The traditional fall season of award-season releases gets a late start on Friday with “Moonlight” (A24) and “The Handmaiden” (Magnolia) leading the way. It can’t come a moment too soon.
This weekend, top-quality films “Certain Women” (IFC), “Christine” (The Orchard), “Miss Hokusai” (Gkids) and “Aquarius” (Vitagraph) competed in limited openings. All nabbed good or better reviews. But none scored at the level likely to lead to the sort of wider response and multi-million grosses that normally come along regularly at this time of year.
The weakness can be seen among later-week grosses as films expand. There hasn’t been a breakout crossover release of any significance since “Hell or High Water” (Lionsgate), which is still grossing better than most recent releases.
“Shin Godzilla” (Funimation) showed strength with a midweek opening in a mixed plan of bookings. Similar to “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week” (Abramorama), out-of- the-box distribution seems to be finding positive results.
In a sign of the times, three new releases from successful directors once important in the arthouse world debuted on Netflix this week (with token theatrical play, grosses unreported): Kevin Macdonald’s “Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang,” Christopher Guest’s “Mascots,” and Jonathan Demme’s “Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Boys.”
This comes after the home-viewing juggernaut lost out to Fox Searchlight for the rights to “The Birth of a Nation,” which for myriad reasons continues to be a disappointment in theaters. The success or failure of the next batch of theatrical limited films could loom large in the future of the entire specialized industry, which could see disruptors Netflix and Amazon becoming even more central.
“Shin Godzilla” (Funimation) – Metacritic: 68
$(est.) 425,000 in 305 theaters; PTA: Cumulative: (est.) $1,444,000
This hybrid, social-media and guerrilla marketing release marks the return of Godzilla. Launching with Tuesday openings, the movie added additional weekday dates. Then this weekend a mix of full and partial showings (with Saturday the key date) continued the run. The result – with grosses not officially reported – seems to have had a strong response for that single day (about 75% of the gross for the weekend).
What comes next: This looks more and more like another original model to keep specialized films in play at theaters.
“Certain Women” (IFC) – Metacritic: 83; Festivals include: Sundance, Toronto, New York 2016
$65,230 in 5 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $13,046
Kelly Reichardt remains a consistently strong independent director, with this latest of her dramas (usually rural and centered on strong women) grabbing among the best reviews of her career. Positioned in top New York/Los Angeles theaters, and boosted by Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams and Laura Dern, this Reichardt’s best opening in the most high-end theaters.
And this marks a promising gross with a decent 49% second day jump. But still, with stellar reviews, theaters and cast, the gross remains below expectations for this time of the year. This three-part narrative remains a work in progress and could stabilize and show strength ahead with word of mouth. But it is another example of the declining market for specialized films.
What comes next: This expands to 20 theaters this Friday and 50 the following.
“Miss Hokusai” (GKIDS) – Metacritic: 74; Festivals include: Annecy 2015
$25,042 in 2 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $12,521
Opening in the range of most GKIDS high-end quality animated releases, this Japanese film (review here) is positioned to become an animated Oscar nominee (like several of their past releases). This two-city opening has grosses similar to most of their well-reviewed films.
What comes next: The distributor has gained enough credibility to corral expansion to 60 theaters quickly this Friday.
“Aquarius” (Vitagraph) – Metacritic: 89; Festivals include: Cannes, Toronto, New York 2016
$28,500 in 3 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $9,500
This drama focuses on Brazil’s current domestic travails through the eyes of an aging woman (Sonia Braga) as her apartment building comes under the threat of demolition. While the film has struck a chord at home and acclaim and strong festival response abroad, it was mired in politics and Brazil passed it over for its Oscar submission. As a 142-minute subtitled film from Brazil, these are credible numbers and suggest some niche interest that could grow.
What comes next: Vitagraph should be expected to get key city dates ahead in a slow roll out.
“Christine” (The Orchard) – Metacritic: 71; Festivals include: Sundance, Toronto 2016
$14,046 in 1 theater; PTA (per theater average): $14,046
An exclusive opening at New York’s Film Forum led to a decent initial result for this Sundance-premiered retelling of the tragic story of a Florida news anchor. With Rebecca Hall earning critical acclaim, this showed a decent second-day uptick and multiple sold out shows.
What comes next: Los Angeles and other theaters begin the expansion this Friday.
“Priceless” (Roadside Attractions)
$703,200 in 303 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $2,320
One of Roadside’s occasional forays into the faith-based market, this effort stars country singer Joel Smallbone, who is dealing with the aftermath of personal tragedy. This is performing ahead of their previous such releases “Grace Unplugged,” “Gimme Shelter,” and “Where Hope Lies.” Its 22% drop for Saturday suggests a typical front-ended push that scored a first night audience. Initial results suggest some success with its target audience and a possible push to around $2 million or better.
What comes next: This looks to be at about the appropriate level of theaters with word of mouth determining how well it holds.
“Desierto” (STX) – Metacritic: 51; Festivals include: Toronto 2015, Los Angeles 2016
$450,000 in 73 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $6,164
In two years of existence, STX has focused on wide-release films (with about half of its total returns coming from one breakout hit, “Bad Moms”). This is their first more limited/niche film, and it shows signs of success.
The directorial debut of Jonas Cuarón, who co-wrote “Gravity” with his father Alfonso, it stars Gael García Bernal in a story set at the U.S./Mexico desert border region. STX acquired it after its Toronto 2015 debut for around $1.5 million. This initial release at 73 theaters, mostly between Texas and California (but also limited dates in New York, Miami and elsewhere) is a more limited version of the Lionsgate/Pantelion model. Their breaks tend to be in the 300-400 theater range.
