Adam McKay’s “The Big Short” rode a wave of strong reviews, awards-group nominations and major marketing support from Paramount to score the second best platform debut of 2015. Its $90,000 per theater average would be solid any time. But it speaks volumes about the shaky year in specialized film that along with Universal’s “Steve Jobs,” the two best openers of the year come from mainstream studios, not studio specialized units or dedicated indies who usually lead the pack. Rewind a full 12 months and add Warner Bros.’ late-year “American Sniper” to complete a trio of non-indie box office leaders.
Two releases from Open Road and Fox Searchlight (neither exactly small stand alone companies) with awards hopes continue to show strength as “Spotlight” and “Brooklyn” remain in the Top Ten and accumulate impressive totals before Oscar nominations next month boost their totals. And both look strong enough to maintain most of their best theaters, meaning an earlier bonus during the lucrative holiday weeks. Meantime, TWC’s “Carol” continues to impress in its still earlier, very limited dates.
“The Big Short” (Paramount) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 81; Festivals include: AFI 2015
$720,000 in 8 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $90,000
Although buzz has been building for this comedic Michael Lewis adaptation about the 2008 financial meltdown, the initial result in four cities (San Francisco and Chicago plus the usual New York and Los Angeles) is stunning. Strong reviews plus boosts from SAG and Golden Globe nominations helped, but clearly the all-star cast and interest in the story helped as well. What makes this number even more impressive (it is ahead of other recent early December platform releases “Up in the Air” and “The Fighter”) is that it does include more markets (normally a bit lower grossing than New York and Los Angeles). The number doesn’t guarantee success — remember that literate, businessy biopic “Steve Jobs” had an even higher initial PTA. But encouraging for the prospects here is that Saturday jumped 24%, compared to 7% for “Jobs.” These numbers increase the film’s Oscar prospects.
As studios try to get into the platform/awards market, this opening could take some of the sting off of the disappointing ultimate performance of “Jobs,” reminding that a movie doesn’t have to be dumbed down to be commercial. But at a time when some of the studio boutique branches and other top specialized companies have struggled to find their old groove, this is a welcome development for the overall market.
What comes next: Paramount’s gamble has paid off: their plans to go nationwide on December 23, right in the middle of the theater bottleneck, just became a lot easier.
“Don Verdean” (Lionsgate) – Metacritic: 40; Festivals include: AFI 2015; also available on Video on Demand
$(est.) 11,000 in 33 theaters; PTA: $(est.) 333
Here’s something to ponder. Of the 15 films that debuted in this year’s Sundance Premiere section (which also included “Brooklyn,” “Grandma” and “Mistress America”), eight have been parallel Video on Demand releases (seven standard theatrical, three others yet to open). “Don Verdean” had cred, coming from Jared Hess, whose “Napoleon Dynamite” was a major Sundance breakout. This comedy about a biblical artifact hustler (starring Sam Rockwell and Jemaine Clement) didn’t get much attention (reinforced by below average reviews), making the VOD priority for Lionsgate logical. The theatrical response was virtually nonexistent.
What comes next: VOD will continue.
“Yellow Day” (Providence/ArtEffects)
$(est.) 24,000 in 2 theaters; PTA: $(est.) 12,000
Faith-based films have been struggling recently, so testing before a wider break makes sense. This part-animated feature revolving around kids at a religious camp (for once, believers aren’t cast as victims) opened in two Birmingham, AL theaters to strong response. More unusually, it jumped 24% on Saturday (many of these films are top-loaded with advance sales on Friday). This looks like it has potential at appropriate theaters.
What comes next: These grosses could help get hoped for dates over Christmas, where it is the only faith-based release.
“Boy and the World” (GKids) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 76; Festivals include: Seattle 2014
$6,968 in 2 theaters; PTA: $3,485
GKids boasts six Best Animated Feature Oscar nominees among its international pickups. This 2013 Brazilian film (about a boy’s life after moving to a big city after an idyllic rural life) is their attempt this year, leading to this two-city qualifying run. The point of this initial release is eligibility and reviews—The New York Times called in the best animated release since “Inside Out.” The numbers are under some of their other films, but the Animation branch tends to assess contenders less by their initial public response than many of their counterparts in other groups, so this could still have a bright future.
What comes next: Irrespective of its awards prospects, GKids will expand this in January.
“Body” (Oscilloscope) – Metacritic: 53; Festivals include: Slamdance 2015
$(est.) 2,500 in theaters; PTA: $(est.) 2,500
This Slamdance horror film opened for late night shows at New York’s IFC Center to mainly a first-night response (parallel to q/as with the directors).
What comes next: VOD is set for Dec. 29
Also on Video on Demand:
“American Hero” (SMF) – $ in (est.) 1,800 in 11 theaters
“Dixieland” (IFC/Tribeca 2015) – $(est.) 2,500 in 2 theaters
“The Girl in the Book” (Freestyle/Los Angeles 2015) – $(est.) 5,500 in 10 theaters
“Bleeding Heart” (Gravitas Ventures/Tribeca 2015) – $(est.) 6,000 in 10 theaters
“Inside Men” (South Korea/CJ) – $(est.) 23,000 in 2 theaters
“Chi-Raq” (Roadside Attractions/Amazon)
$573,580 in 285 theaters (-20); PTA: $2,013; Cumulative: $2,108,000
The second weekend for Spike Lee’s ambitious Chicago-set story dropped about 50%. This looks doubtful to sustain most of these screens through the holidays. Amazon, which produced the film, has not yet announced the availability date via their streaming service.
