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‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ Lures Crowds to Jessica Chastain and World War II

While "Lion" and "La La Land" continue to rack up grosses, studio fare is stealing arthouse thunder.

“The Zookeeper’s Wife”

Hungry for fresh nourishment, specialty audiences flocked to new World War II drama “The Zookeeper’s Wife” (Focus Features), directed by Niki Caro and starring Jessica Chastain.

While smart-house moviegoers can be discerning — see Fox Searchlight’s “Wilson” — the holocaust drama overcame modest reviews to score in wider initial release. The dearth of other product should help Focus to find bigger success ahead.

READ MORE: ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ Director Niki Caro Has a Plan for Fighting Hollywood’s Gender Gap

New openings finding niche interest were led by “David Lynch – The Art Life” (Janus) as smaller films continue to struggle.

At a time of dwindling movie ad revenue, streaming service Netflix took out two full-page ads for five films in both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. They touted four Sundance debuts: “The Discovery” starring Robert Redford and Rooney Mara, which played limited theatrical dates with no grosses reported, U.S. Dramatic  Grand Prize Winner “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore,” “Burning Sands” and “Deidra & Laney Rob a Train.”

Courtesy of Netflix

Notably Netflix also promoted producer Steven Spielberg’s three-episode Hollywood World War II documentary “Five Came Back,” based on Mark Harris’s book, which played the IFC Center and Laemmle’s Monica in order to qualify for film awards, along the same lines as Oscar-winner “O.J.: Made in America.”

Opening

The Zookeeper’s Wife (Focus) Metacritic: 58; Festivals include: Cinequest 2017

$3,349,000 in 541 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $6,191,000

Coming in #10 overall despite playing in only 541 theaters, New Zealand “Whale Rider” director Niki Caro’s variation on the Holocaust rescue theme (this time involving a Warsaw zoo) drew strong response despite tepid overall reviews. Movie star Jessica Chastain pulled audiences — while pointing out on NPR that this rare war film told from a woman’s point of view was mostly reviewed by men.

This compares well to “Woman in Gold” starring Helen Mirren exactly two years ago, which Weinstein opened in 258 theaters to a similar gross of $2.1 million. Chastain’s “Miss Sloane” (Europa) expanded to 1,845 theaters in December and only grossed $1,648,000, so this is a huge improvement, with a decent 31 per cent Saturday uptick slightly better than “Gold” had its initial weekend, which suggests it’s playing well.

What comes next: This will certainly get wider play. Caro meantime is slated to directed Disney’s $100 million-plus live-action “Mulan.”

David Lynch – The Art Life (Janus) Metacritic: 76; Festivals include: Venice 2016, South by Southwest 2017

$12,156 in 1 theater; PTA: $12,156

Leading up to the return of “Twin Peaks” and paralleled by a four-film retrospective on another screen at New York’s IFC Center, this documentary about Lynch’s early creative life up to his feature debut “Eraserhead” yielded a strong response.

What comes next:  Though Janus is associated with the Criterion Collection and its significant streaming and DVD outreach, the movie will go out in to theaters nationwide. Los Angeles opens on April 14.

Cezanne and I (Magnolia) Metacritic: 53

$(est.) 16,500 in 2 theaters; PTA: $(est.) 8,250

Veteran French director/writer Daniele Thompson (whose “Avenue Montaigne” grossed $2 million a decade ago, almost unimaginable for a subtitled film in the U.S. nowadays) imagined the friendship of the great painter and Emile Zola. Mediocre reviews did the film no favors, but its two-theater Manhattan opening showed a major jump on Saturday. That suggests interest among upscale older viewers who often support films on creative and artistic subjects.

What comes next: Los Angeles opens this Friday.

“The Death of Louis XIV”

The Death of Louis XIV (Cinema Guild) Metacritic: 69; Festivals include: Cannes, Toronto, New York 2016

$(est.) 8,000 in 1 theater; PTA: $(est.) 8,000

Spanish director Albert Serra (“Birdsong”) has been a strong festival favorite in recent years. This French film featuring the legendary Jean-Pierre Leaud recreating the final days of the Sun King opened at New York’s Lincoln Center. This niche item takes place in a single room with Louis bedridden and attended to by a range of palace figures. That makes the gross more impressive, even if it won’t extend far beyond high-end cinephiles.

