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Arthouse Audit: ‘Stoker’ Shows Initial Strength in Multi-City Opening

Arthouse Audit: 'Stoker' Shows Initial Strength in Multi-City Opening

After months of films with mostly older-audience appeal playing off during the awards circus, Fox Searchlight’s “Stoker,” a stylish thriller from a noted Asian cult director making his English-language debut, boasted the best limited opening of any 2013 release so far. Although not performing at the initial level of most recent Oscar nominees or other hits like “Quartet,” this marks a pleasant surprise despite less-than-stellar reviews.

Three new documentaries enjoyed adequate or better openings, while “War Witch,” a grim Oscar Foreign Language nominee from Canada, opened to lesser results while also playing nationally on Video on Demand. Three other Oscar-related releases as well as “Quartet” dominated the holdovers for the moment. Of those, two, “No” and “The Gatekeepers,” have most of their business still ahead of them, which is important as new product is crucial now, as new 2013 films will need to sustain the specialized business.


“Stoker” (Fox Searchlight) – Metacritic score: 59; Festivals include: Sundance 2013, Rotterdam 2013

$158,000 in 7 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $22,500

Korean master Park Chan-wook’s first American film earned reviews below his earlier efforts (“Old Boy,” “Lady Vengeance”) but managed a decent start, backed by a strong campaign and booked in top theaters. Fox Searchlight went to five cities rather than the normal platform of two, a risky strategy that usually reduces the PSA. In this case, even with the slightly wider release, it achieved the highest specialized PSA of the year so far.

Starring Nicole Kidman (continuing her risk-taking choices that include recent “The Paperboy” and “Rabbit Hole”), the horror thriller was launched in the Premiere section at Sundance. The first from that group to be released theatrically, it is performing (accounting for different theater counts) a bit below the level of two earlier Searchlight films — “Cedar Rapids” and “Win Win” — that also had a similar Park City presentation on their way to $6.8 and $10.1 million ultimate takes.

After their modest (but disappointing compared to expectations) take from “Hitchcock,” Searchlight is pushing this as the sort of intricate creepy thriller specialized in by the master. Whether younger upscale audiences will take to this remains to be seen beyond this initial positive opening, but Searchlight deserves credit for getting this initial sampling with one of their lesser critically-supported efforts.

What comes next: After modest expansions in its current cities, this will roll out wider by mid-month. Whether this deserves a multi-hundred theater break with the extra marketing expense that requires remains to be seen.

“A Place at the Table” (Magnolia) – Metacritic score: 68; Festivals include: Sundance 2012, Toronto Hot Docs 2012; also available on Video on Demand

$84,000 in 35 theaters; PSA: $2,400

With significant participation from Magnolia’s sister company Landmark Theatres, this hunger-in-America documentary opened across the country both on screen and at home. The result from the former was modest, though not bad with its VOD availability. With this exposure, it received decent or better reviews in most cities, elevating public awareness above what many similar films have most weeks with their parallel release.

In the pre-VOD world Magnolia had a significant success with the similar “Food, Inc.” in 2009, ending up with a gross over $4 million. This has no chance for similar theatrical success due to its home viewing, but this could easily surpass total viewership from the combined platforms.

What comes next: A lot of the theater dates are one-week calendar bookings, but this grossed well enough in a slower period to have both decent holdovers as well as further limited interest in new dates.

Leviathan” (Cinema Guild) – Metacritic score: 86; Festivals include: Toronto 2012, New York 2012

$10,000 in 1 theater; PSA: $10,018

With very strong reviews (near the top for 2013 so far) in New York for its exclusive date at the IFC Center, this Toronto-premiering  documentary (in the experimental Wavelength section) about New England commercial fishing defies the template for recent successes in that format. Basically a straight-forward capturing of the daily routine of the mass capture of marine life (including detailed looks at the experience from the point of view of the hunted) rather than either a personality or issue-centered film, it wouldn’t seem a likely candidate for box office success.

The filmmakers (French, though this is a multi-country production, including participation from Harvard University) are more in the tradition of the veteran pioneering director Frederick Wiseman, whose films usually have limited or no theatrical play. This could limit its appeal, but the good critical reaction initially should enhance the interest elsewhere.

What comes next: This gross and the strong reviews will get this further attention around the country.

“War Witch” (Tribeca) – Metacritic score: 82; Festivals include: Berlin 2012, Tribeca 2012, Toronto 2012; also available on Video on Demand

$10,260 in 2 theaters; PSA: $5,130

The first Oscar Foreign Language nominee to debut theatrically on Video on Demand prior to its theatrical release (hitting home viewing earlier in the week), this opened in two strong New York theaters even with quite good reviews to mediocre results.

