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Arthouse Audit: Winners and Losers at the Holiday Box Office

Studio limited releases like 'Hidden Figures' dominated the competitive holiday frame, along with expanding awards contenders 'La La Land,' 'Manchester by the Sea' and 'Fences.'

“Hidden Figures”

Eight films opened in limited engagements from last Wednesday through Sunday. Four studio productions had pre-set January wide-release plans: “Hidden Figures” (Twentieth Century Fox), “Silence” (Paramount), “Patriots Day” (Lionsgate), and “Live by Night” (Warner Bros.). Studio specialty division Focus Features moved “A Monster Calls” into holiday play with crossover hopes. And three top Cannes competitors entered the fray: Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or winner “I, Daniel Blake” (IFC), Maren Ade’s “Toni Erdmann” and Pedro Almodovar’s “Julieta” (both Sony Pictures Classics).

These joined multiple awards contenders expanding to capitalize on holiday playtime, with Lionsgate’s “La La Land” the clear audience leader. But “Manchester by the Sea” (Roadside Attractions) and “Jackie” (Fox Searchlight) showed strength, and several other films also are adding to their totals in this lucrative season.

The elevated number of limited openers among more general audience high-end films follows studio successes such as “Zero Dark Thirty,” “American Sniper” and “The Revenant,” which all opened in a handful of theaters at Christmas before going on to both award and commercial success in mid-January. Some distributors, recognizing the dangers of facing the “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” onslaught, held off until the bounteous Golden Globes/Academy Awards nominations/Martin Luther King Day period.

The problem; it takes a strong initial response to generate momentum. And when things shake out over the next weeks, most of the newbies won’t rise to past holiday successes.

And the year isn’t quite over. Two of the most acclaimed films from of the year, Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson” (Bleecker Street) and Mike Mills’ “20th Century Women” (A24) are still to come with Wednesday openings in New York and Los Angeles.

Ken Loach’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “I, Daniel Blake” opened in New York and Los Angeles as an awards and ten best list qualifier ahead of its January regular release with no grosses reported. IFC also opened “The Autopsy of Jane Doe”  in New York with favorable reviews and same day Video on Demand play, with no grosses reported for this Toronto Midnight Madness premiere.

“Dangal” (UTV), Aamir Khan’s wrestling story  from India, came close to making the Top Ten with an estimated $4,500,000 in only 331 theaters for the four day weekend.

dangal

“Dangal”

Opening

With staggered opening dates, comparative numbers are trickier than usual. The openings are listed by their release date. All show two-day Sunday-Monday numbers so they can be viewed on an even scale. The PTA/per theater average is for the two days. Also note that Monday estimates are subject to more variation than normal Sunday guesses for three-day figures.

"Patriots Day"

“Patriots Day”

Opened Wednesday

“Patriots Day” (Lionsgate)  – Metacritic: 70; Festivals include: AFI 2016

$154,400 (Sun-Mon), $336,712 (Wed-Mon) in 7 theaters; Wed-Mon PTA: $48,102; Sun-Mon PTA: $22,057

Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor” was an unlikely Christmas two-city platform opener three years ago. Its strong numbers ($63,000 in a midweek December 25-26 in two theaters) portended a later strong national release ($125 million).

The Mark Wahlberg Boston Marathon bombing vehicle opened in three cities (adding Boston to New York and Los Angeles) and an earlier start. The result is a strong beginning and, in a rough comparison to other films opening more limited (three cities or fewer) the best of the group. (“Hidden Figures” in 25 theaters had only a slightly lower PTA for its two opening days.)

Along with “Hidden Figures,” this is likely the limited Christmas week opener most primed to achieve success as it expands next month. The reviews were decent, but the director/actor/story combination boasts more national than niche appeal. Coming after “Hell or High Water,” this marks the second strong production for CBS Films in the second half of 2016. With a budget of $45 million this could be a significant success for them and Lionsgate.

What comes next: The national wide expansion comes on January 13.

“Julieta”

“Julieta” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Metacritic: 69; Festivals include: Cannes, Toronto, New York 2016

$(est.)100,000 (Sun-Mon), $174,770 (Wed-Mon) in 6 theaters; Wed-Mon PTA: $29,128; Sun-Mon PTA:(est.) $16,666

One of the more anticipated subtitled films this year, Pedro Almodovar’s latest SPC release comes in lower than most on a rough comparison. The opening was timed to both push and benefit from an Oscar nomination; that hope was dashed when the film did not making the semi-finalist group of nine. So the film will need to appeal on its own merits (as did last year’s “The Lady in the Van”). Directed by one of the world’s best-known auteurs, the noirish Almodovar still has a chance of finding nationwide appeal. But it’s competing in a crowded competitive market.

The film’s numbers include two theaters in Puerto Rico, not normally part of an initial opening for a specialized film. The three-day grosses for its four New York/Los Angeles/Toronto theaters came in around $60,000, or a weekend PTA of $15,000. With Christmas Eve a down day, this would still come in as one of the strong subtitled openers of the year, not that much below the director’s recent films. As a slower-released film, it could gain traction with its later opening dates. These initial numbers seem good enough to give it initial traction.