What comes next: A range of bookings, many non-theatrical, lie ahead nationally.

READ MORE: Jean-Pierre Léaud Speaks: How a Cinematic Icon Nearly Killed Himself for His Best Role Since ‘The 400 Blows’

Karl Marx City (Bond 360) Metacritic: 72; Festivals include: Toronto, New York

$9,000 in one theater; PTA: $9,000; Cumulative: $10,000

This documentary about a filmmaker’s search for her father’s role in East German’s web of informants opened at New York’s Film Forum last Wednesday. Strong reviews led to a decent showing.

What comes next: 15 more full week bookings are already set nationwide.

God Knows Where I Am (Bond 360) Metacritic: 67; Festivals include: Hot Docs, Hamptons 2016

$(est.) 5,250 in 1 theater; PTA: $(est.) 5,250

This documentary about a bipolar woman who fell through the cracks of New Hampshire social services scored a date at New York’s Lincoln Plaza Theater after some festival play. For a minimally low scale released film, this is a respectable gross.

What comes next: Los Angeles is the next of a wide array of full-week and limited showings booked around the country ahead.

“Carrie Pilby”

Carrie Pilby (The Orchard)  Metacritic: 52; Festivals include: Toronto 2016

$(est.) 14,500 in 6 theaters; PTA: $(est.) 2,417

Bel Powley (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”) stars in this New York story about a 19-year-old British Harvard graduate. The film opened in four cities in advance of its VOD date to mixed reviews and modest interest.

What comes next: VOD starts on Tuesday.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter (A24) Metacritic: 73; Festivals include: Toronto 2015; also available on Video on Demand

$(est.) 13,000 in 24 theaters; PTA: $(est.) 542

This Canadian boarding school thriller starring “Mad Men” ingenue Kiernan Shipka predates director Osgood Perkins’ Sundance 2017 award-winner “I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House” (Netflix). Although reviews were decent, through A24’s partnership with DirectTV, “Blackcoat’s Daughter” has already been showing for several weeks, so ticket sales were minimal.

What comes next: A long home streaming life.

All This Panic (Factory 25) Metacritic: 72; Festivals include: Tribeca 2016

$(est.) 2,250 in 2 theaters; PTA: $(est.) 1,125

Two New York area theaters including the prime IFC Center opened this documentary following several local teen girls as they come of age. The results were minimal.

What comes next: Likely not to expand much beyond its home turf.

Donnie Darko (Arrow) (reissue)

$53,200 in 21 theaters; PTA: $2,533

A 4K restoration of Richard Kelly’s 2001 cult film opened in multiple cities showing both the original Sundance as well as the 20 minute longer director’s cut. It scored a credible sampling in advance of further limited showings.

What comes next: Expect this to get further attention, including streaming.

International Releases

The Devotion of Subject X (China Lion/China) – $330,000 in 43 theaters

Naam Shabana (Big Pictures/India) – $(est.)175,000 in 92 theaters

Guru (Big Sky/India) – $(est.) 130,000 in 91 theaters

Northern Lights: A Journey to Love (ABS/Philippines) – $(est.) 110,000 in 56 theaters

The Prison (Well Go/South Korea) – $(est.) 80,000 in 23 theaters

“Wilson”

Week Two

Wilson (Fox Searchlight)

$115,000 in 311 theaters (+1); PTA: $370; Cumulative: $592,300

This Woody Harrelson curmudgeon comedy marks the nadir of an already weak period for the normally reliable Fox Searchlight. This adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel got holdovers at its multi-hundred theaters, but many had only partial shows, with overall an average of around 40 tickets sold all weekend.

I Called Him Morgan (Submarine Deluxe)

$20,437 in 5 theaters (+4); PTA: $4,087; Cumulative: $40,546

Two Los Angeles theaters were among the four added to last week’s strong New York exclusive date for this documentary about the tragic 1960s nightclub slaying of a prominent jazz musician. Results aren’t at the same level but show enough interest to justify further expansion.

Slamma Jamma (River Rain)

$(est.) 3,500 in 12 theaters (-490); PTA: $(est.) 292; Cumulative: $(est.) 2,000,000

This faith-based prison sports film claimed nearly $1.7 million last weekend. That figure was unverified, and was likely bolstered by group sales and other special promotions. But whatever led to that number wasn’t repeated — and led to one of the biggest second weekend drops ever.

