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Arthouse Audit: Sundance Fest Hits Theaters

Arthouse Audit: Sundance Fest Hits Theaters

Although the film festival action is in Toronto right now, there’s a mini-Sundance going on this weekend. Six different films that premiered at this year’s event, including four in the prime American Narrative and Documentary competition, opened to varying but mainly decent results. “The Words,” one of the six, opened wide this week and ranked #3 in the top 10.

The good news is that three new films scored per screen averages of $11,000 or better. That’s nothing to shout about, but for a post-Labor Day specialized film, it’s phenomenal. Over the previous ten years, only nine films total opened to over $10,000 PSA on this weekend. No year had more than one, and several none. This is a continued sign of deep strength in the specialized market.


“Keep the Lights On” (Music Box) – Metacritic score: 82; Festivals include: Sundance 12, Berlin 12, Tribeca 12, Seattle 12, Outfest 12

$56,300 in 5 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $11,260

With some of the best reviews of the year, Ira Sachs’ acclaimed semi-autobiographical drama had a promising opening in 5 NY/LA locations, with the top gross at the Chelsea Theater in the center of Manhattan’s gay community.

What it means: Seven years after “Brokeback Mountain,” it is still rare for a gay relationship drama to crossover even within the world of specialized theaters, and even much of the gay audience often takes a wait and see attitude. But word of mouth for this could be strong enough for it to become a solid early fall release as it reaches other cities in upcoming weeks.

“Hello, I Must Be Going” (Oscilloscope) – Metacritic score: 60; Festivals include: Sundance 12, Seattle 12

$26,764 in 2 theaters; PSA: $13,382

The second of three Sundance American dramatic competition films to open this week, despite more modest reviews this story of a relationship between a college student and an older woman who has returned to her parents’ home from director Todd Louiso (“Love Liza”) scored a decent opening at its exclusive NY/LA theaters.

What it means: This is Oscilloscope’s second good opening within a month (after “Samsara”), perfectly timed as they likely are making their case to sellers at Toronto.

“Bachelorette” (Weinstein) – Metacritic score: 49; Festivals include: Sundance 12, Provincetown 12, Locarno 12; also available on Video on Demand

$191,000 in 47 theaters; PSA: $4,064

The Weinstein Company announced its Video on Demand label Radius at Toronto a year ago, and its first release (already on ITunes for several weeks) opened wider than many VOD titles beyond the normal limited NY/LA release to a credible gross considering its parallel availability. Reedited somewhat after its Sundance premiere, the marketing overcame mediocre at best reviews while going after a “Bridesmaids” audience.

What it means: VOD already is an established venue, along with variable theatrical playoff for films going this route. But Weinstein is the most mainstream company yet to go this route, which by any estimation is increasingly going to challenge theaters as a viable means of releasing films. Their next release, “Butter,” just premiered on VOD in advance of its theatrical run.

“For Ellen” (Tribeca) Metacritic score: 55; Festivals include: Sundance 12, Berlin 12, Karoly Vary 12

$6,100 in 1 theater; PSA: $6,100

The third Sundance Dramatic competition release this week opened exclusively at NY’s prime Film Forum Theater on Wednesday (5 day total – $7,300) to about at best average results. Paul Dano’s third lead role in a specialized film this year (after “Being Flynn” and “Ruby Sparks,” neither of which soared), this one looks like it could be another one with modest grosses at best.

What it means: Tribeca regularly pushes VOD for its releases. This will be available there on 9/18, and will be where most of the upcoming viewing will come.

“The Inbetweeners” (Wrekin Hill) – Metacritic score: 45

$36,000 in 10 theaters; PSA: $3,600

This movie version of the hit British TV comedy has grossed almost $90 million is the rest of the world. These grosses indicate the US will not repeat this success.

What it means: Other than “Bend It Like Beckham,” films set in the world of English soccer and its fans have had little appeal over here.

“Las Acacias” (Outsider) – Metacritic score: 72; Festivals include: Cannes 11, Toronto 11, London 11

$6,000 in 1 theater; PSA: $6,000

A better than average opening for NY’s Quad Theater, with decent reviews boosting this Argentine trucker road movie after prime festival showcasing last year.

What it means: Spanish-language films get elevated DVD and cable attention these days, so this opening should help this get more attention beyond its future theater openings.

“Detropia” (LF) – Metacritic score: 65; Festivals include: Sundance 12, Cleveland 12

$18,350 in 1 theater; PSA: $18,350

From Sundance’s US Documentary section, this study of Detroit’s decline performed surprisingly well at NY’s IFC Center, which has been the city’s hottest specialized theater in recent weeks.

