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Arthouse Audit: ‘Spectacular Now’ and ‘Blue Jasmine’ Break Out, Summer Specialty Hot Spot

Arthouse Audit: 'Spectacular Now' and 'Blue Jasmine' Break Out, Summer Specialty Hot Spot

For the fourth week out of the last five, a new limited release showed major strength. Unusual for mid-to-late summer, A24’s “The Spectacular Now” attained post-Labor Day-level opening grosses. Also showing rare summer strength are Fox Searchlight’s “The Way, Way Back,” Weinstein Co.’s “Fruitvale Station” and Sony Pictures Classics’ “Blue Jasmine.” These commercial breakouts could lead to later awards consideration–and a new specialty paradigm. The summer breakout success of Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” and Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild” has inspired this sea change.

As solid as “Spectacular” is, the standout performance is the second week of the year’s best limited opener, Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” which delivered grosses in 48 theaters not far below what “Spectacular” did in only four. It now looks like it will be among the veteran director’s biggest successes.

Three of these four films screened at Sundance 2013, along with other successes “Blackfish,” “20 Feet from Stardom,” “Before Midnight,” and “Mud” (which premiered at Cannes) and now is 2013’s biggest specialized grosser to date. All have grossed over $7.5 million — which only three from Sundance 2012 achieved in their entire runs. And of those, only one opened before Labor Day. The success of ultimate Oscar contender “Beasts of the Southern Wild” encouraged distributors to push out films earlier than in the past. The norm used to be reintroducing them at Toronto and other fall festivals–and then hitting the clogged fall film corridor. 

With several other 2013 Sundance entries opening this month (“Austenland,” “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” “In a World,” “Lovelace,” “Cutie and the Boxer”), and “Don Jon” in September (among others) Sundance is enjoying its most lucrative post-festival presence ever. And distribution patterns have permanently changed. Summer releases are the new normal.


“The Spectacular Now” (A24) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 81; Festivals include: Sundance 2013, South by Southwest 2013, Seattle 2013, Los Angeles 2013

$200,000 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $50,000

Ranking just behind “Fruitvale Station” as the best opening yet for any Sundance 2013 premiere, and a huge improvement over director James Ponsoldt’s “Smashed,” another Park City-premiered film (only $26,000 total for its four theaters last October), this teen drama, adapted from a novel by the writers of “(500) Days of Summer,” garnered reviews even better than “Blue Jasmine” (and slightly below “Fruitvale’) to garner a strong initial gross in four prime New York/Los Angeles locations.

The marketplace has seen a lot of films from mostly Sundance (and elsewhere) that dealt with young relationships that, like “Now,” featured up and coming young actors (Miles Teller and “The Descendants”‘ Shailene Woodley here) which then burned out quickly if they had much opening impact at all. Up and coming distributor A24 has aggressively pursued similar films as an alternative to the tried-and-true older audience specialized crowd (the latter increasingly riskier), with uneven results. 

Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers,” with its smart tie-in with Vice Media, had a even bigger opening and quickly took in $14 million on a fast-track wider release. Sofia Coppola’s highly anticipated “The Bling Ring” had less success, and though it got to 650 theaters at its widest, the film fell short of $6 million (its opening weekend had a 5-theater PSA of $42,000). This new release could surpass both.

With its setting more attuned to middle American teenage angst than those two films, and with the four theaters that played the film in the heart of upscale, more sophisticated audiences, these initial numbers suggest the beginning of a potentially strong crossover film, perhaps A24’s biggest yet. It likely catapults its director and two leads (with “Divergent” ramping up, Woodley shows signs of becoming Jennifer Lawrence’s successor as an ingenue lead) to greater attention.

A24 has been aggressive with its release patterns so far. In the case of “The Spectacular Now,” their initial plan is for a slower, more conventional widening, with big city limited initial dates over the next few weeks. With late summer and early September usually lacking top studio releases, when the film broadens it could score more than $20 million.

What comes next: This opens only in four new cities next week (as of now at least), followed by the top 20, but A24 is going to feel pressure to expand more quickly. This could be a case where a slower rollout could pay bigger dividends.

“The Canyons” (IFC) – Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 35; Festivals include Venice 2013 (upcoming); also available on Video on Demand

$15,200 in 1 theater; PSA: $15,200

Landing a respectable gross at New York’s IFC Center, particularly considering the reviews and its home-viewing availability, this low-budget love story set among Lindsay Lohan’s Los Angeles environs co-stars porn star James Deen. With a high creative pedigree, director Paul Schrader (writer of “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull” as well as his own “American Gigolo” and “Affliction”) and zeitgeist-chasing author Bret Easton Ellis collaborated on this cinema-verite style digital film made for $250,000.  Overcoming production drama and snarky press, the movie wound up highly-covered. Today’s Los Angeles Times has the film as its main story in its Arts section, not bad for a VOD release; it’s primed to build up more interest.

What comes next: Ten new cities open next Friday, and IFC says it will have a wider than usual release for a VOD-parallel film in upcoming weeks. This gross will help their cause.

