform its originals in select theaters.

“Batkid Begins” (Warner Bros.) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 64; Festivals include: Slamdance, Cinequest, Cleveland 2015
$23,450 in 4 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $5,865

Recounting the YouTube and social media event of a five year old leukemia patient and his Make-a-Wish dream to play Batman, this fell into Warners’ hands when Julia Roberts’ production company bought the feature rights. Placed in two strong theaters in New York (Angelika) and Los Angeles (Landmark) as well as two in its San Francisco setting, this showed modest returns in these initial dates, backed by solid ad and marketing support.

What comes next: Warners is adding additional selected cities on July 10.

“A Little Chaos” (Focus Features)  – Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 51; Festivals include: Toronto, London 2014; also available on Video on Demand
$186,000 in 83 theaters; PTA: $2,241

“A Little Chaos” marks Kate Winslet’s third limited lead role since her Oscar win for “The Reader.” She costars with Matthias Schoenarts and Jennifer Ehle in Alan Rickman’s Versailles period drama. Focus acquired the Toronto closing nighter just after the festival, and opted for a VOD-based release as another top star is no longer considered strong enough to launch a theatrical release (or perhaps her presence enhances its VOD appeal). Its theatrical share totally outshone its fellow Toronto gala “Escobar, ” even though this had VOD play. The grosses actually for this many theaters, the reviews and at home competition actually are not bad.

What comes next: VOD the main play, but this could get some further theatrical play.

“Escobar: Paradise Lost” (Radius/Weinstein) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 56; Festivals include: Toronto, San Sebastian, Hamptons 2015
$ 87,600 in 105 theaters; PTA: $ 834     (delete est. in 2 places)
Radius–Weinstein’s sometime VOD-parallel arm (“Adult Beginners”), theatrical releasing unit (“It Follows”), and theatrical first followed quickly by VOD (“Snowpiercer”)– continues to acquire distinctive and edgy films while trying to figure out the best path for each film individually. “Escobar” was acquired for a reported $2 million in early 2014, world-premiered as a Toronto gala with expectations that a late-year qualifying run would be launched to tout Benicio Del Toro. That didn’t happen, and its initial wider theatrical date in January was also canceled.

So the period drug cartel drama has opened theatrical only, across the country, but playing in theaters that traditionally are willing to show films that will go to VOD well ahead of the usual three-month window, while key specialized chain Landmark has no listings for it (a sign of imminent VOD play). That is not unlike “It Follows,” whose more limited initial dates played so well that reported plans to go quickly to VOD were dropped in favor of a successful theatrical release. The multi-city release of “Escobar” shows estimated per theater grosses averaging under $1,000. 

What comes next: Further theatrical play seems unlikely.

“Runoff” (Monterey Media)  – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 68; Festivals include: Los Angeles, Hamptons 2014
$10,000 in 1 theater; PTA: $10,000

This independent first feature, directed by a one-time biochemist and set on a Kentucky family farm, was boosted in its New York opening (the Village East) by heavy grassroots marketing focused on environmental issues and filmmaker appearances at multiple showings. These efforts paid off, making this reported gross better than several more highly touted recent New York openings.

What comes next: This result should give the film additional attention. Los Angeles is set for a July 24 opening.

“The Princess of France” (Cinema Guild) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 65; Festivals include: Locarno, Toronto, New York 2014
$ (est.) 3,000; PTA: (est.) 3,000

This 67-minute Argentine film has received some strong festival acclaim. Set among young Buenos Aires Shakespearean actors, this rarefied effort got an appropriate run at New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center to modest results.

What comes next: This looks likely to play more non-theatrical limited dates across the country.

Advantageous” (Film Presence)  –  Metacritic: 59; Festivals include: Sundance, San Francisco, BAM 2015
$(est.) 2,500 in 1 theater; PTA: $(est.) 2,500

This intellectually ambitious low-budget sci-fi indie won the Special Jury Prize among the U.S. Dramatic features at Sundance 2015. It earned a decent New York Times review, but not significant public response in its Cinema Village run.

What comes next: This will struggle to get much more attention despite its Sundance pedigree.

