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Arthouse Audit: ‘Book Thief’ Survives Critics, Oscar-Contender ‘Wind Rises’ Sells Out Two Theaters

Arthouse Audit: 'Book Thief' Survives Critics, Oscar-Contender 'Wind Rises' Sells Out Two Theaters

This week’s newbies are a mixed bag. “The Book Thief,” a rare major studio platform release, overcame less than great reviews for a respectable showing, while Disney’s release of Hayao Miyazaki’s subtitled animated feature “The Wind Rises” sold out most shows at two one-week-only theaters. The rest of the newcomers fell far short of these two, with Alex Gibney’s documentary “The Armstrong Lie” the best of the mediocre bunch.

Meanwhile, last week’s “Dallas Buyers Club” is showing some real strength in its expansion, as highly-touted awards contenders “Nebraska” and “Philomena” will enter the noisy fray in the next two weeks.


“The Book Thief” (20th Century-Fox) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 54; Festivals include: Mill Valley 2013

$108,000 in 4 theaters; PSA: $27,000

Take note: this decent if not spectacular platform gross (backed by significant TV and print ad spends) depended on Fox taking unusual marketing risks and patterns to open the film. Based on a long-term YA bestseller, the project was nurtured by Fox 2000 Productions as a big studio rather than specialized film (like last year’s “The Life of Pi”) and wasn’t finished in time for the usual fall fest launch, playing only Mill Valley. While extensively screened, the film had an unusual review embargo until two days before release. The studio’s reticence was warranted – no rave reviews, a complete pan in the New York Times and a lukewarm Los Angeles Times response led to an overall less-than-stellar critical consensus, often harmful for a late-year potential awards contender.  A debuting feature film director, Brian Perceval (Emmy-winner for “Downton Abbey”) and a cast of young actors (with support from Oscar regulars Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson) made the result far from certain.

This is only the second time, unlike Fox Searchlight, that big Fox has gone platform since 2009’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” By the usual platform standards — upscale interest, strong reviews and awards anticipation — this wouldn’t be a stellar gross. But in context, it is more impressive than the raw figures suggest, indicating that awareness of the book and Fox’s advertising managed to pull a decent audience to sample the film. With reports of strongly positive audience response, this still holds potential, backed by continuing Fox support, building on the core interest of the book’s readers and word of mouth.

There is one precedent for this sort of child-witness horror story (also based on a novel) overcoming a mixed or worse opening and still finding some interest: “Extremely Loud and Dangerously Close,” also hardly a critical favorite, opened up Dec. 23, 2011 in six theaters to a gross of only $72,000, PSA $12,000. The following weekend it managed to climb to $115,000 ($19,000 PSA). And it ended up grossing $31 million (clearly boosted by its Best Picture nomination, as well as a cast that included Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock). That likely is to some degree the model Fox is using in order for this tricky plan to bear fruit.

What comes next: This needs to show stabilization or more quickly, with little room to fall. This will expand similar to what Searchlight and other specialized companies would be doing – 23 new theaters in 7 markets next week, wider still the following Friday and then a substantial expansion on 11/27. This likely gets all the support that Fox can reasonably give it, likely more than what the smaller companies would allocate.

“The Wind Rises” (Buena Vista) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 84; Festivals include: Venice 2013, Toronto 2013, New York 2013, AFI 2013

No gross reported in 4 theaters

Often when distributors qualify a film for Oscars, it plays for one week with no numbers reported. Any opening gross is used as a gauge to judge a film’s success and later prospects. Thus, the reticence in publishing these numbers makes sense.

The first of the prime contenders to go this route is the last film from master Japanese animator Miyazaki. “The Wind Rises,” a prime contender for awards in the animation awards (he previously won the Oscar for “Spirited Away”). It opened in Landmark Theatre’s two prime New York and Los Angeles theaters. Checking the company’s website revealed that most showtimes in both theaters sold out, frequently quite a bit in advance of time (suggesting significant turnaway crowds). In Los Angeles at least, the auditorium size doubled Saturday from Friday as a reaction to the sales. Though it might be possible to calculate an approximate gross on this basis, the fairest assessment is that this looks like a significant initial success and might have had the highest PSA of any limited film since “12 Years a Slave” even though its potential wasn’t maximized. This is not a surprise – Miyazaki has a strong fan base in the U.S. The film has already grossed $112 million worldwide, with its native country leading the way.

