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Arthouse Audit: ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ and ‘Dark Horse’ Trounce ‘Lola’ and ‘Peace, Love and Misunderstanding’

Arthouse Audit: 'Safety Not Guaranteed' and 'Dark Horse' Trounce 'Lola' and 'Peace, Love and Misunderstanding'

Although none of this week’s new specialty films scored great numbers, the two best among NY and/or LA openers came into the market with less advance marketing behind them. Revamped FilmDistrict marked a decent showing for the Sundance-premiered “Safety Not Guaranteed” while Todd Solondz’ Venice/Toronto-screened “Dark Horse,” opening without a top tier theatrical distributor, boasted a solid gross at NY’s Angelika.

Meanwhile Fox Searchlight’s “Lola Versus” and IFC’s “Peace, Love and Misunderstanding” earned more publicity than ticket buyers, with strictly modest openings.

Four other successful films continue to expand nationally, with Focus’ “Moonrise Kingdom” showing significant strength as it reaches 90 theaters, at a pace below its huge openings. The”Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “Intouchables” and “Bernie” all continue to show appeal.


“Safety Not Guaranteed” (FilmDistrict) – Metacritic score: 71; Festivals include: Sundance 12, South by Southwest 12, Seattle 12

$100,000 in 9 theaters; PSA: $11,111

The first platform release from the post-Bob Berney FilmDistrict scored the best reviews of any new opening this week, and with it, the top performance. This is even more impressive because of the release pattern: in NY and LA it played exclusively at good AMC houses, but not the usual ones for a four-theater opening. FilmDistrict wisely booked this Seattle-set story in Seattle and Portland the same week, which don’t usually gross at the same level. This is one of the best openings for any Sundance 2012 films so far, and looks like it has a shot at some significant specialized success ahead.

What it means:  The new team at FilmDistrict is under scrutiny, but so far  they have easily passed their first hurdle. That it performed well at non-prime-platform theaters suggests that the film has crossover potential.

“Dark Horse” (Brainstorm/Double Hope) – Metacritic score: 58; Festivals include: Venice 11, Toronto 11, Deauville 11, Rio 11, Hong Kong 12

$15,000 in 1 theater; PSA: $15,000

Opening exclusively at NY’s Angelika, this Todd Solendz film, without a major distributor and with mixed reviews, scored a solid gross. A strong NYTimes review likely was a key factor.

What it means: This gross will help the film find placement at key theaters around the country in upcoming weeks despite not being distributed by one of the usual companies.

“Lola Versus” (Fox Searchlight) – Metacritic score: 50; Festivals include: Tribeca 12, Newport Beach 12, San Francisco 12

$34,000 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $8,500

Reviews did nothing to help this up-to-date urban romance, released while HBO’s “Girls” has been seen as a touchstone for post “Sex in the City” female POV stories. Showing in four major NY/LA theaters, this opened only slightly better than Searchlight’s recent “Sound of My Voice,” which has failed to reach $400,000 so far. This should play better, but not remotely at the level of their vaguely similar “(500) Days of Summer” two years ago.

What it means: Released between a big success (“Best Exotic”) and another anticipated shortly (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”), this is just a minor glitch for Searchlight. But the story and cast (mainly Greta Gerwig) will make it a cable staple when the time comes.

“Peace, Love and Misunderstanding” (IFC) – Metacritic score: 45; Festivals include: Toronto 11, Woodstock 11, Rio 11, Newport Beach 12, Sarasota 12; also on VOD (video on demand) 6/15

$102,000 in 30 theaters; PSA: $3,400

Playing limited or exclusive runs in multiple cities in advance of its VOD premiere next weekend, the multi-generation female family saga centered on Woodstock veteran grandmother Jane Fonda garnered more publicity than gross this weekend. These are mediocre grosses at best (with the PSA lower because of the wider release).

What it means: With a cast that also includes Catherine Keener and Elizabeth Olsen, and a director whose credits include “Tender Mercies” and “Driving Miss Daisy,” this sounds like it should have appealed to the older crowd that has made “Best Exotic” a hit. But like the recent “Darling Companion,” this shows that this audience is picky, and that perhaps a British cast is just more of a draw. That is going immediately to VOD (along with a theatrical expansion this week) indicates that IFC suspected this was the case.

“Bel Ami” (Magnolia) – Metacritic score: 42; Festivals include Berlin 12, Glascow 12; also on VOD (video on demand)

$48,000 in 15 theaters; PSA: $3,200

Considering weak reviews and VOD availability, this is a passable gross, presumably due to added appeal from Robert Pattinson (in a far different role than “Twilight”).

What it means:  This has been on VOD for a few weeks. The theatrical play will give that even more attention.

