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Arthouse Audit: Controversy Reigns as ‘End of the Tour’ Tops Limited Newbies and Weinstein Dumps Jeunet’s Latest

Arthouse Audit: Controversy Reigns as 'End of the Tour' Tops Limited Newbies and Weinstein Dumps Jeunet's Latest

This year’s Sundance Film Festival entries have faced a bumpy ride in release. 

Two high-end acquisitions (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” and “Dope”) scored well-supported wide releases but failed to show crossover/general audience appeal. Among the more conventional limited initial platform plays this weekend, three Sundance 2015 movies started strong in New York and Los Angeles. A24’s controversial “The End of the Tour” was the best of the group, but documentaries “Best of Enemies” (Magnolia) and “Listen to Me Marlon” (Showtime) both drew significant interest.

Last week’s best opening, “Phoenix” (IFC), held up well with two new theaters this week and shows promise. Roadside Attractions’ “Mr. Holmes” continues it breakout success, but Woody Allen’s latest, “Irrational Man” (Sony Pictures Classics), is lagging behind his recent successes.

Opening

“The End of the Tour” (A24) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 84; Festivals include: Sundance, Seattle, San Francisco 2015
$126,559 in 4 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $31,640

Excellent start for James Ponsoldt’s retelling of a Rolling Stone writer’s observations on novelist David Foster Wallace over several days of a book tour. And another initial success for A24, who now accounts for three of the last five conventional New York/Los Angeles platform openings to get to over $20,000 initial per theater average (along with “Ex Machina” and “Amy”). This milestone marks the highest limited opening of any Sundance 2015 premiered film, and by some distance.

While “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” opened in several cities, “The End of the Tour” grosses in just two cities are superior. “Dope” opened wide. (“It Follows” was bigger, but premiered at Cannes.)

A24 has mastered a powerful strategy: Acquire a film with younger appeal, book the right theaters, find the right marketing niche and exploit it. The strong reviews didn’t hurt, but despite familiar names, Jason Segel has little specialized credibility and Jesse Eisenberg has had an uneven career post-“The Social Network.” And a plot involving a reporter tagging along with a cult novelist in a Midwestern winter isn’t an automatic sell. 

This is A24’s second go-round with director Ponsoldt. “The Spectacular Now” exactly two years ago opened even stronger ($49,000 PTA) before going on to a nearly $7 million total and giving a big boost to  the careers of Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller. 

As for eventual awards consideration, more top Sundance 2015 titles have opened this summer than usual. (“Room” and “Brooklyn” are waiting until after their Toronto showings.) “The End of the Tour” has a shot at some attention for acting and writing. This looks like it could be have room to thrive through August and into September with less competition before the fall heavyweights start rolling out.

What comes next: This expands to the rest of the ten biggest markets this Friday, then reaches other cities throughout the month,

“Best of Enemies” (Magnolia)  – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 80; Festivals include: Sundance, Seattle, San Francisco, BAM
$54,000 in 3 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $18,000  (U.S. only)

Supporting the trend that top-grossing docs often focus on the arts and performers, “Best of Enemies” made a strong start. Retelling the contentious relationship between ideological intellectual titans Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. who enjoyed 10 debates on ABC during the two 1968 political conventions, the movie is so entertaining that it rises above its period politics and history. These two men were performers who both pursued lifetime quest to project their strong personalities into whatever forum they appeared. The doc from Morgan Neville (Oscar-winning “20 Feet from Stardom”) was helped by strong reviews and theater placement, but nonetheless, these are impressive numbers.

What comes next: Chicago, the Bay area, Washington and Portland add on this Friday.

“Listen to Me Marlon” (Showtime)  – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic; 87 Festivals include: Sundance, New Directors/New Films, San Francisco, Seattle
$29,215 in 2 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $14,608; Cumulative: $37,227

This mainline creative personality-driven doc boasts a result nearly as impressive as “Best of Enemies.” Gaining access to Marlon Brando’s personal archives, including audio recordings he made over a period of many years, this covers more familiar territory to many than “Enemies.” But the discoveries in the material, the quality of its shaping (leading to strong critical acclaim for its presentation) and interest generated initially at Sundance all combined for a powerful launch.

This doc was a Showtime project from early stages. The cable giant felt that a theatrical presence, including a multi-month exclusivity, was a good business decision that would enhance its value and possibly increase its awards presence. In the ongoing debate over the future of VOD, cable, Netflix and other options, going the conventional route sometimes does make the most sense, particularly when accompanied by smart marketing and distribution.

What comes next: This expands to key specialized theaters initially nationally starting this Friday.

