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Arthouse Audit: ‘The Sessions’ Opens Strong, ‘Holy Motors’ OK, ‘Smashed’ and ‘Paperboy’ Sag, ‘Sugar Man’ Heads for $2 Million

Arthouse Audit: 'The Sessions' Opens Strong, 'Holy Motors' OK, 'Smashed' and 'Paperboy' Sag, 'Sugar Man' Heads for $2 Million

The Sessions” led the way among new films this week, performing as expected for this unusual drama, looking even better without a lot of other Oscar contenders opening in recent weeks. Three other review-driven films — two documentaries and a controversial French film —  with much lower profiles found receptive audiences initially as well.

But fewer films are sustaining successful runs. The quality of wider release films and their appeal to the same audience — “Argo” leading the way, but the expansions of “The Master” and “Perks of Being a Wildflower” among others also competing — has taken its toll on most other recent openers.


“The Sessions” (Fox Searchlight) – Metacritic score: 80; Film festivals include: Sundance 12, Toronto 12

$120,000 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $30,000

Definitely a good opening for this acclaimed drama. The subject matter (a polio survivor with limited mobility seeks a sex surrogate) makes it a tougher sell than some other recent stronger limited openers (“Moonrise Kingdom,” “The Master” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”), all with bigger openings in recent months. But this still ranks as one of the best this season.

Stars John Hawkes and Helen Hunt are both potential awards contenders, and the positioning of this as the competition gears up, the reviews and the excellent theater placement all help their cause.

What this means: The key now is upbeat word of mouth. It was more important for Fox Searchlight to get audiences in early than necessarily scoring a huge number (“The Master” underscores that initial excitement doesn’t guarantee consistent success and growing awards momentum). Five new cities open next week, along with small expansions in NY/LA heading toward a slow national roll-out over the next five weeks.

“Brooklyn Castle” (PDA) – Metacritic score: 74; Festivals include: South by Southwest 12, HotDocs 12

$22,122 in 2 theaters; PSA: $11,061

One of the best openings for a documentary in recent months, this urban high school chess competition film benefited from two strong NY theaters and positive reviews for a promising start. It won audience awards at both SxSW and HotDocs, which by itself guarantees nothing for how a film will open, but suggests that this could grow in coming weeks.

What this means: Another opening that has a shot at being helped by word of mouth, even though other similar docs have had an uneven track record. This seems to have been helped by targeted marketing at least in NY initially, giving it a chance to break through in other upcoming cities.

“The Flat” (IFC) – Metacritic score: 82; Festivals include: Jerusalem 11, Tribeca 12

$20,800 in 2 theaters; PSA: $10,400

Another decent beginning in NY for a doc without the recent formula for success (artist/creative personality focus). An Israeli-based film about what a filmmaker discovered when his grandmother died, and then tracing ties to Germany (which she had fled in the 1930s), this was helped by strong reviews and theater placement.

What this means: IFC opens this in LA Wednesday, with 20 more cities very quickly, a faster than usual expansion indicating confidence in its appeal (and aimed like other doc releases in elevating its position as the Academy doc committee moves toward its list of semi-finalists).

Holy Motors(Indomina) – Metacritic score: 84; Film festivals include: Cannes 12, New York 12, Chicago 12

$19,488 in 2 theaters; PSA: $9,744

After its divisive premiere at Cannes and disinterest from the bigger US specialized distributors (as well as surprisingly not being shown at Toronto), Leos Carax’s most recent adventure in flamboyant outre narrative scored some key rave reviews (NYTimes and Village Voice included). These led to an OK if not phenomenal opening at two NY non-profit theaters (Film Forum and the Walter Reade) whose audiences should be more receptive. The Wednesday opening led to a $28,300 five-day total.

What this means: This is decent enough to increase wider interest, although this is going to likely be more of a cult than general specialized audience film.