“Paul Williams: Still Alive” (Abramorama) – Metacritic score: 70; Festivals include: Toronto 11, Cleveland 12, Florida 12, Seattle 12

$7,545 in 1 theater; PSA: $7,545

Playing at NY’s Angelika with little advertising but aided by good reviews, this had a decent gross at a time when many documentaries open with lower results.

What it means:  It seems that docs about performers and other creative people can prove a real draw theatrically, often more than others. This opening will create interest for the film in other cities (it opens in LA on 6/22), and guarantee future attention and exposure for the film.


“Moonrise Kingdom” (Focus) – Week 3

$1,579,000 in 90 theaters (+72); PSA: $16,448,000; Cumulative: $3,750,000

A big increase in theaters this week led to a strong PSA overall, but not as impressivel as its initial record-breaking openings. It is slightly ahead of what “Best Exotic” did when it went to double the number of theaters (in its second week). Keeping in mind that PSA decreases normally with more theaters (the top 90 for “Exotic” would have been much more than $15,000), this suggests a limit to how wide this acclaimed Wes Anderson film will play, Among other rough comparisons, this is performing ahead of “The Tree of Life” and “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” but below “Brokeback Mountain,” “Midnight in Paris” and “The Descendants,” all of which “Moonrise” outdid in its opening weekend (two of these cases were boosted as late-year releases with awards attention). Making it into the top 10 with only 90 theaters is a major achievement.

What it means:   By any standard other than the one set by it NY/LA figures (which were timed perfectly to take advantage of the double whammy of an avalanche of Cannes PR and a holiday weekend), these are terrific grosses for what is not a conventional mass-audience film. Focus is facing a crowded market going into a wider break ahead (adding theaters over the next few weeks), but this performance justifies inclusion wherever Focus wants to play it.

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (Fox Searchlight) – Week 6

$3,235,000 in 1,298 theaters (+4); PSA: $2,492 ; Cumulative: $31,009,000

Looking like it has reached its maximum market depth (quite wide for a specialized film), “Exotic” dropped a modest 28% as it continues to play exceptionally well.

What it means:   This should ultimately outgross “The Artist” among other recent Oscar winners as it heads toward around $50 million. And it will due so without the push from awards hooplah. Seachlight was smart to skip that course–and save a ton of money– with this movie which earned mixed reviews.

“Intouchables” (Weinstein) – Week 3

$385,000 in 77 theaters (+27); PSA: $5,000; Cumulative: $1,014,000

Expanding steadily but somewhat more slowly than a typical Weinstein film, the results continue on the same course. This is a decent gross for a subtitled film, particularly with the consensus mediocre reviews and no familiar names. The advertising continues to be significant, and the grosses also indicate positive word of mouth, which should justify further expansion and a significantly higher ultimate gross.

What it means:  Still, at this point, as seemed likely with its initial grosses, this massive international hit does not look like it will break out to a wide domestic audience, as it has in numerous countries (including English-speaking ones) around the world. The Weinsteins are building brand awareness for thier upcoming English-language remake.

“Bernie” (Millenium) – Week 7

$822,000 in 332 theaters (+30); PSA: $2,476 ; Cumulative: $4,842,000

Only down slightly from last week, this Richard Linklater murder comedy stays strong while still not having pushed out that far beyond key theaters in major markets. This one looks like it will be around a lot longer, despite already having played for nearly two months.

What it means:  This is a breakout film for Millennium, which often sells its productions to others as well as distributing themselves. This could encourage them to do more in future.

“A Cat in Paris” (GKids) – Week 2

$15,700 in 7 theaters (+1); PSA: $2,243 ; Cumulative: $66,000

The PSA took a steep drop this weekend (more than 60%) despite only adding one theater, which doesn’t bode well for much wider expansion.

What it means:   This would likely have grossed much better had it played while it was an Oscar nominee (for best animated feature), although its surprise nomination made it tough at the time to get a last-minute release. At this point, that achievement seems to have little value.

“Hysteria” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 4

$162,000 in 84 theaters (+19); PSA: $1,923 ; Cumulative: $702,000

The PSA fell a modest amount despite adding a third more theaters, which is a mildly positive sign for this period comedy. Considering that this opened at a level below this week’s “Lola Versus,” this shows both real support from SPC as well as a degree of decent popular response better than initially indicated.

What it means:  Over the next few weeks this should pass the $1-million mark, and establish a degree of awareness that will enhance its future non-theatrical appeal.

“Where Do We Go Now” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 5

$39,000 in 31 theaters (-6 ); PSA: $1,270 ; Cumulative: $322,000

This Lebanese festival favorite is already seeing a falling theater count, indicating it is playing short runs at most theaters and showing at far fewer than several other recent SPC subtitled successes.

What it means:  Though as always SPC will get this played as widely as possible, this likely has already taken in a majority of its ultimate gross. That still though will be more than many better reviewed foreign language releases.

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