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Arthouse Audit: ‘Mud’ Scores Sole Strong Indie Opener Amid Specialized Market Struggles

Arthouse Audit: 'Mud' Scores Sole Strong Indie Opener Amid Specialized Market Struggles

Mud” nearly made the weekend box office top 10 in only 363 theaters, towering over all the other new openings this week, none of which had a PSA of even $12,000 with limited New York/Los Angeles two to four theater openings. For the third time in several weeks, and in this case already in the first one, much of the money came from a wide variety of upscale theaters. Like “Spring Breakers” and “The Place Beyond the Pines,” the success came with many core specialized theaters not in the mix, and those that are competing with multiple runs for their audience.

This comes at a time when the more limited openings can’t seem to find the same level of appeal even in their more limited starts. Two highly anticipated films — Weinstein’s “Kon-Tiki” and to an even greater degree Sony Pictures Classics’ “At Any Price” — both with hoped for crossover, general audience appeal — didn’t set the world on fire or suggested any breakout potential even with significant marketing support. IFC’s more modestly supported “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” more than held its own in this group.


“Mud” (Roadside Attractions) – Criticwire grade: B+; Metacritic score: 77; Festivals include: Cannes 2012, Sundance 2013, South by Southwest 2013

$2,186,000 in 363 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $6,022

Jeff Nichols’ previous acclaimed film “Take Shelter” took the conventional art house route (via Sony Pictures Classics) in late 2011 and ended up with $1,730,000. This followup film is more star-driven (Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon) and earned reviews almost as strong as the earlier film, but went much wider initially –and topped that gross by nearly a half million.

Acquired by Roadside Attractions in partnership with Lionsgate last August sometime after its premiere in competition at Cannes, then shown at Sundance last January, with Roadside doing the hands-on distribution duties, this Southern-set tale of two boys encountering a fugitive showcases yet another strong performance from the suddenly hot McConaughey (his potential Oscar-contender “The Dallas Buyers Club” was acquired by Focus last week; he also stars in Scorsese’s upcoming “The Wolf of Wall Street”). But his presence alone didn’t make either “The Paperboy” or “Killer Joe” get this level of interest, so the appeal seems to be combined with all of the film’s elements.

The PSA is solid, but it’s too early to predict its ultimate success. Going a bit more slowly, “The Place Beyond the Pines” in its third weekend expanded to more theaters (514) for a higher PSA ($7,521), although that came with a higher marketing expense. What is encouraging for “Mud” is that it climbed 53% Saturday from Friday, indicating early strong word of mouth. Roadside also reports some strong interest in non-typical venues, particularly in areas like Arkansas around where the film is set.

What comes next: Roadside will expand this further to over 500 theaters next week. With so much of the attention going to “Iron Man 3” starting Friday, this still could find room as an alternative and thrive in the weeks ahead.

“The Reluctant Fundamentalist” (IFC) – Criticwire grade: B-; Metacritic score: 49; Fesitvals include: Venice 2012, Toronto 2012

$32,700 in 3 theaters; PSA: $10,900

Director Mira Nair has been one of the most consistently performing specialized directors in recent years, with four films since 2002 (including “Monsoon Wedding” and “Amelia”) grossing $13-16 million, including two that ultimately played in over 1,000 theaters at their widest.

Like most of her films, this has as its theme a central character fighting societal barriers — in this case, a young Pakistani working on Wall Street while facing pressures from the different cultures he lives in. Unlike some of Nair’s earlier successes, this wasn’t supported with consistently positive reviews, and as a result, the PSA is far below what “The Namesake” ($41,000) and “Monsoon Wedding” ($34,000) attained on their initial release.

That said, considering its reception as the opening film at Venice last year and the subsequent mixed critical reaction, this is an adequate opening for the film, suggesting its all-too timely themes and familiarity with the original novel, as well as Nair’s reputation and costarring appearances by Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland and Liev Schreiber, have given this enough gravitas to get some sampling. Among the limited openers this week, it is the one that came closest to reaching or exceeding expectations.

What comes next: IFC is expanding this to 25 top markets over the next two weeks.

“Kon-Tiki” (Weinstein) – Criticwire grade: B; Metacritic score: 63; Festivals include: Toronto 2012, Hamptons 2012, AFI 2012, Palm Springs 2012

$22,300 in 2 theaters; PSA: $11,150

This Norwegian film was one of the Oscar Foreign Language nominees, but is avoiding the struggle facing most subtitled films by being released in an English-langauge version (filmed at the same time and same cast as the original). With the hopes of hitting a crossover audience, this true-life story of Thor Heyerdahl’s anthropological cross-Pacific raft adventure (previously a best-selling perennial book and an Oscar winning feature documentary in the early 1950s) was backed by a significant campaign for its limited two-theater New York/Los Angelese release.

The result is a PSA a bit higher than Weinstein got for “The Sapphires” (although in only two rather than four theaters), which is at best an average number without even trying to calculate marketing costs.

During the Oscar campaign, there was speculation that in a year when not facing an juggernaut like “Amour,” “Kon-Tiki” would have been the kind of film that might sneak in and win the idiosyncratic FL Oscar category with its old-fashioned, older-audience appeal. It’s possible that these numbers don’t necessarily reflect the depth of interest in this film as it goes forward with likely further Weinstein support.  But these figures are way below the level that would suggest an easy road ahead.

What comes next: Fairly rapid specialized theater expansion starts next Friday.

