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Arthouse Audit: ‘Denial’ and ‘American Honey’ Jump-Start Fall Box Office

The holocaust drama and American road movie are the best two-city openers in recent memory.

“Denial”

Fall has arrived. Two new limited releases opened at the $20,000 per theater level that used to be a regular feature for New York/Los Angeles initial platform releases.

Denial” (Bleecker Street) and “American Honey” (A24) – both from relatively new distributors who show an ability to navigate the arthouse market’s tough shoals – are the highest in this traditional release model in the two months since Roadside Attractions’ “Indignation.”

That’s a long stretch. Some distributors have chosen wider initial city play, such as Lionsgate/CBS Films’ niche leader “Hell or High Water.” But numerous films have fallen short, and neither of these new releases was an automatic sell. So these are encouraging results.

Going a bit wider, unusual for a subtitled film, Music Box’s “A Man Called Ove” sought immediate positive audience reaction to give Sweden’s Oscar submission a chance to thrive going forward.

Two recent festival doc debuts, “Amanda Knox” (New York and Los Angeles, also on Netflix) and “The Rolling Stones Ole! Ole! Ole!: A Trip Across Latin America” (New York), kept their grosses totally hidden. Another top band concert film, “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years” (Abramorama) crossed the $2 million market while competing with alternative home availability, which is for certain titles an increasingly viable strategy.

"Denial"

“Denial”

Opening

“Denial” (Bleecker Street) – Metacritic: 60; Festivals include: Toronto 2016

$102,101 in 5 theaters; PTA: $20,420

Bleecker Street, in only its second year, has its second $20,000+ PTA release after several successful releases. The estimate for this courtroom drama about a British Holocaust denier will be lower because of the start of the Jewish New Year Sunday night. Otherwise this might have topped their breakout success “Eye in the Sky” which opened slightly higher.

The two city opening was aided by the high-end cast (Rachel Weisz, Timothy Spall and Tom Wilkinson), with reviews at the cusp of favorable but not as positive for this level of result. That suggests a core interest in the film that should translate to wider success ahead.

What happens next: Ten more cities come on board next week before a wider rollout.

READ MORE: Why Movies Keep Going Back to the Holocaust

"America Honey"

“American Honey”

A24

“American Honey” (A24) – Metacritic: 79; Festivals include: Cannes, Toronto 2016

$75,370 in 4 theaters; PTA: $18,843

British director Andrea Arnold (“Fish Tank,” “Wuthering Heights”) is a critics’ favorite who has not yet seen much audience appeal in her North American releases. Her first American-set film, a road movie about down-and-out young people who sell magazine subscriptions as a traveling team moving from city to city, boasts star Shia LaBeouf, but its nearly-three hour length could be a limiting factor.

The encouraging thing about these credible initial grosses (aided by the kind of top-flight theater placement A24 is able to get with its current success) is that is not the usual fare that attracts the core older art house audiences. And yet it is a review-boosted quality film. A24 has managed this tricky-to-achieve success from its start with films as varied as “Spring Breakers” and its trio of 2016 Oscar-winners “Room,” “Ex Machina” and “Amy.”

These were all more commercial than this would appear to be, and didn’t have the limitation of length to reduce potential show times. This is also the kind of film that distributors these days would consider for early or parallel VOD. Its launch as a theatrical release and initial reaction is an important validation of elevating a film by sticking with this pattern.

What happens next: Other top markets open this week, with a broader run to follow right away.

“A Man Called Ove” (Music Box) – Metacritic: 70; Festivals include: Newport Beach 2016

$61,000 in 9 theaters; PTA: $6,771

Music Box has been more successful than most distributors in the increasingly tricky area of subtitle art house films (“Ida” as a recent breakout), but every release presents a challenge. This Swedish film about a difficult retiree has the advantage of a well-known recent novel to give it a start.

It didn’t have a high film festival profile, and the reviews though favorable aren’t at the level of “Ida” or “Amour” or other of similar films that managed to get some traction. The initial results – which include five cities initially, rather than the traditional New York/Los Angeles start – show some promise (the wider play reducing the PTA as always happens). The best sign is a near doubling of the Saturday gross from Friday. If this is going to defy recent resistance to similar films, it is word of mouth more than critics that will make the difference.

One thing Music Box has done is get an Oscar Foreign Language submission out early. This could help separate it from the large number of entries. It guarantees nothing in that tricky category, but could be a bonus down the line. Holding back to release on the chance of a nod is risky, more so since even nominees often show little benefit from that attention.