What comes next: This will open in other major markets in January.

“Silence”

Opened Friday

“Silence” (Paramount) – Metacritic: 80

$94,000 (Sun-Mon), $ 180,000(Fri-Mon) in 4 theaters: Fri-Mon PTA: $45,000; Sun-Mon PTA: $23,500

Martin Scorsese’s 160-minute 16th-century Japan missionary drama got strong reviews and great theater placement. Extraordinarily, in his fabled lengthy career, it’s the first to receive a two-city platform release since “Raging Bull” 36 years ago. (By comparison, its opening weekend in four theaters had an inflation-adjusted PTA of $100,000.)

A serious religious epic aimed at a sophisticated audience marks a marketing challenge, especially with the intense holiday competition. Its initial theaters slotted as many shows and screens as possible, and it appears to have enjoyed adequate capacity.

That would make the rough equivalent of a $35,000 opening three day weekend less than sensational. But it also isn’t the final word. The film has potential to gain from potential Oscar nominations ahead, with its January 13 expansion timed to benefit early in its run. And its appeal to Christians, particularly Catholics, is part of the wider marketing plan.

Will it work? It won’t be easy. But compared to some other limited platform films, this is off to an adequate start.

What comes next: This will face its real test with its wider release.

Lewis MacDougall in “A Monster Calls”

Photo by REX/Shutterstock

“A Monster Calls” (Focus) – Metacritic: 76; Festivals include: Toronto, San Sebastian, London 2016

$21,990 (Sun-Mon), $42,170 (Fri-Mon) in 4 theaters: Fri-Mon PTA: $10,543; Sun-Mon PTA: $5,498

J.A. Bayona’s acclaimed story about a 12-year-old boy and the monster that appears to him to help him through difficulties is an unfortunate victim of too much opening at the same time.  Focus supported this with marketing but somehow missed the target. The film, which is playing at top theaters in its New York/Los Angeles, needed more advance awareness with sophisticated big city audiences. Its gross for its first Sunday of about $2,500 per theater is weak, but for a high-profile Christmas release, it’s woeful.

See more ‘A Monster Calls’: Why Its Late Release Date Could Stifle Commercial and Oscar Momentum

This Spanish-English production is the biggest hit ($28 million) of the year in Spain. Director J.A. Bayona (“The Impossible”) is next making the “Jurassic World” sequel. The film was targeted as an Oscar contender, with this date chosen to enhance that. Now it will struggle to reach audiences ahead.

What comes next: January 6 is the planned wider release date. But it’s tough to see how the film recovers.

Opened Sunday

“Hidden Figures” (20th Century Fox) – Metacritic: 72

$515,499 (Sun-Mon) in 25 theaters; Sun-Mon PTA $20,620

The most stellar of the limited Christmas week openings, this 1960s unsung NASA heroes film opened in a wider run in multiple cities, with a mix of top-end limited theaters and prominent African-American venues. It worked, with a strong initial response (more impressive given competition from expanding “Fences”).

Fox handled this heart-tugging aspirational story better than Disney did with This is the Mira Nair’s well-reviewed fall disappointment “Queen of Katwe.” The slow initial exposure is an example of the risk but also potential reward with an atypical studio release pattern.

The January 6 wide release date will show if Fox wins the bet, along with some potential for Oscar nominations. Getting front and center now and ahead could pay off big dividends for Fox. With a budget of $25 million, it could get there fairly quickly.

What comes next: The January 6 break could see this end up as the #1 film to start off 2017.

“Live By Night”

“Live By Night” (Warner Bros.) – Metacritic: 43

$56,672 (Sun-Mon) in 4 theaters; Sun-Mon PTA $14,168

A disappointing showing for Ben Affleck’s first directing gig since Oscar-winner “Argo.” Playing at some New York/Los Angeles theaters along with other limited play releases, it tripled “A Monster Calls”‘s Sunday and Monday grosses. Despite Affleck’s starring role in his second Dennis Lehane adaptation, this gangster genre film was hurt by negative reviews at a time when far more than usual critically-dependent films were competing for audiences.

Warners took this route two years ago for Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper,” which also opened on December 25, with a two-day total in four theaters (one in Dallas) of $440,000. No one expected this to boast the same mainstream appeal, but this falls way under what the studio wanted for this $65-million production.

What comes next: January 13 is the wide-release date — and the studio should not have accorded its Batman star this holiday berth.

Toni Erdmann

“Toni Erdmann”

“Toni Erdmann” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Metacritic: 96; Festivals include: Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, New York 2016

$30,972 (Sun-Mon) in 3 theaters; Sun-Mon PTA $10,324

The best-reviewed of all the Christmas releases if not the year, this 162-minute German comedy is otherwise not an easy sell. Its director (Marion Ade) and actors are unknown, its length extremed for a comedy. Still, these strong initial figures come along with a string of foreign-language and other awards and potential Oscar contention. The numbers are far ahead of last year’s SPC Oscar-winner “Son of Saul,” which played in its three-day Christmas weekend with $34,000 after opening at $37,000.

