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Arthouse Audit: Record Surprise ‘Spring Breakers’ Puts New Distrib A24 On Map

Arthouse Audit: Record Surprise 'Spring Breakers' Puts New Distrib A24 On Map

A24’s “Spring Breakers” opened to the most unexpected limited success of any film in recent history with a two-city $90,000 per screen average: this for a filmmaker (Harmony Korine) whose past films have struggled to gross that much during their entire runs.

After weeks of sparse new openings to fill the post-Oscar void, this weekend showed real strength. Curiously, none of the three new good-to-great openers come from the usual companies that dominate the year-round line-up, and each was not seen as an automatic success (which is why they weren’t picked up a bigger company).

A24 had a second opening this week (a very unusual move) with “Ginger and Rosa,” very ambitious for a new company. Formed just before Toronto last year by three veterans of the specialized industry, including David Fenkel, who co-founded Oscilloscope Laboratories in 2008 (which also opened a new film this week), the company has already made a mark with two high-end acquisitions (Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” and the Sundance hit “The Spectacular Now”) but their success this weekend marks a powerful opening salvo that establishes them as a potential major player in the specialized world.


“Spring Breakers” (A24) – Metacritic score:  64; Festivals include: Venice 2012, Toronto 2012, South by Southwest 2013

$270,000 in 3 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $90,000

Opening to one of the biggest PSAs of recent times – ahead of such huge openers as “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” this ranks as one of the most unexpected successes (at least so far) of any specialized release in a long time.

Directed by Harmony Korine, whose theatrical performances from films “Gummo,” “Julien Donkey-Boy” and “Mr. Lonely” were far below their initial festival impact (none grossed more than $200,000, though they all have done well on DVD), this movie premiered to mixed response at first Venice and then Toronto last year (the often critical trade reviews were both negative), then was acquired by newcomer A24 mid-fall. Unlike Korine’s earlier films, this, though hardly typical commercial fare, seemed aimed at a more mainstream audience, with James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez starring in a story of the trouble college girls get into trying to finance their spring vacation.

Korine has built up a reputation as an original, off-kilter filmmaker, which gave the flick and its cast a maverick edge from the start. But A24 pushed a social-media, youth-oriented campaign, chose South by Southwest as its American premiere close to opening rather than Sundance (the showing got significant media attention) along with old media press coverage, including some strong reviews, particularly in New York, to build up this strong gross.

Korine appeared at multiple shows at the film’s Los Angeles venue, boosting its performance at the Arclight, but the film clearly had a life of its own that would have made it look strong at half the gross. It has been difficult for specialized companies to break through to a younger audience, which is more attuned to mass-media marketing than specialized low-budget, review-oriented campaigns. A24 seems, at least with this films, seems to have shown what moving beyond conventional means and, with a youth-oriented story, at least initially there can be a major response.

What comes next: These grosses are going to mean that A24 will have to fight off exhibitors as they expand the film, with major circuits as well as specialized theaters wanting a piece of the action. Their game plan is to expand to multi-hundred theaters nationally this Friday.  “The Master,” with an opening PSA 50% larger last September (in two more theaters, making that even more impressive) expanded immediately but never really found its legs with a wider audience, so a great gross like this doesn’t guarantee wide release success. But it does mean its media coverage – both conventional and more importantly social – will increase greatly, meaning this should end up as one of the top grossing initially specialized releases of the year.

“Up on Poppy Hill” (GKids) – Metacritic score: 71; Festivals include: Toronto 2011; Rome 2011

$55,028 in 2 theaters; PSA:  $27,514

Another more recent company with an opening any of them would be pleased with, GKids, which specializes in (mostly) foreign animated films scored very well with this Japanese film directed by the son of Oscar winning Hayao Miyazaki (from his story) in two theaters in New York (the IFC Center and Film Society of Lincoln Center). Miyazaki senior’s final three films were released by Disney on a wider initial basis, so an exact comparison to them is trickier (“Spirited Away” opened in 2003 in 26 with a PSA of $17,000). But this opening is far ahead of GKids’ earlier releases, including Oscar nominees “Chico and Rita” and “A Cat in Paris.”)

What comes next: Los Angeles opens this Friday, but these grosses for a film connected to the Miyazaki studio will likely attract wider attention even with Dreamworks’ “Crood” initially serving as the go-to family film starting next weekend.

“Ginger and Rosa” (A24) – Metacritic score:  69; Festivals include:  Telluride 2012, Toronto 2012, New York 2012

$45,000 in 3 theaters; PSA: $15,000

A24’s second film opening this weekend actually Oscar-qualified off the radar (including no local reviews) late last year in the long-shot hope of qualifying Elle Fanning for best actress (thus ineligible this year). The film had a decent performance for this more conventional art-house, review-driven film.

