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Arthouse Audit: ‘To the Wonder’ Opens in Theaters and VOD; Expanding ‘Trance’ Weakens

Arthouse Audit: 'To the Wonder' Opens in Theaters and VOD; Expanding 'Trance' Weakens

This weekend, three of four openers also premiered on Video on Demand venues. Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder” is the most significant film yet to take that route. Its theatrical component was not close to the levels of “The Tree of Life” (pushed hard by Fox Searchlight) or other top VOD films; less than stellar reviews many have hurt. The other three new films also posted mediocre openings.

With “The Place Beyond the Pines” already in the Top 10 in its third week of still somewhat limited release, the other expansions were less impressive. Danny Boyle’s “Trance” is surprisingly lackluster. There’s a wide variety of films out there (although there happen to be less docs than have been the case of late).


“To the Wonder” (Magnolia) – Criticwire grade: B-; Metacritic score: 60; Festivals include: Venice 2012, Toronto 2012; also available on Video on Demand

$130,000 in 17 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $7,647

Parallel releases of films, even significant ones, in theaters and via home media are not uncommon (“Melancholia,” “Margin Call,” and “Arbitrage” all grossed over $3 million day and date), but few have boasted the pedigree of Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder.” The acclaimed director’s previous film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2011, widespread critical acclaim and significant Oscar nominations as well as a $13-million domestic gross after a huge opening ($373,000 in four theaters its first weekend).

Magnolia took the movie starring recent Oscar-winner Ben Affleck day and date, which is becoming a more common practice.  The Video on Demand figures are not yet available, but the theater grosses are modest, although still enough to suggest there is still an audience even for a high-profile VOD film.

The comparison to “The Tree of Life” (which did almost three times as much initial gross in fewer than a quarter of the theaters) is unfair — apart from not being VOD, it opened days after its Cannes win, with overwhelming critical support on a holiday weekend. “To the Wonder” received the least enthusiastic reviews of any Malick film, though it had some significant support, including Roger Ebert’s final published review. Overall, it actually nabbed the weakest reviews of the films that reported grosses among this week’s limited openings, not what would be expected for a Malick film.

However, it also fell short of what Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” grossed when it opened in theaters, in its case after already showing on VOD. In 19 theaters, that film did $257,000, noticeably better. The lesson here could be that reviews trump rival availability for core art house audiences. Though divisive to some extent like “To the Wonder,” Von Trier’s film received far better critical response than Malick’s film.

Both films benefit greatly from being seen on a screen, which combined with Malick’s strong fan base looked like a good reason to think that this could repeat “Melancholia”‘s $3 million theatrical total. Both films received strong support from Magnolia’s sister company Landmark Theaters, but support for both will also will be limited, because of VOD.

What comes next: This played in 12 markets its initial week, and will double that next Friday, after already playing at home. Meantime, Malick supposedly has three other films in post-production, so he’ll be back.

“Disconnect” (LD Entertainment) – Criticwire Grade: C; Metacritic score: 65; Festivals include: Toronto 2012

$123,597 in 15 theaters; PSA: $8,240

Like “To the Wonder” this opened in multiple major cities. Unlike that film, it played in more mainstream upscale theaters and with no VOD component. It ended up with a slightly better PSA, although it came with substantially more paid marketing than Malick’s film received (including some local spot TV/cable ads) in hopes that this interconnected multi-storied tale of the risks of on-line life in contemporary society could reach a broader audience. The initial results suggest a modest future for the film.

Produced by LD co-founder Mickey Liddell and indie veteran William Horberg (“The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “The Quiet American” and the upcoming “Therese” among his many credits), this is the first feature from documentary director from Henry Alex-Rubin (“Murderball”), with Jason Bateman, coming off his lead role in the smash “Identity Thief” as a main actor. Those elements suggested some potential, which these grosses suggest might be more limited than hoped.