What comes next: A national release that will add theaters heading toward its expected Oscar nod.

International releases

“Dangal” (UTV/India) – $(est.)4,500,000(Fri-Mon); $(est.)2,600,000 (Sun-Mon) $(est.) in 331 theaters

Emma Stone La La Land

Emma Stone in “La La Land”

Summit Entertainment

Week Two

“Neruda” (The Orchard)

$27,607(Fri-Mon), $ (Sun-Mon)15,332 in 4 theaters (+1); PTA: Fri-Mon $5,652; Sun-Mon $3,833

Pablo Larrain’s second film (along with “Jackie”) is not faring as well initially with a modest second weekend showing.

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

“La La Land” (Lionsgate) Week 3

$9,700,000(Fri-Mon), $7,901,000(Sun-Mon) in 754 theaters (+554); Cumulative: $17,853,000

An excellent expansion (placing it at seventh among all grosses for Sunday, when it tripled its theater count) for this already successful crossover success. Here’s how good it is: “Silver Linings Playbook” grew to 745 theaters Christmas Day, doubling its count, and grossed $2 million. It had been around longer in more limited dates, and the day after Christmas was a more normal weekday than this year. But “La La” is four times as big. That’s an enormous performance.

All this will factor of course in its awards momentum. But this musical is making it on its own, with any Oscar bounty ahead a bonus. This has a long way to go, but don’t be surprised if it ultimately out-grosses all of this December’s releases other than “Rogue One” and “Sing.” And if it wins Best Picture, “La La Land”could be the highest-gross since “Argo” and possibly “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.”

“Manchester By the Sea” (Roadside Attractions) Week 6

$4,404,000(Fri-Mon), $(est.) 2,800,000(Sun-Mon) in 1,213 theaters (+6); Cumulative: $21,120,000

Just placing below the top ten in a very competitive market, Kenneth Lonergan’s high-end drama has grossed only about $3 million less than last year’s Best Picture Oscar-winner “Spotlight” despite two week’s less playtime at the same point. This continues to be a major success for Amazon and partners.

“Jackie” (Fox Searchlight) Week 4

$1,855,000(Fri-Mon), $(Sun-Mon) 1,185,000 in 348 theaters (+264); Cumulative: $3,936,000

A respectable if not sensational showing for Larrain’s film about the First Lady immediately after her husband’s death. The glut of upscale/awards product at the moment is a challenge, but this level for most theaters is positive and positions the film to hold on until the nominations and go wider at that point.

“Lion” (Weinstein) Week 5

$1,655,000(Fri-Mon), $1,490,000(Sun-Mon) in 500 theaters (+484); Cumulative: $2,509,000

A major expansion to benefit from the holiday week, with nearly all these theaters added on Sunday. The two-day PTA is around $3,000. By comparison, “The Imitation Game” two years ago expanded to 747 theaters on Christmas as it started its fourth week and had a two day PTA of about $8,000. Since that film ended up above $90 million, if that projected to a $35-40 million total here it would be a positive sign.

“The Imitation Game,” though, had a much bigger potential awards nomination path ahead. This is a more borderline contender, but with Weinstein continuing to push its sole candidate this year, this crowd-pleaser could still prove a word-of-mouth hit. That’s why they got it out this week. With these modest numbers, consider this a work in progress.

“Nocturnal Animals” (Focus) Week 6

$464,875(Fri-Mon), $300,430 (Sun-Mon) in 353 theaters (-893); Cumulative: $9,952,000

Minor grosses for remaining theaters (most dropped this for the holiday), with Tom Ford’s film nearing $10 million.

“Moonlight” (A24) Week 10

$(est.) 303,000 (Fri-Mon), $(est.)145,000(Sun-Mon) in 159 theaters (-146); Cumulative: $12,027,000

Down to a core group of specialized locations, Barry Jenkins’ film should be back for further expansion after it receives its expected Oscar nominations ahead.

“The Eagle Huntress” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 8

$150,499(Fri-Mon), $(est.)75,000(Sun-Mon) in 105 (-7) theaters; Cumulative: $1,937,000

Give credit to this feminist rural Asian documentary and SPC for sustaining the run over the holidays. Its total is ahead of all but a handful of non-fiction films this year, with more potential ahead if it lands an Oscar nod.

“Loving” (Focus)  Week 8

$107,730(Fri-Mon), $59,185 (Sun-Mon) in 112 theaters (-184); Cumulative: $7,735,000

Most of the runs couldn’t be sustained for Jeff Nichols’ acclaimed but soft Civil Rights era romance, with the remaining theaters only grossing around $500 for Sunday and Monday. It sorely needs an Oscar nominations boost.

“Elle” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 7

$71,323 (Fri-Mon), $(est.) 30,500(Sun-Mon) in 37 theaters (+13); Cumulative: $795,756

Several new cities added to existing ones for Paul Verhoeven’s French erotic thriller with Isabelle Huppert. The actress needs to add an Oscar nomination to her multiple major awards to give this a significant further push.

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