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Arthouse Audit: ‘Bling Ring’ Continues Strong Specialized Openings; ‘Before Midnight’ Disappoints in Expansion

Arthouse Audit: 'Bling Ring' Continues Strong Specialized Openings; 'Before Midnight' Disappoints in Expansion

Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” is the latest in a series of solid performers among limited specialized openings, joining “Frances Ha,” “Before Midnight” and “Much Ado About Nothing” as above-average grossers. None of these have reached the initial levels that both “Spring Breakers” and “The Place Above the Pines” did, and “Before Midnight” in its early expansion is unlikely to beat those films, or what “Mud” achieved on a wider scale. 

Last year’s successes at this time of the year — “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” — wound up grossing more than twice the total of any recent release. Although some of these initial grosses show promise, they have little breakout potential. Whatever the reasons — too much competition from studio films, too many specialized films in the market at one time, films going out too quickly, or less playability — the soft specialized market is causing serious concerns among both exhibitors and distributors in terms of overall outlook, despite some individual achievement among the grosses.


“The Bling Ring” (A24) – Criticwire grade: B+; Metacritic score: 69; Festivals include: Cannes 2013, Seattle 2013

$210,000 in 5 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $42,000

Although its Cannes reaction didn’t reach the level of acclaim that was anticipated, and the reviews overall were decent but not standout, Sofia Coppola’s latest film placed itself as another above-average specialized opener, placing it about on par with “Before Midnight” two weeks ago and ahead of “Much Ado About Nothing” last week (with one theater more than either film). It’s the most limited opening number of theaters for one of her films, which have usually shown some commercial strength (“Lost in Translation” at $44 million is still her high water mark, as well as best opener, with “Bling” second best). It’s a big improvement on “Somewhere” in 2010, which Focus released at Christmas to $119,000 in seven theaters.

New distributor A24 already has broken through with Harmony Kormine’s “Spring Breakers,” which had an $87,000 PSA in three theaters in its debut before quickly widening to a surprising $14 million total. They look to be focusing on a younger smart audience. This recreation of the true story of a gang of suburban teen thieves who broke into Hollywood Hills celebrity residences has a cast led by Emma Watson (who also appears in new wide opener “This Is the End”) is not aimed at the more conventional older crowd. Whether it breaks through with the equally fickle youth audience is yet to be determined, but A24 is committed to quickly find out.

What comes next: This will jump to 500 theaters, skipping (as they did with “Spring Breakers”) the intermediate platforming in major markets before going wider. Going in the heart of the summer is a bit riskier than their efforts with “Spring,” but this film has elements — story, cast, setting — that could resonate as an alternative attraction in upcoming weeks. And A24 has already proven its marketing chops.

“20 Feet from Stardom” (Weinstein/Radius) – Criticwire grade: A-; Metacritic score: 82; Festivals include: Sundance 2013, San Francisco 2013, Seattle 2013

$52,211 in 3 theaters; PSA: $17,404

Continuing the recent trend of top-grossing documentaries coming from performance-based subjects, “20 Feet from Stardom” had one of the best doc openings of 2013, opening in New York and Los Angeles. Focusing on back-up singers, usually out of the spotlight, but vital for any top act’s success, this was acquired by Weinstein’s Radius division at Sundance, where it played in competition. Its opening weekend PSA is significantly ahead of the ultimately successful Oscar-winner “Searching for Sugar Man” last year.

Directed by Morgan Neville, whose two-decade directing and producing career has consisted mostly of TV and cable films focusing on the music (“Troubadours,” “Respect Yourself”), the film features both stars and unknowns, with many performance as it takes the mostly female and minority backups out of the shadows and into the spotlight. (Judith Hill, eliminated surprisingly in the current round of NBC’s “The Voice,” who worked with Michael Jackson, is featured here). Neville and Hill were among those who made appearances at select shows.

Since its inception as a separate division at Weinstein, Radius has aimed at day-and-date Video on Demand releases, with limited theatrical releases. Significantly, this is going the traditional theatrical-first route, with no VOD planned during the playoff. Though Weinstein has had some significant successes in the last year in the specialized world (“Intouchables” and “Quartet” leading the way), other more recent films like “The Sapphires” and “Kon-Tiki” have had more limited returns. Radius crossing over to theatrical is at this point a discrete effort – none other have been announced, and high profile Cannes competitor “Only God Forgives” with the director and star of “Drive” is still set as a VOD release initially. But if they find further success with “20 Feet,” checking to see if they have a more mixed schedule in the future will be something to pay attention to.