“Youth” (Fox Searchlight)
$100,000 in 17 theaters (+13); PTA: $5,882; Cumulative: $211,233
The lack of nods from SAG and the Globes (which did recognize Jane Fonda) doesn’t help elevate this English-language Swiss-resort set drama against other top contenders going into the holidays. Luckily “Youth” won three top awards at Saturday’s European Film Awards (film, director and actor for Michael Caine), which could help Academy members pay it some heed. Fox Searchlight is expanding more slowly than usual (it makes sense to aim their wide release for nominations week). The short term fate is in the hands of older audiences and their reaction which could boost word of mouth and give this a chance to give it some momentum.
$251,000 in 108 theaters (+103); PTA: $2,324; Cumulative: $348,939
A very rapid expansion from Weinstein, suggesting the expectation (validated by lack of awards attention so far despite generally favorable reviews) that they expect a quick playoff and little presence during the holidays. These modest grosses will do little to change that fate.
$48,831 in 18 theaters (+15); PTA: $2,712; Cumulative: $101,187
Another case of trying to get in before screen demand reaches its pinnacle in two weeks, this doc about two directors and their conversation over 50 years ago (which became a seminal book) got some sampling in top cities, but not at the level of its initial New York/Los Angeles openings last week.
Ongoing/expanding (Grosses over $50,000 in under 1,000 theaters + other current awards contenders)
“Spotlight” (Open Road) Week 6
$2,509,000 in 1,089 theaters (+109); Cumulative: $20,303,000
The sole certain Best Picture nominee had a strong week with awards (best film for the Los Angeles Film Critics) and SAG and Golden Globe nominations. It continues to do decent grosses with this boost. Its total is about $500,000 under what “Birdman” had done by the same date in its ninth weekend (three more than “Spotlight”). Though the Christmas roadblock looms, this should be able to hold on to many of the best screens ahead.
“Brooklyn” (Fox Searchlight) Week 6
$1,975,000 in 947 (+47) theaters; Cumulative: $14,330,000
Though not getting the same awards heft as “Spotlight,” lead actress Saorise Ronan remains a strong contender. Considering how much more attention Open Road’s film is getting, the continued interest in this Irish emigree-tale is impressive, with its gross and PTA both just slightly lower. Expect this to continue through the holidays at many of these theaters.
“Trumbo” (Bleecker Street) Week 6
$810,874 in 554 (-106) theaters; Cumulative: $5,454,000
The sleeper of the awards this week is this slow but steady performer about the 1950s Hollywood blacklist. Just at the point where it appeared the film might be reaching the end of a decent run (ahead of “The Suffragette” and the slowly expanding “Room”), its top category SAG and Globe attention (Bryan Cranston and Helen Mirren are now legitimate Oscar contenders) will help sustain this and give it new life. The 15% drop this weekend is in the range of “Spotlight” or “Brooklyn,” and enough to give it a lease on life and a chance to stick around until the Oscar nominations and beyond.
“Carol” (Weinstein) Week 3
$336,924 in 16 theaters (+12); Cumulative: $1,221,000
Some very encouraging news for the Weinstein Company. Boosted by major awards (New York Film Critics) and strong showings with both SAG and Golden Globe voters, the third week expansion for Todd Haynes’ 1950s set all-female romance is performing ahead of “The Artist” on its third weekend at the same time. The slower-than-usual release plan (by their normal standards) is paying off. This expands to more cities limited over the holidays, but the wide release is not scheduled until around the Oscar nominations.
“Legend” (Universal) Week 4
$301,000 in 107 theaters (+46); Cumulative: $1,380,000
Universal continues to expand this quickly to get dates while theaters are available. This continues to have a mixed response. Tom Hardy’s dual role as both of the Kray brothers (1960s London criminals) is getting some notice, but not enough to sustain a long run. The lack of awards attention despite the acclaim for his performance continues to hurt.
“The Danish Girl” (Focus) Week 3
$259,000 in 24 theaters (+20); Cumulative: $653,266
Lead actors Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander scored their expected SAG and Golden Globe nominations. This is a solid performer so far, though not close to “Carol”‘s level, and also falls short of Focus’ 2015 contender “The Theory of Everything.” That film in its third weekend (pre-Thanksgiving) had a similar PTA, but on five times as many theaters. This seems so far to be more of a niche film, but still sustaining an initial response justifying further expansion.
“Room” (A24) Week 9
$246,510 in 186 theaters (+23); Cumulative: $4,185,000
This acclaimed Irish/Canadian independent drama keeps getting attention for Brie Larson’s performance, a certain Oscar nominee. A24 has held this back from a wide release similar to other contenders, with its total growing at a much slower rate than others. Expect this to hold on to core big city runs through the holidays, but without the awards haul they counted on by this point.
“Suffragette” (Focus) Week 8
$96,000 in 166 (-27) theaters; Cumulative: $4,500,000
Focus gave this historical drama its full support, but the lack of hoped-for awards attention for Carey Mulligan means this will have limited additional gross.