Trainspotting 2 Ewan McGregor

“T2 Trainspotting”

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

T2 Trainspotting (Sony) Week 3

$400,000 in 140 theaters (+81); Cumulative: $1,178,000

While it’s the biggest fish in the specialized sea at the moment, the two decade later update to Danny Boyle’s breakout success is doing only modest business compared to both the original and the international (mostly British) performance of this film.

The Last Word (Bleecker Street) Week 5

$212,527 in 289 theaters (-91); Cumulative: $1,483,000

This Shirley MacLaine comedy has delivered only half as much as the same distributor’s older audience favorite “I’ll See You in My Dreams.” Two years ago that romance starring Blythe Danner had reached $3 million after five weekends despite having played fewer theaters. Weaker reviews is part of the reason, but “Hello, My Name Is Doris” filled this slot last year with only slightly favorable critical response to far better results. This seems to be another sign of specialized decline and/or greater competition from mainstream films.

Lion (Weinstein) Week 19

$211.980 in 175 theaters (-145); Cumulative: $51,131,000

After nearly five months of play, Weinstein’s Dev Patel-starrer is around after nearly all other Oscar contenders have dropped away. It’s outgrossing both “Moonlight” and “Manchester By the Sea.”

Kedi (Oscilloscope) Week 8

$165,500 in 105 theaters (-13); Cumulative: $2,041,000

Broadway had “Cats,” the specialized world has “Kedi.” This surprise documentary success — from Turkey and subtitled — has passed the $2 million mark, which is rare for specialized films these days. This and “The Eagle Huntress” will prompt a run on animal-related international animal centered films.

Personal Shopper (IFC) Week 4

$159,450 in 150 theaters (+43); Cumulative: $791,973

Following a similar release pattern to the previous Olivier Assayas/Kristen Stewart collaboration “Clouds of Sils Maria,” this latest effort is grossing close to the same total after their respective fourth weekends.

La La Land (Lionsgate) Week 17

$142,000 in 143 theaters (-69); Cumulative: $150,469,000

A month after the Oscars, Lionsgate is still playing this movie in theaters only (a calculation likely made with expectations of a Best Picture win). Nonetheless the movie has added $10 million to its impressive domestic total, and stands at over $430 million worldwide.

A United Kingdom (Fox Searchlight) Week 8

$87,000 in 86 theaters (-73); Cumulative: $3,703,000

With similar appeal (plot, director, reviews, capable distributor) and bigger stars, this period interracial drama will end up grossing nearly $7 million less than “Belle” three years ago.

Frantz

“Frantz”

Frantz (Music Box) Week 3

$85,250 in 37 theaters (+27); Cumulative: $184,461

French veteran Francois Ozon’s latest entry expanded this weekend, with better than average results among subtitled releases. This won’t rank among the director’s biggest domestic successes, but continues Music Box’s track record of maximizing their efforts despite a tricky market.

I Am Not Your Negro (Magnolia) Week 9

$(est.) 80,000 in 46 theaters (-39); Cumulative: $(est.) 6,782,000

Raoul Peck’s acclaimed James Baldwin documentary continues its lengthy run. It’s unlikely that any 2017 documentaries will be able to match its total.

The Sense of an Ending (CBS) Week 8

$80,000 in 88 theaters (-147); Cumulative: $1,236,000

Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling combined failed to spark a significant response to this British drama which is fading out after reaching all key theaters.

Raw (Focus) Week 4

$70,435 in 42 theaters (+15); Cumulative: $303,573

The well-received French contemporary cannibal story continues its modest but steady run. It remains a niche item, with subtitles likely reducing its appeal to genre fans.

Song to Song (Broad Green) Week 3

$58,747 in 95 theaters (+15); Cumulative: $325,909

It’s hard to imagine a Terrence Malick film, particularly with as strong a cast as this, faring so poorly. Even compared to his last two post-“Tree of Life” films, this is a disaster.

Also noted

Moonlight (A24) – $48,000 in 69 theaters; Cumulative: $27,775,000

Paterson (Bleecker Street) – $33,782 in 31 theaters; Cumulative: $2,115,000

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