What it means: This gross will get the attention of theaters around the country more than what its subject might have done otherwise.


“For a Good Time Call” (Focus) – Week 2

$212,000 in 56 theaters (+33); PSA: $3,786; Cumulative: $394,000

Falling far short of even what the underperforming “Ruby Sparks” did its second week (PSA of $6,186 in 64 theaters), this confirms what the first week indicated – audiences are resisting this raunchy female-centered sex comedy.

What it means: This likely won’t reach the very disappointing $2.3 gross that “Ruby” ended up with.

“Sleepwalk With Me” (IFC) – Week 3; also available on Video on Demand

$343,000 in 73 theaters (+44); PSA: $4,699; Cumulative: $882,000

Parallel to its home viewing availablity, this comedy continues to add theatrical gross at a decent level as it expands in its third week.

What it means: DespiteVOD this expands to many more markets this weekend for what already looks like a win-win situation for IFC.

“Samsara” (Oscilloscope) – Week 3

$200,000 in 25 theaters (+16); PSA: $8,000; Cumulative: $488,000

Slowly expanding and continuing to show good results, this wordless documentary continues to benefit from word of mouth and its unique visual quality.

What it means: This likely will be around longer than other recent releases as it expands beyond the usual core specialized audience.

“Little White Lies” (MPI) – Week 3

$28,400 in  14 theaters (+2); PSA: $2,029; Cumulative: $125,000

Little response to this lengthy French drama, even with a strong ensemble cast led by Marion Cotillard.

What it means: “Rust and Bone” later this year will be a better indicator of whether Cotillard can repeat the domestic success of “La vie en rose,” which won her a best actress Oscar.

“Robot and Frank” (IDP) – Week 4

$540,000 in 202 theaters (+58); PSA: $2,673; Cumulative: $2,049,000

Another good jump in the total gross for this Frank Langella-starring film, but the PSA fell almost in half with a modest jump in theater count, indicating that though this is clearly a success, it might not have the crossover possibilities suggested earlier.

What it means: This still, particularly with its older audience appeal, has done well enough to elevate Langella for awards as the season approaches.

“Chicken With Plums” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 4

$10,000 in 5 theaters (+2); PSA: $2,000; Cumulative: $116,100

Still failing to find any traction.

What it means: SPC will get this played off in most big cities, but this will be one of their lowest grossing recent films.

“Celeste and Jesse Forever” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 6

$400,000 in 441 theaters (-145); PSA: $907; Cumulative: $2,659,000

Falling from last week’s surprisingly high theater count, this continues to be mostly low-grossing, with a sub-$1,000 PSA.

What it means: This still will end up with a higher gross than most of this summer’s urban rom-coms, which will elevate its importance when available on DVD and cable.

“Searching for Sugar Man” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 7

$132,000 in 33 theaters (+1); PSA: $4,000; Cumulative: $910,000

The PSA fell only slightly, indicating ongoing positive reaction to this musical documentary.

What it means: Expect this film to possibly double its gross or more despite nearing the two month mark in release. It still has been very limited, and interest in it seems to be growing.

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” (Fox Searchlight) – Week 11

$370,000 in 269 theaters (+2); PSA: $1,375; Cumulative: $10,283,000

The steadiness of this acclaimed film over the last few weeks is impressive. Though no longer stand-out, sustained interest indicates continued appeal beyond the normal core audience.

What it means: The longer is stays around the better for its award chances, since it reminds those who vote that this broke out beyond art houses.

“Moonrise Kingdom” (Focus) – Week 16

$236,000 in 200 theaters (+3); PSA: $1,180; Cumulative: $44,635,000

The continued play on this film nearing its fifth month is impressive.

What it means: $45 million, here we come.

“Intouchables” (Weinstein) – Week 16

$318,000 in 194 theaters (+22); PSA: $1,639; Cumulative: $11,571,000

Jumping back up in theater count after a brief lag, and continuing to add to its impressive total.

What it means: What is great for Weinstein is that these grosses, week after week, are coming with minimal ad costs, meaning that most of their film rental take from this is profit.

“The Imposter” (Indomina) – Week 9

$67,298 in 27 theaters (-4); PSA: $2,493; Cumulative: $600,000

The PSA remains stready as this Sundance doc keeps adding to its gross.

What it means: With modest marketing costs this has slowly become a niche success.

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