Those films are usually comedies. This more dramatic action film, which is Mexico’s Oscar submission, had a respectable initial response. Its 21% Saturday increase from Friday shows initial positive word of mouth.
What comes next: STX plans targeted expansion, easier with these initial results.
“Coming Through the Rye” (Eamonn) – Metacritic: 73; Festivals include: Austin 205
$4,000 in 1 theater; PTA (per theater average): $4,000
This very independently released tale of a late 1960s prep school student adapting J.D. Salinger’s novel as a play opened at a single Manhattan location. Favorable reviews and continued interest in the book are in its favor, but this isn’t the level of gross that easily translates into wider success.
What comes next: Dates in Los Angeles this Friday and Boston the next begin a projected national roll out.
“La Layenda del Chupacabras” (Pantelion)
$(est.) 330,000 in 165 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $(est.) 2,000
This Mexican animated film, apparently released outside Pantelion’s usual Lionsgate channels, had a modest result in its targeted release for Spanish-speaking family audiences.
What comes next: Not much further expansion likely.
“Tower” (Kino Lorber) – Metacritic: 90; Festivals include: South by Southwest, Seattle 2016
$(est.) 7,000 in 4 theaters; PTA: $1,750; Cumulative: (est.) 10,000
After opening exclusively Wednesday in Manhattan to stellar reviews, this part-animated retelling of the infamous University of Texas 1966 sniper massacre (one of the first of its kind in the country) added Los Angeles on Friday. The result is far less than what the reviews for this hybrid documentary would indicate.
What comes next: Kino Lorber gets its releases played in various locales around the country, if only for limited dates, so expect more play for this.
“The David Dance” (Levey) – Festivals include: Cinequest 2014
$5,600 in one theater; PTA: $5,600
Opening exclusively in New York with a very independent release, this story of a gay talk-show host sparring with a homophobe has played film festivals extensively for two years before opening in theaters. This grass-roots-backed initial date apparently found some modest interest in its initial dates far beyond what its limited mixed reviews would suggest.
What comes next: Toronto and Los Angeles open later this month.
“The Birth of a Nation” (Fox Searchlight)
$2,715,000 in 2,105 (no change) theaters; PTA: $1,290; Cumulative: $12,413,000
The disappointment of the initial grosses is confirmed more strongly with the 61% second weekend drop for Nate Parker’s much-ballyhooed Sundance record-breaking acquisition. It’s doubtful that an alternative release pattern would have significantly changed the results (a more limited initial release pattern would have likely grossed less while also reducing marketing costs). Expect a big drop in theaters next week and an ultimate gross somewhere around $15 million, less than its purchase price.
$2,240 in (+1) 3 theaters; PTA: $746; Cumulative: $12,840
This acclaimed, painful-to-watch documentary about the fallout among surviving families of the Connecticut school massacre is getting little traction in initial theaters despite considerable marketing attention.
Ongoing/expanding (grosses over $50,000 in under 1,000 theaters)
“Denial” (Bleecker Street) Week 3
$398,241 in 96 (+65) theaters; Cumulative: $839,731
In a dreary fall season so far, this is ahead of most films with enough momentum to justify further expansion. But this English libel trial surrounding a Holocaust denier is performing modestly at best.
“A Man Called Ove” (Music Box) Week 3
$205,000 in 75 (+47) theaters; Cumulative: $436,759
This Swedish sleeper continues to do better than most recent subtitled films as it expands. These are not break out numbers compared to all but recent years, but signs are still promising. A 93% Saturday jump shows older audiences continue to respond.
“The Dressmaker” (Broad Green) Week 4
$171,004 in 146 (-28) theaters; Cumulative: $1,3445,000
This film starring Kate Winslet in the Australian Outback is fading quickly as yet another high-pedigree specialized release fails to connect this season.
“Hell or High Water” (Lionsgate) Week 10
$156,000 in 188 (-87) theaters; Cumulative: $26,480,000
With not many recent releases getting much traction, the year’s biggest initially limited specialized hit keeps adding to its impressive total.
“American Honey” (A24) Week 3
$142,263 in 135 (+110) theaters; Cumulative: $362,430
Andrea Arnold’s road movie about the struggles of a community of young sales people continues to tally terrific reviews but is struggling to recreate its initial impressive response as it expands.
“No Manches Frida” (Lionsgate) Week 7
$110,000 in 86 (-52) theaters; Cumulative: $11,395,000
With a longer run than most Pantelion productions, this Mexican comedy shows the continued appeal of their targeted releases.
“The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years (Abramorama) Week 4; also available on Hulu
$123,887 in 120 (-18) 102 theaters; Cumulative: $2,598,000
What was once projected as a one-night special event with some added full week dates to complement its Hulu showings has now become one of the most successful specialized releases of the fall and a leading documentary of 2016.
“Don’t Think Twice” (Film Arcade) – $38,149 in 30 theaters; Cumulative: $4,293,000
“Captain Fantastic” (Bleecker Street) – $24,575 in 39 theaters; Cumulative: $5,842,000
“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” (The Orchard) – $18,150 in 23 theaters; Cumulative: $5,166,000
“The Hollars” (Sony Pictures Classics) – $8,024 in 21 theaters; Cumulative: $980,713