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Arthouse Audit: ‘La La Land’ Box Office is Stunning

With awards kudos in the offing, a super start for "La La Land" puts it only behind 2014's "Grand Budapest Hotel," which it will easily outpace.

La La Land

“La La Land”

Lionsgate

La La Land” (Lionsgate) more than met its high-end expectations. It scored $855,000 in five theaters with an astounding per theater average of $171,000: beat only by “Grand Budapest Hotel,” opening against far less competition early in the year.

The critically hailed Hollywood musical already won Best Film from the New York Film Critics, and is primed to shine during the ongoing awards season. But part of any major Oscar contender’s profile is its popular reception. And it scored a huge initial audience response this weekend in New York and Los Angeles. Likely to factor in both Sunday’s Critics’ Choice Awards and Monday’s Golden Globes nominations Monday, “La La Land”‘s Oscar momentum just got stronger.

This early December weekend is a dead zone except for just this type of top-of-the-line awards entry. “The Big Short” opened this weekend in 2015 in eight multi-city initial dates and grossed $705,000. “La La” managed $150,000 more in three fewer theaters.

READ MORE: With ‘Moana’ and ‘Office Christmas Party,’ This Was The Little Box-Office Weekend That Could

This weekend, “Manchester by the Sea” (Roadside Attractions) scored a Top Ten showing in only 367 theaters, coming in #8. That’s a level that “La La Land” could easily reach, particularly with great Christmas playtime ahead.

Meantime, two other recent limited openers also expanded. “Nocturnal Animals” (Focus) came in seventh with a decent showing of $3,200,000 in 1,262 theaters,  while Europa’s “Miss Sloane” fell short of the Top Ten with a weak  $1,900,000 in 1,648. More details on these later in Top Ten Takeaways.

The weekend also opened three Oscar-qualifying one-week runs head of  regular engagements, none with grosses reporting. Weinstein, hoping for attention for Michael Keaton’s performance, placed “The Founder” in Los Angeles only. Magnolia opened Raoul Peck’s “I Am Not Your Negro” in both New York and Los Angeles (it won Best Documentary from the LAFCA) and Sony Classics opened Danish Foreign Language hopeful “Land of Mine” in both cities. As indicated in earlier weeks, the New York Times continues its policy of delaying reviews for this sort of play until their late open ended dates.

Opening

“La La Land” (Lionsgate) Metacritic: 89; Festivals include: Venice, Telluride, Toronto, AFI 2016

$855,000 in 5 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $171,000

This staggering initial number is the second-best ever among specialized platform runs (including adjusted), exceeded only in the modern era by New York/Los Angeles openings for Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel,” which was also strongly reviewed, and had a similar sense of “fun.”

The difference for Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” follow-up is the timing. Coming just as the awards season is hitting a crescendo, and where the holidays’ enhanced grosses will benefit, “La La Land” has announced itself as a major player in both arenas.

This was an ideal date. More like the open field “Grand Budapest” had, “La La Land” was not encumbered at its key theaters (two in New York, three in Los Angeles) by elevated competition (as “Manchester by the Sea” was a few weeks ago around Thanksgiving). Also, “La La Land” thrived from its preview start on Thursday night.

“Budapest” got to $60 million, one of the top non-awards season specialized totals ever. And it ended up a strong awards player, including four Oscars. Had it been released in December, it could been the Best Picture winner.

What is most encouraging for “La La Land”‘s commercial prospects is that its audience was 47 per cent under 30. That is unusual for a top specialized release. Obviously, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in a romantic story helps. But it is a musical, and the idea that this genre could relate to a younger crowd is a leap of faith.

This is just the first weekend. But the quick roll out — in the face of significant competition, both specialized and of course wide release — will quickly indicate the depth of interest. But don’t be surprised if this ends up more in the range of similar awards-paralleled “Silver Linings Playbook” ($132 million domestic) than “Budapest” ($60 million).

What comes next: This expands quickly to 200 top theaters next weekend (“Rogue One” be damned) and then wider Christmas week before its full national break mid-January. And next week sees “Fences,” another strong Oscar contender, open limited before its wide December 25 break.

“The Brand New Testament” (Music Box)  Metacritic: 71; Festivals include: Cannes 2015

$8,808 in 6 theaters; PTA: $1,762

So near and yet so far. This Belgium crowdpleaser (God has returned to earth, residing none too happily in Brussels) made the short list of nine for last year’s Foreign Language Oscar. Had it been a finalist, it would have been released months ago. Without that boost, and director Jaco Van Dormael best known for two 1990s films — “Toto the Hero” and “The Eighth Day” — this limited opening resulted in little interest in six theaters in New York, Los Angeles and four in the Miami area.

What comes next: 14 additional theaters are scheduled to open across the country this week.

“Harry Benson: Shoot First” (Magnolia) Metacritic: 74; Festivals include: Hamptons 2015; also available on Video on Demand

$(est.) 5,000 in 3 theaters; PTA: $(est.) 1,667

Celebrity photographer Harry Benson is best-known for his work with the Beatles in their prime, which is prominently featured in this documentary along with much more. Magnolia opted for a VOD day and date release, with three prominent New York/Los Angeles/Washington theaters also playing it. That led to positive review attention, but not much in the way of grosses.