“The Third Man” (Rialto Pictures) (reissue)  
$(est.) 24,000 in 3 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $(est.) 8,000

An excellent gross for this rerelease of Carol Reed’s atmospheric 1949 Graham Greene adaptation starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton. 

What comes next: Expect some more theatrical life for this.

Week Two

“The Overnight” (The Orchard)   3
$160,944 in 45 theaters (); PTA: $3,577; Cumulative: $(est.) 227,070

The second week aggressive expansion of this Sundance competition comedy didn’t live up to the reported initial New York/Los Angeles limited reaction. This is doing well enough to hold and expand a little further, but at this point looks to fall short of hopes when it was acquired for a reported $4 million plus marketing commitment. The Saturday jump from Friday is a hopeful sign.

“Infinitely Polar Bear” (Sony Pictures Classics)    
$69,198 in 17 theaters (+12); PTA: $4,070; Cumulative: $133,447

Adding several top cities, Maya Forbes’ Sundance 2014 family drama continues to struggle to get significant traction. 

“The Tribe” (Drafthouse)   1
$(est.) 12,000 in 2 theaters (+1); PTA: $(est.) 6,000; Cumulative: $(est.) 28,000

This compelling and original Ukrainian drama featuring deaf-mute youths added Los Angeles this week, and again got a modest but still respectable result.

“Eden” (Broad Green)  3
$13,360 in 14 theaters (+11); PTA: $954; Cumulative: $38,597

New indie distributor Broad Green’s first release, 1990s French electronic music story “Eden,” yielded a spotty limited opening and expanded weakly in several other top cities. 

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

“Love and Mercy” (Roadside Attractions) Week 4   
$1,310,000 in 724 theaters (-67); Cumulative: $9,292,000

Roadside’s decision to go somewhat wide early continues to pay off as the gross for their acclaimed Brian Wilson approaches $10 million and looks to add a good deal more.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Fox Searchlight) Week 3
$992,000 in 354 theaters (+286); Cumulative: $1,856,000

The big Sundance jury and audience winner had a significant expansion this week, but while it’s getting a decent sampling, the numbers lag behind comparable films. For example, Searchlight’s less-heralded “Belle” last year in its third weekend had fewer than half as many theaters — 173 — and grossed nearly as much ($940,000). “Birdman” at the same point in 231 did $2.4 million. Searchlight’s “The Way, Way Back” and “Enough Said” also in fewer theaters grossed more than double.

It is still early in the film’s release. Searchlight seems committed to expanding (doubling or more this weekend) amid signs that word of mouth could be kicking in, as yesterday had a healthy jump from Friday with many new theaters. At this point it looks to fall short of many comparable Searchlight titles, and it needs to hold onto expanded theaters in a very tight, competitive market. Even getting as far as $10 million, considering the expectations from its acquisition and marketing costs, would be a disappointment.

“I’ll See You in My Dreams” (Bleecker Street) Week 7   
$581,634 in 290 theaters (+3); Cumulative: $5,006,000

Blythe Danner and Sam Elliott experiencing senior romance continues to show appeal, with the gross down only 15% and the prospects of adding $2-3 million more to its impressive take ahead.

“Testament of Youth” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 4   
$166,537 in 64 theaters (-8); Cumulative: $670,905

SPC continues to give this World War I romance hefty support, which is reflected in the gross staying close to the same despite a small drop in theaters. Though not a strong gross, this suggests that some good word of mouth could also be helping.

“Far from the Madding Crowd” (Fox Searchlight) Week 9   
$160,000 in 256  theaters (-103); Cumulative: $11,610,000

This is now at the level of similar British period romances “Belle” and “Anna Karenina” — decent but not spectacular.

“Woman in Gold” (Weinstein) Week 13    
$128,000 in 141 theaters (-174); Cumulative: $32,914,000

Amazingly, this still is around and adding gross three months after its release.

“The Wolfpack” (Magnolia) Week 3    
$(est.) 175,000 in 77 theaters (+37); Cumulative: (est.) 518,000

The big Sundance doc winner more than doubled theaters, with it still having a respectable showing though not quite at the level of initial weeks.

“Ex-Machina” (A24) Week 12    
$(est.) 90,000 in 81 theaters (+43); Cumulative: $(est.) 25,100,000

The end of the run for one of the top specialized successes of the year.

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