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Arthouse Audit: ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ Opens Well; ‘About Time’ Has OK Showing

Arthouse Audit: 'Dallas Buyers Club' Opens Well; 'About Time' Has OK Showing

The non-stop flow of Oscar and other award hopeful releases continues this week. Focus Features’ final film from James Schamus’s management team, “The Dallas Buyer’s Club,” opened credibly in four cities in the U.S. and Canada. The well-reviewed AIDS drama, focused on a true-life character’s attempt to find his own cure, shows signs of promise going forward in the competitive season ahead. 

Big Universal played the limited release card for their non-awards contending Working Title comedy “About Time,” with the success of this pattern to be determined by results in weeks ahead.

“Blue Is the Warmest Color” didn’t expand as well as it opened, but displayed some decent interest in a range of new cities. “12 Years a Slave” continues to be the standout limited release, placing #7 for the weekend overall, while “All Is Lost” is faring the best of the other recent openings. 


“The Dallas Buyers Club(Focus) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 84; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, San Sebastian 2013

$264,000 in 9 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $29,333

Backed by strong reviews, particularly for the performances of McConaughey and Jared Leto, this atypical AIDS-related story of a Dallas rodeo rider/electrician who contracted the virus in the mid-80s although he was straight and then defied the authorities by finding alternative remedies, opened to quite decent numbers in 9 initial theaters (three each in New York, Los Angeles and then additional in Toronto and Montreal). Though not among the year’s top specialized openers, it is third best among the fall awards-season releases (behind “12 Years a Slave” and “Enough Said”), roughly double what “All Is Lost” opened to two weeks ago.

This is a tricky film to market, which makes this gross more credible than its reviews might have anticipated. It is late in the game for interest in the subject (with “Longtime Companion,” “Philadelphia” and HBO’s “Angels in America” all considered landmarks). McConaughey has been on a hot streak recently, and his performance here, as well as Leto’s in supporting, is considered a leading awards contender ahead. The film is opening against strong competition among adult audiences (unlike “Enough Said” which did double the business in its mid-September opening). The gross is better than Fox Searchlight’s also tricky drama “The Sessions” last year ($28,000 in 4 theaters, which increases PSA usually). Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee’s earlier “Young Victoria, which went on to gross $11 million with little awards interest, actually grossed slightly less its opening weekend in 44 theaters.

Focus has undergone expected upheaval in recent weeks as many of its production, distribution and marketing executives lost their jobs as Universal consolidates the company on the West Coast under new CEO Peter Schlessel. For the distribution team led by Jack Foley and Linda DiTrinco, it ends a 14 years-plus consistent record of success and respect within the industry (starting together with USA FIlms, which was incorporated into Focus). 

The titles they released include such high water marks as “Being John Malkovich,” “Topsy Turvy,” “Traffic,” “In the Mood for Love,” “Gosford Park,” “Far from Heaven,” “The Pianist,” “Lost in Translation,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Motorcycle Diaries,” “The Constant Gardener,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Eastern Promises,” “Atonement,” “In Bruges,” “Burn After Reading,” “Milk,” “A Serious Man,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “Coraline,” “Hanna,” “Beginners,” “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” and “The Place Beyond the Pines.” All were handled with expertise by people who had deep care for the films and filmmakers involved. 

What comes next: “Dallas Buyers Club” expands to around 30 theaters in multiple cities going into wider expansion around Thanksgiving, giving this maximum attention as the early awards’ groups start voting.

“About Time” (Universal) –  Metacritic: 56; Festivals include: Edinburgh 2013, Toronto 2013, New York 2013

$1,100,000 in 175 theaters; PSA: $6,286

Universal, unconventionally among the major studios, has recently released a handful of non-specialized films in a limited pattern a week ahead of their wide openings, with “Pitch Perfect” last year becoming a real sleeper success, while “Rush” in September never gained traction. “About Time,” directed and written by Richard Curtis (who wrote “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Bridget Jones Diary,” and wrote and directed “Love Actually”) in 175 theaters (about halfway between those two others) opened to decent enough business to justify the strategy. The figures themselves aren’t anything special considering the quality of the theaters involved (“12 Years a Slave” had triple the PSA in 50 fewer last week; “Love Actually” was almost double in three times as many theaters). But the gross jumped by nearly 50% yesterday from Friday, suggesting positive audience reaction, important considering the mixed reviews.

The film comes from Working Title, the veteran Brit production company that has seen its films released by Universal and Focus consistently since the 1990s. This generically hybrid film (part sci-fi, part rom-com) has both adult and younger appeal, but with only Rachel McAdams well-known among its cast, is less immediately marketable than most of the other films Curtis has been involved in. With mixed reviews, the only way this would seem to have a chance is with some initial sampling before the wider release next week. This pattern worked well for “Pitch Perfect” last year, though with a wider release and a more obvious audience appeal.