“The Artist and the Model” (Cohen Media) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 55; Festivals include: San Sebastian 2012, Miami 2013, San Francisco 2013, Seattle 2013

$16,900 in 2 theaters; PSA: $8,450

Spanish director Fernando Trueba has been a past force in foreign language films in the U.S. with his Sony Pictures Classics’ Oscar-winning “Belle Epoque” his standout entry. This multi-lingual Spanish/French production is set over the border from Spain as a Civil War refugee young woman becomes the model and muse for a sculptor. It stars two veteran actors of note — Jean Rochefort and Claudia Cardinale — to add to its pedigree for older audiences with memories for past subtitled successes. This opened in two prime New York/Los Angeles theaters (the Lincoln Plaza and Landmark respectively), and despite mediocre reviews (the New York Times was particularly dismissive) yielded average response for its openings.

Cohen Media has quickly established itself as the leading (in terms of number of openings) distributor of European subtitled films at a time when this market is struggling. Sony Pictures Classics still dominates in terms of bigger attention entries and IFC and others regularly have significant releases. That a company like Cohen is nurturing the market, picking up possibly viable films that otherwise might struggle to get released, is an important development. They have yet to breakthrough over the $2 million mark that foreign language films struggle to reach (though their current “The Attack” is having a respectable run). Their taste and marketing skill suggest it is only a matter of time before they enjoy greater success.

What comes next: Big city openings will follow over the upcoming weeks.

“Europa Report” (Magnolia) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 65; Festivals include: Los Angeles 2013; also available on Video on Demand

$23,000 in 3 theaters; PSA: $7,667

Taking the more matter-of-fact style of space-travel movies going back to parts of “2001” and more recently “Moon,” Ecuadorian director Sebastian Cordero (whose earlier films received festival attention) makes his American debut with this story of a trip to one of Jupiter’s moons. With VOD available at the same time (it premiered there weeks earlier, as is often the case with Magnolia’s films) this had a three city release (Washington joining New York and Los Angeles) with a day-and-date respectable initial gross. This is the kind of genre film that with decent review attention (which this got) can have its home interest increased, so Magnolia should be happy with these results, even if most of its money will be made away from theaters.

What comes next: This will be in the top 10 markets by this Friday.

“Our Children” (Distrib Films) – Metacritic: 74; Festivals include: Cannes 2012, New York 2012, Seattle 2013

$5,500 in 1 theater; PSA; $5,500

The U.S. release for this Belgian film (its country’s submission for last year’s Oscars) is being handled out of France without an American company owning the rights, a necessary alternative with so many quality films not getting exposure. This opened at New York’s Munroe Film Center for a mediocre $5,500 gross, at least garnering it some review attention.

What comes next: Los Angeles opens this Friday ahead of other markets.


“The Blue Jasmine” (Sony Pictures Classics) wasn’t a one-week sensation. If anything, its second weekend at 48 theaters (+44) is even more impressive. Grossing $2,022,000 in expanded dates in its initial two cities while opening in other top markets, it had a PSA better than any second weekend expansion of any 2013 release at this level of theaters, and the best since the comparable numbers for “Zero Dark Thirty” when its holiday and awards-enhanced third weekend did $44,000 on 60 theaters post-New Year’s. Even more impressively, these numbers are better than Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” on its second weekend ($33,000 PSA in 58 theaters) — and that was the Memorial Day holiday. In short, “Blue Jasmine” is a breakout sensation.

Two already established expanded films had varying results this weekend. Fox Searchlight’s “The Way, Way Back,” riding a wave of terrific word of mouth, placed #11 overall with a gross of $2,850,000 in 1,001 theaters (+115, PSA $2,847, total $13.7 million), down only 17% from last weekend with a small uptick in theaters. Weinstein’s more acclaimed “Fruitvale Station” fell from its #10 placement to #12, grossing $2.7 million in 1,086 (+22, PSA $2,486, total $10.9 million), which was down 41% from last weekend, not a bad drop, particularly with “2 Guns” providing competition. These figures suggest “The Way, Way Back” has at least in the short term the higher upside and is the likelier to pass $20 million, although “Fruitvale” still should have a multiple-week presence even if the core number of theaters declines ahead.

CBS Films “The To-Do List,” falling somewhere between a wide release and specialized (it is playing almost entirely studio-oriented multiplexes) had a significant 60% second weekend drop, grossing $622,000 in 585 theaters for a total so far of just over $3 million. It doesn’t at this point look like it is on the trajectory of past CBS successes like “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.”

Films in later stages of release grossing over $100,000 were led by two strong-performing documentaries. Radius/Weinstein’s “20 Feet from Stardom” reached $3.5 million with an additional $302,000 in 135 theaters (-12), while Magnolia’s performing animal expose “Blackfish” did $270,000 in 51 screens (+30), already up to $667,000 early on and looking to get much higher.

Sony Classics brought “Before Midnight” back with new advertising in 226 theaters (+$148) for a not too great $171,000, which gets the film up to $7.8 million. Their “I’m So Excited” continues to expand, $122,000 in 99 theaters (+23), but only now has gotten to the $1 million mark, with this looking to be the lowest grossing film from Pedro Almodovar since before his first breakout hit “All About My Mother” in 1999.

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