What comes next: Along with VOD, other mostly non-theatrical locations are planned ahead.

“The Bounce Back” (Viva)

$(est.) 255,000 in 615 theaters; PTA: $(est.) 415

A rock-bottom PTA for this independent romantic comedy aimed at African-American audiences. The date provided an opportunity to get appropriate theaters, but audiences didn’t respond. Nadine Velezquez and Shemar Moore costar in this satire about relationship therapists.

What comes next: Not likely to last more than a week.

Also available on Video on Demand:

“All We Had” (Gravitas Ventures/Tribeca 16): $(est.). 9,000 in 12 theaters

“Burn Country” (Orion/Tribeca 16): $(est.) 7,000 in 11 theaters

“Frank and Lola” (Paladin/Sundance 16): $(est.) 6,000 in 25 theaters

International releases:

“Dhruva” (Indin/India): $(est.) 900,000 in 163 theaters

“Befikre” (Yash Raj/India): $(est.) 550,000 in 284 theaters

“The Super Parental Guardians” (ABS/Philippines): $(est.) 230,000 in 60 theaters

“The Sword Master” (WellGo USA): $(est.) 40,000 in 30 theaters

“My Annoying Brother” (CJ): $(est.) 9,000 in 1 theater

“Jackie”

Fox Searchlight

Week Two

“Jackie” (Fox Searchlight)

$859,835 in 26 theaters (+21); PTA: $19,038; Cumulative: $859,825

While this drama is in fewer theaters than some other second weeks of recent top specialized films, the performance is right up there among the best. The closest comparison is Searchlight’s “Brooklyn” last year which, on a better weekend of playtime, grossed $480,000 in 23 theaters. Two years ago in early December “The Imitation Game” (which ended up at $91 million) in its third weekend took in $850,000 in 35 theaters. So this is an even stronger showing.

“Things to Come” (IFC)

$61,880 in 23  (+20) theaters; PTA: $2,380; Cumulative: $109,089

IFC, capitalizing on Isabelle Huppert’s win (shared with her work in “Elle”) for Best Actress from both the New York and Los Angeles Film Critics, quickly added nationwide big city runs. The result is around average of late for subtitled films. “Elle” in its second weekend a month ago grossed $126,000 in 24 theaters by comparison. On the plus side IFC could see holiday play ahead to increase its potential.

“Believe” (Freestyle)

$(est.) 130,000 in 386 (-252) theaters; PTA: $(est.) 337; Cumulative: $(est.) 797,000

About a 70 per cent drop in gross (with many theaters already gone) for this war on Christmas film that failed to find much interest.

“Manchester by the Sea”

Roadside Attractions/Amazon Studios

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

“Manchester by the Sea” (Roadside Attractions) Week 4

$3,115,000 in 367 theaters (+211); Cumulative: $8,325,000

Despite the  date, the ongoing expansion for this Amazon production is thriving. Placing #8 overall in only 367 sites, “Manchester,” at least until “La La Land” breaks out, boasts the best performance at this stage of any 2016 specialized release. The year’s top-grosser among similar releases has been “Hell or High Water,” which moved out more quickly, with its second weekend grossing $2.7 million in 472 theaters. With the holidays and awards ahead, this looks positioned to better “Hell or High Water,” which totaled $27 million.

“Loving” (Focus)  Week 6

$623,380 in 572 theaters (+126); Cumulative: $6,566,000

Falling off in gross somewhat as the theater count increases, Jeff Nichols’ acclaimed film is likely going to retract to a smaller number before a likely January push if it lands hoped-for Oscar nominations.

“Moonlight” (A24) Week 8

$589,627 in 449 theaters (-125); Cumulative: $10,804,000

Similarly falling, although with a much higher result so far, is Barry Jenkins’ film is just getting started with its awards haul. It won’t end up as one of the very top independent releases of the year, but it should continue to add grosses through the holidays and then regroup for more attention after the nominations, with over $20 million a possibility.

“The Eagle Huntress” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 6

$210,052 in 122 theaters (+41); Cumulative: $1,488,000

About a fifty per cent jump in theaters with the gross, seasonally affected, down a tad. This has been so far a typical SPC rollout of a film that could have fallen through the cracks. It now looks to be positioned to wind up one of the biggest specialized documentaries of the year. It made to Oscar documentary shortlist this week among more “serious” films. If this makes the cut, it could be a real contender.

“Lion” (Weinstein)  Week 3

$171,909 in 15 theaters (+8); Cumulative: $494,099

While performing below Weinstein’s past high-end late-year releases, this is a decent performing expansion. Going quite slowly for one of their films, it continues to get early interest. Word of mouth and some recognition from sympathetic upcoming awards voters would help boost the film, which faces high-end competition. What is not in doubt is the marketing commitment Weinstein is making here, which should help.

Also noted:

“Elle” (Sony Pictures Classics) – $48,567 in 27 theaters; Cumulative: $631,985

“A Man Called Ove” (Music Box) – $43,764 in theaters; Cumulative: $3,234,000

“Seasons” (Music Box) – $9,664 in 16 theaters; Cumulative: $78,257

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