“The Kindergarten Teacher” (Kino Lorber) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 66; Festivals include: Cannes, Chicago 2014, New Directors/New Films 2015
$10,000 in 1 theater; PTA (per theater average): $10,000

This Israeli drama about a 5-year-old poetry prodigy and his teacher debuted at Cannes last year. As happens regularly to films from less-known directors, particularly from the Critics’ Week section, this didn’t nab much attention. But it did get a release from enterprising Kino Lorber, and a rave New York Times review with top position on the first Friday movie page. This launched the film to a respectable number at New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center, with yesterday almost doubling Friday’s gross.

What comes next: This opens Aug. 14 in Los Angeles. This number should propel the film to many dates at theaters across the country at which Israeli films have strong appeal.

“The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet” (Weinstein)  – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 51; Festivals include: San Sebastian 2013, Rome, Tokyo 2014
$31,000 in 100 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $310

The Weinstein Company did its part to reduce the burden on overloaded critics by not only not screening but barely publicizing the 100-theater national release (including New York and Los Angeles) of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s almost two-year- old 3D American-set English language film. Jeunet has a history with the Weinsteins, back to his breakout “Delicatessen” and later the Oscar-nominated hit “Amelie.” Reports of disputes over the domestic release version (Jeunet has final cut, TWC has certain contractual obligations) led to this stealth release, which looks like it is playing out the strict minimum of markets and support, per requirements. TWC did report their disastrous estimates.

What comes next: Don’t expect to see this sticking around theaters.

“The LEGO Brickumentary” (Radius/Weinstein)  – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 54; Festivals include: Tribeca, Seattle 2014; also available on Video on Demand
$42,250 in 94 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $455

This doc with insiders’ access to the LEGO empire premiered rousingly at festivals right after the smash “The LEGO Movie,” but it has taken a year to reach its theatrical/VOD parallel release. The results are underwhelming theatrically, but $163,000 initially in VOD shows promise.

What comes next: VOD only for the time being.

“Counting” (Cinema Guild)  – Metacritic: 79; Festivals include: Berlin, BAM 2015
$(est). 4,500 in 1 theater; PTA (per theater average): $(est.) 4,500

Jem Cohen is a veteran video and short film director whose past features (“Benjamin Smoke,” “Chain” and “Museum Hours”) have met acclaim without much commercial attention. This multi-episode quasi-documentary might be his most uncommercial yet. Still, Cinema Guild scored a home at New York’s adventuresome IFC Center to modest response.

What comes next: Cinema Guild usually gets it better reviewed films shown in some fashion in most big cities, but this will have a limited mainstream theatrical life.

“I Am Chris Farley” (Virgil)  – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 61
$(est.) 8,500 in 6 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $(est.) 1,417

This intimate and affectionate doc about the late comedian did minor business in its limited theatrical launch.

What comes next: This is set to show on Spike Cable on August 10 and VOD the following day.

“Jenny’s Wedding” (IFC)  – Metacritic: 34; Festivals include: Outfest 2015; also available on Video on Demand.
$(est.) $2,600 in 2 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $1,300

Mary Agnes Donoghue directed one previous feature (“Paradise” with then-married Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson in 1991) but is better known for her scripts for “Beaches,” White Oleander” and “Veronica Guerin.” This Katherine Heigl comedy about a lesbian couple who tell their families they are getting married might have had a chance of getting elevated attention with better marketing and distribution. It ended up with little festival play, poor reviews and a VOD-parallel release, with the theatrical response nearly nonexistent in New York and Los Angeles.

What comes next: VOD

“Wild City” (Well Go)  – Metacritic: 60; Festivals include: Fantasia 2015
$(est.) 17,000 in 13 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $(est.) 1,307

Veteran Hong Kong action director Ringo Lam started in the early 1980s, came to prominence with “City on Fire” and later the American “Maximum Impact” and “Replicant.” This is his first directed film since 2007. In limited release, the movie showed only core appeal to fans of Hong Kong action.

What comes next: Very little theatrical life ahead.

“Two Step” (Traverse)  – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 79; Festivals include: South by Southwest 2014
$(est.)2,800 in 1 theater; PTA (per theater average): $(est.) 2,800

An example of the struggles quality indie films have, this Austin-set thriller premiered at last year’s SXSW, was passed over by distributors, and is only now getting a one-theater somewhat off-the-radar Village East showing. Yet it scored an upbeat full New York Times review which makes it sound more interesting than many recent American indie films. But with an otherwise low profile, this didn’t have the heft to draw in a decent initial gross.

What comes next: This will struggle to get any further theatrical attention.