What comes next: The initial support for this suggests LD had faith in this, so a further expansion is likely with a chance to see if it can build on its initial figures. After their strong support for William Friedkin’s “Killer Joe” last fall, they look poised to back their films, even if they have yet to break through with a big hit.

“The Angels’ Share” (IFC) – Criticwire grade: B-; Metacritic score: 68; Film Festivals include: Cannes 2012, Portland 2013; also available on Video on Demand

$21,000 in 3 theaters; PSA: $7,000

With the VOD release, this more comedic than usual film from veteran British director Ken Loach opened in three major New York/Los Angeles theaters to average results. Loach’s films, primarily social-issue oriented within a working class British milieu, normally don’t make a big impact in the U.S. (although his Cannes winner “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” grossed just under $2 million in pre-VOD 2007), and the good but not great reviews didn’t elevate this to must-see level, at least so far.

What comes next: Home viewing would seem to be its main future, though IFC usually gets films like this into multiple big city markets.

“It’s a Disaster” (Oscilloscope) – Criticwire grade: B+; Metacritic score: 68; New Orleans 2012, Bend 2012; also available on Video on Demand

$17,000 in 3 theaters; PSA: $5,667

Without the ad or prime theater support of this week’s other new releases, and lacking a major festival history, this Los Angeles-set end of the world comedy/drama (a group of friends at their regular brunch find out dirt bombs have gone off with likely dire results) ended up not that much far behind in its PSA, even with VOD availability.

What comes next: The theatrical future will likely be limited.


“Trance” (Fox Searchlight) – Week 2

$925,000 in 438 theaters; PSA: $2,112; Cumulative: $1,100,00

A very quick expansion for Danny Boyle’s tricky London-set thriller resulted in a mediocre PSA for this still modest number of theaters, suggesting this may not have a long shelf life or much further expansion.

What comes next: Unless word of mouth kicks in quickly, this doesn’t look to get a fraction of the gross his last two films got.

“The Company You Keep” (Sony Pictures Classics) -Week 2

$311,000 in 41 theaters (+36); PSA: $7,585; Cumulative: $483,000

A decent if not great expansion of Robert Redford’s latest film, although in context it pales against current hit “The Place Beyond the Pines,” which has a similar PSA despite in being in 11 times as many theaters. Still, this is a reasonable result coming off its OK New York/Los Angeles openings.

What comes next: This is an pretty quick expansion for SPC, and it appears this could be their biggest grossing film since “To Paris With Love” as it widens.

“Upstream Color” (erbp) – Week 2

$74,100 in 11 theaters (+10); PSA: $6,736; Cumulative: $112,900

Though the expansion wasn’t as impressive as its New York opening (which at $28,000 was a bit less than initially projected), and backed with continuing strong reviews with little advertising expense, this self-distributed Sundance competitor still is showing grassroots strength in its new openings.

What comes next: This now has momentum to expand to multiple new cities and reach higher levels than other self-distributed films. This also hits DVD and VOD in early May, which will cut into its totals.

“Renoir” (IDP) – Week 3

$167,000 in 49 theaters (+29); PSA: $3,408; Cumulative: $408,000

In the tricky world of subtitled films these days, “Renoir,” with its French roots and cultural background is showing ongoing strength in prime specialized theaters. Even though it is early in its release, it already is the third-highest grossing art house subtitled film of 2013 (after “No” and “The Gatekeepers.”)

What comes next: This should get many further dates, with $2 million not being out of the question.

“The Sapphires” (Weinstein) – Week 4

$245,000 in 93 theaters (+33); PSA: $2,634; Cumulative: $780,000

With a further expansion, and significant ongoing support from Weinstein, the PSA fell nearly in half this week, which suggests this is not getting the level of word of mouth that their breakout films have at this stage of its release. These grosses are average at this point.

What comes next: This being Weinstein, expect more expansion, and a better ultimate showing than its first week’s grosses suggested. Still, this doesn’t look like it will get past $3 million if even that much.

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