“At Any Price” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Criticwire grade: B-; Metacritic score: 65; Festivals include: Venice 2012, Telluride 2012, Toronto 2012, South by Southwest 2013, Tribeca 2013

$16,600 in 4 theaters; PSA: $4,150

Ramin Bahrani has been a true American independent success story, coming out of North Carolina with Iranian ethnic roots and making several thoughtful films about ordinary people struggling to get ahead, with his third film “Goodbye Solo” having modest success (along with strong reviews) in 2009. “At Any Price,” his first film with a sizable budget and a name cast (led by Dennis Quaid and Zac Ephron) was positioned to be his breakout film, with initial festival presentation late last summer as good as an new film received.

Its theatrical opening eight months later, backed with considerable marketing for its initial limited dates (four great New York and Los Angeles theaters) and adequate reviews (less visible with a Wednesday rather than Friday opening) turns out to be one of the biggest disasters seen at this level recently. Even if the full five-day gross of $23,000 for the four theaters would be at best an OK number if it came from a single theater over three days.

The root of the problem could be the disinterest in upscale, sophisticated audiences in a story about an Iowa farm family faced with a fight to survive against major corporate interests. Though Bahrani told this dramatic tale with considerable insight and care, SPC seems to be struggling to get specialized audiences interested. Focus over the holidays had somewhat better success, but still far below expectations, with more marketing spending with Gus Van Sant’s small town-set fracking story “The Promised Land” (which had bigger star power).

What comes next: This has been scheduled for a quicker than usual expansion, by SPC’s normal standards, beginning next week in several other markets. But although there might be more interest, this is likely to confront the same resistance.

Also opening:

“Midnight’s Children” (Paladin/108) – $12,200 in 2 theaters; PSA: $6,100

Deepa Mehta’s film of Salman Rushdie’s novel about the turmoil at the time of India’s independence was also launched at Telluride and Toronto, and opened in two Manhattan theaters to mixed reviews and modest grosses.

“Arthur Newman” (Cinedigm) – $108,000 in 248 theaters; PSA: $435

This romantic comedy also premiered at Toronto. This is not remotely representative of what might have been expected of a film starring Colin Firth after his recent elevated presence, even more so with a costar like Emily Blunt.

“An Oversimplification of Her Beauty” (Variance) – $11,100 in 2 theaters; PSA: $5,550

This very low budget, inventive Brooklyn-based romantic obsession story went on from its Sundance 2012 premiere to win Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You from last fall’s Gotham Awards. This New York limited release should at least get further attention for its talented director Terence Nance.

“Graceland” (Drafthouse) – $11,100 in 14 theaters; PSA: $793

Austin-based Drafthouse’s ongoing taste for offbeat, edgy films continues with this Filipino drama about a father forced into criminal activities to support his family. Also available on VOD, its theatrical life seems limited.

Also playing

Two indie films that went somewhat wide last week to a degree of success both suffered big drops in their second weekends. Lionsgate’s Latino-marketed “Filly Brown” (focusing mainly on theaters situated near its target audience) dropped 62% to gross $565,000 in 259 theaters (71 more than last week), for a total so far of $2.3 million.Goldwyn’s faith-based audience release of “Home Run” fell even more, 71%, $452,000 in 371, also at about $2.3 million. Both films look close to having maximized their theatrical life, though with enhanced further interest because of having gotten this attention.

“In the House” (Cohen Media) also in its second week, though more limited, held fairly steady in four theaters (+1), grossing $32,000 with a PSA down to about $8,000, average at best based on director Francis Ozon’s previous films. “Deceptive Practices: The Mentors and Mystery of Ricky Jay” (Kino Lorber) continued did another $10,000 its second weekend in New York’s Film Forum, holding up quite well.

Among third-week films, Magnolia withheld weekend numbers for Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder,” also on Video on Demand and ITunes. Through Thursday, with 49 theaters its second week, it has only grossed $310,000 total, far below what “The Tree of Life” had taken in at the same point and lagging much behind other home-available high-profile releases.

Three other films that started limited had significant expansions. SPC’s “The Company You Keep” went to an unusually high (for them) 807 theaters from last week’s 84, good enough for 14th place overall with $1,246,000. The PSA though was weak – $1,544 – with the total gross so far of $2,344,000 likely already more than half of its ultimate take, which will be on the low side for the amount of theaters and level of support this has received. LD’s “Disconnect” jumped to 111 theaters from 44, with a $262,000 (PSA $2,360, $770,000 total) suggesting that much more expansion is unlikely. Goldwyn’s French-language “Renoir” added a handful of theaters to gross $130,000 in 63, up to $860,000 total.

Shane Carruth’s self-distributed “Upstream Color” on its last weekend before its VOD release added another $52,000 to total $296,000 with a mostly social-media lowcost marketing campaign, while GKids Japanese animated film “From Up on Poppy Hill did another $51,000 to near the $800,000 mark so far.

Among longer running films, Weinstein’s “The Sapphires,” though still adding theaters, dropped 29% in gross in 126 theaters as it passed the $1.4 million mark, with the distributor continuing to spend on this film. Danny Boyle’s thriller “Trance” (Fox Searchlight) has only reached $2.1 million as it already is losing theaters after getting to over 400 theaters, which is a very disappointing result. SPC’s “No” with a much more limited release (more core arthouse oriented) also has passed the $2.1 million mark, putting it at the high end of subtitled releases for the year so far.

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