While all studio eyes are on "Godzilla," a few indies are quietly making their way to theaters this weekend, too, and we're previewing them in terms of their box office potential. It's a rather underwhelming pack, with only James Gray's "The Immigrant" the one most definitely expected to impress. Clearly not with "Godzilla"-sized numbers (or even 1 percent of them), but with a promising start for one of the few well-reviewed alternatives to studio fare opening this weekend. Here's how things could shake down for it and three other new specialty releases (in alphabetical order):
- Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case (International Film Circuit)
Director: Andreas Johnsen
Cast: Ai Weiwei
Criticwire Average: No grades yet.
Where Is It Screening: Exclusively at New York's IFC Center.
Box Office Expectation: Two years ago, Chinese artist and advocate Ai Weiwei got the documentary treatment in the financially successful "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry," which grossed $534,000 for IFC Films in the summer of 2012. Now we've got a follow-up in "Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case," which is being released in a single theater this weekend via International Film Circuit. This time around the film looks at the battle against the lawsuit put upon Ai by the Chinese government in an effort to silence him. Interest isn't quite as high as it was for "Never Sorry," but its opening weekend could still very well muster up close to $10,000.
- Chinese Puzzle (Cohen Media Group)
Director: Cédric Klapisch
Cast: Romain Duris, Kelly Reilly, Audrey Tautou, Sandrine Holt, Cecile De France
Criticwire Average: 2 critics gave it a B average
Where Is It Screening: 2 theaters in New York (Lincoln Plaza and Angelika)
Box Office Expectation: Cohen Media Group has had sizeable foreign language hits in the past few years ("The Attack," "Farewell My Queen") and with Cédric Klapisch's "Chinese Puzzle" they're offering up a mix of English and French (with a bit of Spanish, Chinese and Yiddish as well) through a multilingual tale. Following a 40-year-old French father of two who heads to New York when the his wife leaves him and takes the children there, "Puzzle" follows 2002's "L'Auberge Espagnole" and 2005's "Russian Dolls" to complete a trilogy of sorts for director Klapisch. And with well known international actors like Romain Duris, Kelly Reilly, and Audrey Tautou in the cast, it could definitely do quite nicely. A per-theater-average around $10,000 would get it off to a good start, though more often than not these kinds of small foreign films are all about box office legs.
- Half of a Yellow Sun (Monterey Media)
Director: Biyi Bandele
Cast: Chiwetel Ejofor, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, Joseph Mawle, John Boyega
Criticwire Average: 3 critics gave it a C- average
Where Is It Screening: Exclusively at the Quad in New York, followed by an LA expansion next weekend.
Box Office Expectation: The presence of "12 Years a Slave" lead Chiwetel Ejiofor and future "Star Wars" actor John Boyega and the fact that it's based on a well known book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie should certainly raise some interest in "Half a Yellow Sun," though overall expectations are pretty low. The film -- a love story that follows two sisters who are caught up in the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War -- hasn't had particularly strong reviews and distributor Monterey Media hasn't had a film gross over $100,000 in nearly four years. If it grosses north of $7,000 from its single screen, that would be more or less impressive.
- The Immigrant (The Weinstein Company)
Director: James Gray
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Renner
Criticwire Average: 28 critics gave it a B+ average
Where Is It Screening: 3 theaters: Lincoln Center and the Angelika in New York and the Royal in LA.
Box Office Expectation: Certainly the weekend's indie MVP, James Gray's "The Immigrant" comes to theaters a year after it debuted at Cannes and after delays care of The Weinstein Company, who at one point were going to release it through RADiUS instead (but changed their minds). The delay might crush buzz a bit, but "The Immigrant" still has a lot going for it in its strong reviews, A-list cast and a director who has definitely developed a following. The narrative -- about an innocent immigrant woman who's tricked into a life of burlesque and vaudeville until a dazzling magician tries to save her and reunite her with her sister who is being held in the confines of Ellis Island -- isn't particularly marketable, but that shouldn't matter this weekend. Its three New York and LA theaters should likely do just fine, with an average of $16,000 or more. The coming weekends will be more telling, and it would be impressive if the film ends up topping the $3.2 million Gray's last film "Two Lovers" ultimately grossed in 2009.