“Nobody Walks” (Magnolia) – Metacritic score: 52; Festivals include: Sundance 12, San Francisco 12; also available on Video on Demand

$7,500 in 2 theaters; PSA: $3,750

Ry Russo-Young’s Sundance narrative competition film, co-written with Lena Dunham (“Girls”) opened at one theater each in NY/LA to mainly mixed reviews (though prominent NYTimes response) with nothing grosses.

What this means: VOD was the right way to go (where this premiered previously).

“All Together” (Kino) – Metacritic score: 56; Festivals include: Locarno 12; also available on Video on Demand

$10,000 in 6 theaters; PSA: $1,666

Jane Fonda’s first French-language film since Godard’s “Tout va bien” 40 years ago opened in three cities to mixed reviews and less business.

What this means: Its older-audience appeal and name cast (Geraldine Chaplin and other familiar European actors also star) might make this do better on VOD. 


“Middle of Nowhere” (AFFRM) – Week 2

$54,400 in 21 theaters (+15); PSA: $2.500; Cumulative: $127,100

The expansion of this acclaimed Sundance film about a wife struggling to hold on to her life after her husband goes to prison did not have to same results as its initial six theatre opening last week.

What this means: Although this should continue to expand, this now looks like a niche film that will not crossover beyond limited situations despite the first weekend’s promise.

“Smashed” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 2

$48,800 in 20 theaters (+16); PSA: $2,440; Cumulative: $87,500

Continuing the indications from its weak opening last week in NY/LA, this quick expansion showed little action as another acclaimed Sundance competition film falls short of hoped for theatrical response.

What this means: This got top theater placement, as do all SPC films, so these figures represent about as good as this film could do.

“Simon and the Oaks” (Film Arcade) – Week 2

$21,616 in 7 theaters (+6); PSA: $3,088; Cumulative: $37,200

Mediocre expansion for this Swedish drama set during WW2, with LA providing the bulk of the new action.

What this means: This suggests a limited future for the film, similar to many recently subtitled releases.

“The Paperboy” (Millennium) – Week 3

$116,921 in 74 theaters (+25); PSA: $1,580; Cumulative: $399,475

Really struggling now as new theaters provide little in the way of an argument for expanding much further.

What this means: Despite the mixed reviews, this still should have had more appeal, although perhaps the traditional specialized theater model was doomed by critical reaction.

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (Lionsgate) – Week 5

$2,150,000 in 745 theaters (+19); PSA: $2,886; Cumulative: $9,121,000

Holding on to #12 overall while still being far from wide, the PSA barely fell this weekend as word of mouth continues to sustain this youth-oriented drama.

What this means: Still a lot of room for this to grow should Lionsgate want to expand more with additional advertising.

“The Master” (Weinstein) – Week 6

$535,000 in 412 theaters (-270); PSA: $1,299; Cumulative: $14,753,000

It’s not a good PSA, but at least it increased from last week.

What this means: This won’t benefit from hoped for awards/nomination attention until early December, which is a long time to hold out for.

“Arbitrage” (Roadside Attractions) – Week 6; also available on Video on Demand

$318,000 in 219 theaters (-25); PSA: $1,882; Cumulative: $7,092,000

Though losing theaters, this maintains a steady PSA as this dual-platform success continues to add gross.

What this means: The length of run for this despite its VOD availability is as impressive as the total gross. With relatively few theaters willing to play this, those that do are reaping the benefit.

“Detropia” (LoKi) – Week 7

$26,500 in 24 theaters (+13); PSA: $1,104; Cumulative: $287,600

This intrepid self-released Sundance doc continues to add theaters while most later-week films have disappeared.

What this means: Though this model has been tried before, this is one of the more aggressive and, though the grosses are modest, successful tries.

“Searching for Sugar Man” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 13

$215,000 in 137 (-20); PSA: $1,589; Cumulative: $1,986,000

Any gross 13 weeks into a run is impressive. A gross increasing while the number of theaters declined though is very unusual.

What this means: SPC’s faith in this film in its early weeks has paid off, with this turning into one of the top grossing docs of the year.

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