What happens next: A handful of new cities plus some expansion in initial ones come aboard this Friday before further widening ahead.

Do Not Resist

“Do Not Resist”

Craig Atkinson

“Do Not Resist” (Vanish) – Metacritic: 72; Festivals include: Tribeca, Hot Docs

$7,150 in 1 theatre; PTA: $7,150

Cinematographer-turned-director Craig Atkinson’s topical doc about the militarization of police departments opened at New York’s Film Forum to a reasonable response.

What comes next: Los Angeles and Washington this week, with most other big cities by mid-November.

“Harry and Snowman” (FilmRise) – Metacritic: 74; Festivals include: Fullframe, Hamptons 2015

$55,000 in 18 theaters; PTA: $3,056

A multi-city opening with an outreach to horse lovers has enjoyed some initial success. This doc about a rescued gelding in the 1950s who became a star in his world is the kind of niche non-fiction entry that can respond to targeted marketing. It did go down slightly Saturday from Friday, suggesting it drew many of its most interested ticket buyers at the start. But it bears watching and could get further attention.

What comes next: The subject has broader (and beyond art house) appeal, but it can be tricky to find it.

Also available on Video on Demand:

“Danny Says” (Magnolia/South by Southwest 2016) – $8,000 in 9 theaters

International releases:

“M.S. Dohni: The Untold Story” (20th Century Fox/China) – $1,200,000 in 256 theaters

“I Belonged to You” (China Lion/China) – $325,000 in 50 theaters

“L.O.R.D.: Legend of the Ravaging Dynasties (Lionsgate/China) – $(est.)190,000 in 53 theaters

Week Two

"The Dressmaker"

“The Dressmaker”

“The Dressmaker” (Broad Green)

$357,705 in 159 (+123) theaters; PTA: $2,250; Cumulative: $622,296

This is a rapid expansion for this Kate Winslet Australian film—which is still limited to the higher-end adult-oriented sophisticated theaters—yielded mediocre PTA. It had a 63% Saturday increase, credible but not unusual for older audiences. This has landed in that tricky area: grosses good enough to push forward, but not quite at the level where the expenditure involved will guarantee success. It will need audience reaction and better than usual holds to get to a better level.

“Generation Startup” (Longshot)

$3,013 in 1 (no change) theater; PTA: $3,013; Cumulative: $13,841

This independently released doc added Los Angeles this week for modest results before it heads for Detroit, where its young entrepreneur subjects were filmed.

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

“Hell or High Water” (Lionsgate) Week 8

$525,000 in 520 (-608) theaters; Cumulative: $25,787,000

Down from its high water mark, but still in play late in its run, this crossover success could still nab the now-elusive $30 million total for indie films.

“No Manches Frida” (Lionsgate) Week 5

$380,000 in 256 (-160) theaters; Cumulative: $10,901,000

This is holding for longer than most of its producer Pantelion’s Spanish language releases, with it looking to have a chance to hit a very impressive $12 million still.

"The Beatles: The Touring Years"

“The Beatles: The Touring Years”

“The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years” (Abramorama) Week 3; also available on Hulu

$336,036  in 179 (+28) theaters; Cumulative: $2,089,000

A combination of full week and single show runs continues as the successful alchemy for Ron Howard’s Beatles’ doc, all parallel to its availability to Hulu subscribers. It now is at the high-end for both specialized-oriented docs and films available at home (topping “Weiner” in both areas).

“Don’t Think Twice” (Film Arcade) Week 11

$99,972 in 74 (-21) theaters; Cumulative: $4,144,000

Mike Birbiglia’s long-running comedy improv film refuses to leave the room as it threatens to close in on $5 million. Whatever its total, an impressive performance.

“The Hollars” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 6

$98,699 in 197 (-101) theaters; Cumulative: $910,738

John Krasinski’s family comedy had only around a $500 PTA at remaining theaters after a wider expansion last week. It still hasn’t gotten to the $1 million mark.

Also noted:

Hunt for the Wilderpeople” (The Orchard) – $46,713 in 53 theaters; Cumulative: $5,086,000 + $745,022 Video on Demand

Demon” (The Orchard) – $15,247 in 24 theaters; Cumulative: $78,819

Indignation” (Roadside Attractions) – $21,050 in 21 theaters; Cumulative: $3,341,000

Command and Control” (American Experience/PBS) – $13,725 in 5 theaters; Cumulative: $35,955

Girl Asleep” (Oscilloscope) – $4,500 in 2 theaters; Cumulative: $8,416

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