What comes next: The next wave of big city opening comes on June 28.

Also opening:

Cinedigm’s “Call Me Kuchu,” documenting the potential life and death struggle of gays in Uganda, did $3,200 in one New York theater. “Pandora’s Promise” (Abramorama), a Sundance 2013 doc mostly positive about nuclear energy, took in $20,421 in 16 theaters. “More Than Honey” (Kino Lorber) took in $7,700 in five days at New York’s Film Forum. “So Young” (China Lion), a massive smash at home, did only $5,000 in 3 theaters.

Festival acclaimed films “In the Fog” (Strand), “Aliyah” (Film Movement) and “Berberian Sound Studio” (IFC, also on Video on Demand) have not yet had grosses reported.

Ongoing/ expanding

The major event of the weekend was the significant national break of Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight” (Sony Pictures Classics) in its third week. Playing at 897 theaters, the best-reviewed film of 2013 reported a gross of only $1,526,000, for a per screen average of $1,701.

Playing in a release pattern similar (91 more theaters) to Woody Allen’s “To Rome With Love” exactly a year ago, it grossed less than half as much (Allen’s film ended up just under $17 million). The PSA is half of what “The Place Beyond the Pines” achieved on 600 more screenings (with PSAs harder to maintain with more theaters), and likewise about half of “Mud” in its third weekend at 852 theaters. Both those films headed toward $20 million+ grosses because their initial grosses when opened wide — in both cases with somewhat less competition for screens — were able to sustain lengthy runs that amassed their ultimate grosses, which now seems unlikely for “Midnight.” 

Whatever the reasons for SPC to move so quickly, the film is unlikely to sustain a long run (the most recent entry in the series, “Before Sunset,” played steadily for three months on its way to a nearly $6 million gross). “Before Midnight,” with a more concentrated national advertising campaign, has likely seen its high water mark unless the modest sampling of the film leads to great word of mouth to allow it to plateau at this unimpressive level.

This is significant because the trend from most of the studio-related distributors (initially an innovation from Weinstein’s Miramax days) is to get any limited film with potential out wide as quickly as possible. It increases gross totals, awareness (which can help in DVD and cable sales as well as foreign interest, and positions films better for awards). But it can come at a cost — limiting a film’s potential at core specialized theaters, and more importantly not allowing a film of the terrific quality of “Before Midnight” to find its own level and thrive where it will have the greatest response. 

It’s possible that “Midnight” might still hold well enough to look better ultimately, or else its older-audience serious appeal (while it appears to look younger-oriented) just plays better with critics than audiences. But in a season with several standout releases (led by “Pines” and “Mud” and more modestly by the much more narrowly-releases “Frances Ha”) these numbers are a reminder of how tricky it is to succeed even with all elements seemingly in place for a successful run.

Roadside Attractions’ “Much Ado About Nothing” added 18 theaters in existing markets for a total of 23, grossing $163,000, which actually was down a bit in total for the limited first weekend in only five theaters. Next week’s big city limited expansion will give a better indication of its potential.

Among third-week expansions, Fox Searchlight’s “The East” continues to show modest strength, grossing $285,000 in 115 theaters (+74), for a PSA just under $2,500 and a total of $706,000. The new openings are at a relative level a bit above the film’s performance to this point, suggesting it is reaching the intended younger audience better now. It is performing better than CBS Films’ “The Kings of Summer” whose third weekend did $142,000 in fewer (63) theaters (+19), with a lower PSA of $2,254 and total of $534,000.

Two other recent releases continued to do well on their relative scales. IFC’s “Frances Ha” — another film that has an accelerated wider release — added another $321,000 in 213 screens (-20) for a PSA of $1,507 and total of $2.9 million. SPC’s Israeli “Fill the Void” continues its very slow rollout, doing $87,000 in 5 theaters (PSA $4,844, total, with a long way to go, of $390,000).

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