This Canadian-backed, African-shot war movie about a young teen girl caught up in civil strife and personal turmoil, it is the fourth of this year’s nominees to open (Weinstein’s “Kon-Tiki” is still ahead), and is performing below what “Amour,” “A Royal Affair” and “No” did initially. Its lack of stars and grim portrayal made it an unlikely mainstream major performer, and playing off the nomination with this heightened availability doubtlessly will gain it far more viewings than it would have otherwise.

Tribeca Films has been a significant provider of VOD titles, along with IFC and Magnolia, although without as many higher-profile titles. How this performs (with VOD information more difficult to attain) could make this a more common tie-in in the future for similar less commercial nominees.

What comes next: This is still expanding nationally, with Los Angeles this Friday and 30 other markets already planned in the next few weeks.

“Hava Nagila (The Movie)” (International Film Circuit) – Metacritic score: 53; Festivals include: San Francisco Jewish 2012, New York Jewish 2013

$9,500 in 1 theater; PSA: $9,500

Playing at the Upper West Side Lincoln Plaza Theater helped overcome the mediocre reviews for this documentary about the famous song and its cultural history for a passable gross. Already having been shown widely at niche festivals over recent months, this extra exposure will benefit the film.

What comes next: This opens in South Florida in multiple theaters next Friday, then in Los Angeles March 15 as well as other expansion in the New York area later this month.

Also opening:

“Welcome to Pine Hill” (Oscilloscope) – $4,000/1 theater

“The End of Love” (Variance) – $2,400/2 theaters


“No” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 3

$110,000 in 11 theaters (+5); PSA: $10,000; Cumulative: $317,000

Good but not great numbers as another of the Foreign Language nominees expands to new cities, though still in limited release. The PSA is about what “Amour” had with more than three times as many theaters, indicating a more modest reaction so far. However, for any subtitled film these days (even with good reviews) outside of the core awards season, this is a decent reaction.

What comes next: SPC rolls out slowly most of the year, and with the expected good word of mouth, this looks likely to accumulate a steady gross that, even if not close to the “Amour” level will still make it one of the top subtitled releases of the year.

“The Gatekeepers” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 5

$255,000 in 46 theaters (+27); PSA: $5,543; Cumulative: $685,000

It didn’t win the Feature Documentary Oscar, but this Israeli film continues to perform at a similar level for the time and scale of its release to the successful “Searching for Sugar Man” and “The Queen of Versailles” from last year. In other words, this looks like it is headed for a total gross in the $2-3 million level, or even more.

The interest in its subject — former security heads speaking openly about their concern’s for Israel’s future — was expected to be strong irrespective of its Oscar fate, and this solid performance as it more than doubled its theater count suggests both awareness and interest among its targeted audience.

What comes next: This might not reach the depth in the marketplace of “Sugar” or “Queen,” but many of the individual theater grosses could actually be superior.

“Quartet” (Weinstein) – Week 8

$1,760,000 in 725 theaters (+369); PSA: $2,428; Cumulative: $11,160,000

Doubling its theater count while maintaining a decent PSA (only down a quarter), Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut continues to reap impressive business from older audiences.

What comes next: Depending on how much more Weinstein wants to add to its not inexpensive marketing so far, this could end up outgrossing similar releases like “The Impossible” even without any awards attention. Maggie Smith might not be Melissa McCarthy, but she joins her as being one of the most reliable actresses at the moment in audience appeal.

“Amour” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 11

$522,000 in 333 theaters (+5); PSA: $1,568; Cumulative: $5,922,000

The mixed-bag Oscar reception (winning its expected Foreign Language trophy, but not breaking through elsewhere) led to a gross that went down 27% with about the same number of theaters. This isn’t surprising — “Amour” has ridden a wave of Oscar anticipation for weeks now, so a big boost wasn’t to be expected for just the single award.

This has had far wider exposure than SPC’s winner last year “A Separation.” That film tripled its theater count right after the awards, grossing $952,000 in 243 theaters for a much superior PSA. But had “Amour” similarly held back, its gross at the moment would have been higher, so this is not an exactly perfect comparison.

What comes next: “A Separation” reached $7.1 million. “Amour,” though it won’t have an upcoming run nearly as long as the Iranian film, should end up somewhat higher in the $7.5-$8 million range most likely. But the advertising expense for this has been much higher. Still, this is a strong performance for a tough film with limited appeal, little of which would have been achieved without its award run.

Other grosses (+ total)

“Bless Me Ultima” (Arenas)/Week 2 – $178,000 in 183 – $1,257,000

“The Impossible” (Liongate)/Week 11 – $153,000 in 151 – $18,316,000

“2013 Oscar Nominated Shorts” (Magnolia) – Week 5 – $70,000 in 55 – $2,058,000

“Like Someone in Love” (IFC) – Week 3 – $14,000 in 10 – $83,000

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