Also opening (PTA under estimated under $1,500)

“Paolo Coelho’s Best Story” (Music Box) – $(est.)  5,500 in 4 theaters; also available on Video on Demand
“Extinction” (Vertical) – $4,200 in 18 theaters; also available on VIdeo on Demand
“That Sugar Film” (Goldwyn) – $3,500  in 10 theaters; also available on Video on Demand

Week Two

“Phoenix” (IFC) 
$49,952 in 4 theaters (+2); PTA: $12,488; Cumulative: $102,451

An impressive second weekend for Christian Petzold’s acclaimed Berlin 1946 drama. Adding two theaters, including an exclusive Los Angeles run, the PTA is only slightly down from its opening number. Note that the gross is more than $10,000 more than “Samba,” which had a very close opening PTA, with the latter now playing in 18 more theaters. This looks like it could be a slow-burning success as it expands over the next few weeks.

“Samba” (Broad Green)
$39,761 in 22 theaters (+20); PTA: $1,807; Cumulative: $72,629

Broad Green did a decent job of launching the followup film to the international French small “Intouchables” last week, with its initial grosses less than that film but still credible.This second week expansion though is not holding nearly as well. “Intouchables” (released by Weinstein) grossed $322,000 in 50 theaters, with a PTA despite more than double the theaters nearly four times better. 

“The Vatican Tapes” (Lionsgate)
$310,000 in 427 theaters (no change); PTA: $726; Cumulative: $1,516,000

Credit Lionsgate for holding on to all its theaters in a tough week despite the weak reaction initially to this found footage/supernatural film released nationally but in far fewer than normal theaters. This dropped 63%.

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

“Mr. Holmes” (Roadside Attractions – Week 3
$2,414,000 in 901 theaters (+215); Cumulative: $10,386,000

Holding well as it expands to more theaters, Roadside Attractions’ most recent crossover success is performing just behind “Mud” in its third week, equal to “A Most Wanted Man” and ahead of “Love & Mercy.” It is doing so with stronger support from older audiences responding to this Ian McKellan-starring late-in-life Sherlock Holmes story. This landed good, not great reviews: well below the critical support those three other films received.

“Bajrangi Bhaijaan” (Eros)  – Week 3     
$ 900,000 in 257 theaters (unchanged); Cumulative: $7,164,000

Holding well its third weekend, this Indian high-end production continues to do well. It placed #13 overall this weekend, and looks to top at least $8.5 million before it’s done.

“Irrational Man” (Sony Pictures Classics)  – Week 3
$509,528 in 135 theaters (+107); Cumulative: $1,147,000

SPC is opening this more slowly than any of their Woody Allen releases since 2010’s “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.” With exact comparisons tricky, this is performing below all of his films since then (but somewhat better than “Stranger”). Since 2010, Allen’s releases have at their widest reached between 806 and 1,283 theaters. This looks to justify far fewer (including the expense involved in a wider break), and that will keep the total gross lower. At this point, it seems unlikely that this will top $5 million. Since “Stranger” all of his later films have hit at least $10 million.

“Amy” (A24)  – Week 5
$413,958 in 245 theaters (-125); Cumulative: $6,405,000

Amy Winehouse’s talent and tragedy have turned out to be a strong draw in doc form. Though this is rapidly shedding theaters, A24’s quick expansion has paid off, and will outgross their biggest film of last summer (“The Spectacular Now.”)

“Infinitely Polar Bear” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 7
$112,935 in 110 theaters (+14); Cumulative: $1,141,000

A typical SPC slow rollout maximizing a film’s potential, which in this case was more limited than hoped. But they have gotten it over a million in a tough market, with likely more cities to be added.

The Stanford Prison Experiment” (IFC)  – Week 3; also available on Video on Demand
$112,180 in 79 theaters (+64); Cumulative: $243,721

This is a decent total in theaters considering the film’s parallel VOD availability. IFC likely has gone as wide (or at least as many runs in a week) as it will go with the big jump this week, but they’ve done a good job of increasing the visibility for this Sundance 2015 film.

“Love & Mercy” (Roadside Attractions) – Week 9
$92,156 in 103 theaters (-23); Cumulative: $12,221,000

A successful summer release of this Brian Wilson biopic is wrapping up. Impressively, Roadside has gotten to over $10 million twice this year despite the incredibly intense competition for crossover, mainstream theaters needed to reach this number.

“Tangerine” (Magnolia) – Week 4    
$(est.) 66,000 in 33 theaters (unchanged); Cumulative: $(est.) 410,000

Sean Baker’s Sundance-premiered iPhone-filmed Hollywood street drama continues to hold steady in limited national runs.

“I’ll See You in My Dreams” (Bleecker Street) – Week 12
$63,527 in 79 theaters (-24); Cumulative: $7,209,000

Winding up a successful three month run. By comparison, in its eighth weekend, the more highly anticipated Sundance launch, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” grossed under $50,000 this weekend and will end up shy of $7 million despite much wider playoff. This has been a breakthrough success for new New York-based distributor Bleecker Street. At its widest, “Dreams” played in 290 theaters, while “Earl” played 870, with a much more expensive investment and marketing. This reminds that older audiences presently drive the theatrical specialized market.

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