Opening in the key New York/Los Angeles theaters (a more typical run than either “Spring Breakers” and “Up from Poppy Hill,”), it fell short of recent openings “Stoker” and “No” – both with easier marketing appeals than this story, about two 1960s London teen girls dealing with both personal and external crises. Director Sally Potter has had success in the past – her “Orlando” and “The Tango Lesson” both opened better at much lower ticket prices in the 1990s – but A24 is expecting to expand this fairly broadly in hopes of moving beyond a standard arthouse release.

What comes next: A24’s success with “Spring Breakers” will make a wider range of exhibitors interested in this, even if its young female road trip story is much different in its appeal. This opens in Los Angeles next Friday, and they plan on getting into a much wider release by next month.

“Reality” (Oscilloscope) – Metacritic score 73; Festivals include: Cannes 2012, Karoly Vary 2012

$8,000 in 1 theater; PSA: $8,000

Opening to good reviews in New York’s Angelika Theater, this had a mixed opening despite its pedigree. Director Matteo Gallone’s earlier film “Gomorrah” grossed $1.5 million for IFC in 2008, and “Reality” was the Grand Prize winner at last year’s Cannes (the runner-up jury prize). This story about a Naples fish seller who thinks he’s been picked to be on Italy’s “Big Brother” show should have universal appeal, with the benefit of coming from a country that has been a mainstay for the subtitled market. However, in recent years Italian-language films have fallen way off in U.S. appeal (“I Am Love,” shot in North America in several languages grossed $5 million, but “Gomorrah” remains the best-grossing over the last several years among the rest).

What comes next: Los Angeles comes next week, and Oscilloscope in the past has taken well-reviewed if more limited films out to some success across the country.

“Upside Down” (Millennium) – Metacritic score: 41

$28,300 in 11 theaters; PSA: $2,573

This sci-fi action/romance starring Kirsten Dunst and Jim Sturgess has already played most of the rest of the world (to a total of $8 milliion), but showed little strength in its multi-city U.S. limited opening.

What comes next: This doesn’t look like it will have much further appeal.


“Emperor” (Roadside Attractions) – Week 2

$632,000 in 311 theaters (+51); PSA: $2,032; Cumulative: $2,035,000

Adding some theaters this week, this post-World War II Japan-set drama crossed the $2-million mark this weekend while the overall gross fell by more than a third. It seems still to be attracting some older audiences in some areas, but doesn’t look like it has the strength to repeat other recent films appealing to a similar demographic.

What comes next: Enough word of mouth to keep this in play for longer, but this doesn’t appear to have the ability to break out to the degree that previous Roadside Attractions’ releases have.

“Somebody Up There Likes Me” (Tribeca) – Week 2; also available on Video on Demand

$12,200 in 1 theater (unchanged); PSA: $12,000; Cumulative: $47,000

Los Angeles opened this week, repeating the in-person appearances that boosted its Chicago showing. For the non-mainstream theater (Cinefamily) at which this is showing, this is a strong gross, more so with it also being available on VOD.

What comes next: Though most of the future business will be in home viewing, San Francisco opens next week and New York the next.

“Beyond the Hills” (IFC) – Week 2; also available on Video on Demand

$25,200 in 17 theaters (+14); PSA: $1,482; Cumulative: $48,200

IFC added VOD this weekend as well as multiple new markets, for a weak result on the theatrical side. The strong reviews for this Romanian film festival favorite don’t seem to be helping much.

What comes next: This doesn’t seem to have much theatrical life ahead

“Stoker” (Fox Searchlight) – Week 3

$266,000 in 94 theaters (+77); PSA: $2,830; Cumulative: $647,000

Unspectacular expansion for Park Chan-wook’s mystery with Nicole Kidman, with a PSA much below what Searchlight’s underperforming “Hitchcock” came in at with double the theaters.

What comes next: This expands to 250 theaters – likely its widest release – next Friday.

“No” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 5

$191,000 in 48 theaters (+13); PSA: $3,979; Cumulative: $736,000

The PSA only fell slightly despite a sizable theater count increase, indicating continuing success for this Chilean Spanish-language film with Gael Garcia Bernal.

What comes next: This is following the usual (and normally productive) slow rollout of a SPC film, allowing word of mouth to take the place of the higher ad costs that some other distributors provide, with it appearing that this still has substantial gross potential ahead.

“The Gatekeepers” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 7

$293,000 in 86 theaters (+19); PSA: $2,780; Cumulative: $1,345,000

Continuing its solid run, this Israeli documentary keeps finding a steady audience as it reaches new markets and theaters.

What comes next: This continues to have a real shot at an excellent (for a documentary) $3 million eventual total.

Other grosses

“Quartet” (Weinstein – Week 10) – $913,000/$14,810,000

“Amour” (Sony Pictures Classics – Week 13) – $102,000/$6,496,000

“Like Someone in Love” (IFC – Week 5) – $34,300/$151,000

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