This has already grossed $34 million in international release, with multiple territories still to open.

What comes next: It is going to be tougher for “About Time” to score anything like “Pitch Perfect” did based not only on intense competition next week and going forward but also with the lesser performance this had in its theaters. However, as the equivalent of a pre-release sneak program, it probably is a smart move for Universal to have tried for what otherwise would have been an initial wide release.

Also opening:

A large number of other new films, including two fairly wide, also debuted this week. None of the more limited ones had a PSA of over $10,000, normally at the lower end of good at best.

The most anticipated of these, at least before initial showings, was “Diana” (Entertainment One), starring Naomi Watts in the period before her death. Once thought of as a potential best actress contender, the film ended up with mostly negative reviews, and its release in multiple cities in 38 theaters could only rouse a poor $64,900 gross. Playing wider, but also after a month of video on demand play, Radius/Weinstein’s “Man of Tai Chi,” Keaunu Reeve’s directorial debut, also showed little impact, with $112,300 in 110 theaters. The company reports its VOD earnings so far have been $1.5 million. It will be curious to compare how the theatrical release increased interest on what will be its main grossing platform.

The best of the more limited openings was Zeitgeist’s “A Pervert’s Guide to Ideology,” from Sophie Fiennes, which playing at New York’s IFC Center did a passable $9,500 to stand above the rest of the openings. Two other documentaries — the Pakistani “These Bird Walk” (Oscilloscope) and veteran director’s Barbara Kopple’s “Running from Crazy” (Vitagraph), about troubled actress Mariel Hemingway, did $8,000 and $7,000 respectively in their New York single theater debuts. Well-reviewed “Broken Circle Breakdown” (Tribeca) from Belgium, that country’s Oscar Foreign Language submission, grossed $7,100, again at one New York location. It opens in L.A. November 8. Another doc, “Casting By” (Submarine Deluxe), previously shown on cable, managed $7,900 in two New York locations. James Franco’s two-year old “Sal,” bolstered by appearance from the director/actor, took in $6,800 at one Los Angeles theater while also playing on VOD.


The second week of most note is the expansion of IFC’s “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” with the French NC17 female romance expanding more quickly than usual to 37 screens (+33) for a gross of $222,000 for a PSA about $6,000 and a total thus far of $379,000. The last significant NC17 release, “Shame,” grossed $283,000 its second weekend in fewer (21) theaters for a PSA of $13,500. “Blue” is limited to some extent by its three-hour length and subtitles, but this is an above average if not extraordinary gross for this level of theaters so far. “Amour” when it reached 36 theaters (its fifth week, but right after its significant Oscar nomination haul) had a PSA of $10,377 by comparison.

The best of the other second week entries was the self-distributed Egyptian doc “The Square,” taking in $12,000 in 3 for a $4,000 PSA. (Netflix has just acquired the film.) The Film Arcade’s “Spinning Plates” did $10,800 in 6 for a PSA of $1,800. By far the biggest expansion was Costa-Gavras’s “Capital” (Cohen Media) which jumped to 32 theaters (+30) for only $41,200.

The third week of Robert Redford’s acclaimed solo performance in “All Is Lost” (Roadside Attractions) shows signs of life with $594,000 in 131 (+50), PSA $4,534. With about the same number of theaters, this is about a quarter of what the excellent grossing “12 Years a Slave” grossed last week, and a bit ahead of what “The Sessions” last year grossed in its fourth weekend in 128 theaters on its way to a $6 million gross (during a similar play period). This looks like a niche specialized film that might not benefit, at least right away, from a wider expansion that could burn up heavy marketing dollars, although it could be enough to keep Redford in contention for acting awards recognition. This is up to $1,457,000 through three weekends.

The film continues to outperform Sony Pictures Classics’ “Kill Your Darlings,” which is moving more slowly, now at 19 theaters (+11) for $72,600 (PSA 3,821, total $224,500). Other films that grossed over $50,000 later in their runs include Fox Searchlight’s “Enough Said” which fell out of the top 10 to #13, but only down a third in gross. It added another $1,075,000 in 662 (-173) for a total so far of $14,799,000. The eternal “Blue Jasmine” (also SPC) churned out another $113,000, down to 94 theaters, total now $32,389,000. Their Saudi Arabian “Wadjda” passed the $1 million mark, impressive considering the film’s roots, with another $99,200 in 84 theaters (-3) to reach $1,069,000. And Radius/Weinstein’s “Inequality for All” managed to add $51,100 to get $1,051,000.

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