What comes next: This was shown (and qualifies as) a Japanese-subtitled film. It is scheduled for wide release with an English soundtrack on February 21, right before the Oscars.

“The Armstrong Lie” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 66; Festivals include: Venice 2013, Toronto 2013, Hamptons 2013

$30,900 in 3 theaters; PSA: $6,180

Alex Gibney’s doc on disgraced Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong evolved from its initial intent as events unfolded. Gibney has a knack for capturing the zeitgeist in his films (“We Steal Secrets,” “Mea Maxima Culpa,” “Client 9,” “Taxi to the Darkside”), but despite its topicality, elevated festival interest and decent reviews, audience interest seems minimal. “Secrets” opened in four theaters earlier this year with a $7,000 PSA, “Client” to $16,000 in 3 in 2010, so among those with bigger distribution backing, this ends up a low-end performer for him.

What comes next: SPC always gets its films out wide irrespective of their initial performance, and the Best Doc Oscar category hardly solely responds to box office success. And Armstrong’s notoriety should give this much higher interest down the line for home viewing than most documentaries, so this will get much further viewing ahead.

Other openings:

Among other new films opening that reported grosses, none had a PSA of above $4,000 (in some cases restricted by seating capacity or long running times). John Sayles’ latest film “Go for Sisters” (Variance) managed $8,000 in 2 theaters. Frederick Wiseman’s four-hour  doc “At Berkeley” (Zipporah) did $6,100 in two. GKid’s animated qualifier “Approved for Adoption” eked out $3,800 in one, while “Caucus” (Bonfire) opened in a tiny New York theater to $2,300.


“Dallas Buyers Club” was the clear standout among second weekend expansions, grossing a very good $629,000 in 35 theaters (+26) for a PSA of just under $18,000. What is more impressive is that the PSA fell only a bit more than a third despite a quadrupling the theater count. This is an unusually good showing at this level of increase, and suggests that the film both is gaining from strong word of mouth among its initial runs and doing relatively better in new cities than normal for expansions. This is significant not only because of the numbers amassed but also as indication that the film might have more interest that might have been initially suggested, before even getting into its acting awards potential ahead.

“Diana” (EOne) went up in gross to $85,300 in 100 (+62), but with a sub-$1,000 PSA. Tribeca’s ““Broken Circle Showdown” — the top nominee in this year’s European Film Awards announced yesterday, as well as Belgium’s Oscar contender — added Los Angeles to gross $5,000 in two. Both also are in their second week.

Among longer-run films (apart from the top 10 “12 Years a Slave”), Roadside Attraction’s “All Is Lost” is getting the widest play this week, reaching #12 with a gross of $1,203,000 in 401 theaters (+271), PSA $3,000 for a total so far of $2,871,000 in its fourth week. To put this in perspective, this is about 25% of the business “Slave” did last weekend in 410 theaters, suggesting that the crossover appeal for this, at least before possible Redford award attention, isn’t in the same league. The somewhat comparable “The Impossible” from Lionsgate had a $4,800 PSA in more theaters (572) on its third weekend, then with Naomi Watts nomination coming into play during its early run made it to $19 million eventually.

Expanding further its third stanza, IFC’s “Blue Is the Warmest Color” is showing only modest results, though as an NC-17 and subtitled film perhaps somewhat better than the numbers suggest. It took in $254,000 in 71 (+34) for a PSA $3,577 and total so far of $754,000.

Only three other specialized releases managed over $50,000 for the weekend, all from Sony Pictures Classics – “Kill Your Darlings” only $87,000 in 32 (+13), PSA $2,719, total $336,000; the long running “Blue Jasmine” adding another $78,400 in 60 still (-34) to reach $32,515,000, and “Wajda” $53,000 in 59 (-25), now at $1,231,000.

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