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Arthouse Audit: ‘Lone Survivor’ Opens Well in Two Theaters While ‘August: Osage County’ Falls Short

Arthouse Audit: 'Lone Survivor' Opens Well in Two Theaters While 'August: Osage County' Falls Short

The long holiday weekend is one of the best periods of the year for specialized, review-oriented films. But given the plethora of high profile art films and quality wide studio releases to catch up with, business is spread out among many films, decreasing the grosses of most to some degree. Three last minute releases opened in New York and Los Angeles to varying results, with Universal’s “Lone Survivor” somewhat surprisingly earning the top per screen average in only two theaters. 

With a substantially higher profile and Meryl Streep in the mix, The Weinstein Co.’s “August: Osage County” saw more middling results. Meanwhile, director Ralph Fiennes’ “The Invisible Woman” (Sony Pictures Classics) lagged significantly behind. With January full of awards and nominations — including Oscar noms on January 16 — many of these films have longer-term prospects that could send their grosses much higher.


“Lone Survivor” (Universal) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 56; Festivals include: AFI 2013

$92,500 in 2 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $46,250

Peter Berg’s Afghanistan-war drama starring Mark Wahlberg has received less media attention than other high-profile year-end potential awards contenders (including fellow post-Christmas opener “August: Osage County”), but ended up with the best PSA of new openers over the last two weekends (also including “Her,” “The Past” and “The Invisible Woman,” all discussed below). Helped of course by playing in only two theaters–the much in demand Lincoln Square in New York and Arclight Hollywood–“Lone Survivor” managed to boast a solid initial response despite mixed reviews.

While the film’s awards chances seem remote, this qualifying run helps Universal on at least two levels. First, it serves as a nice way to change the subject from the disastrous opening of their wide-release “47 Ronin.” Secondly, and more significantly, this success suggests the film has a bright future ahead when it goes into wide release.

Given the divisive critical response, “Lone Survivor” seemed less likely to attract post-Christmas audiences in these two markets. But its initial response shows, as industry professionals know, that there is an audience for military-themed films that goes beyond specialized audiences even for high-profile releases. This was true back in the time of “The Deer Hunter” and “Apocalypse Now,” through “Platoon” and more recently “Black Hawk Down” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” which achieved their breakout larger grosses by drawing in a middle American male audience, particularly older, who can relate to these stories.

Universal takes the film wide in two weeks (January 10). Although the per screen average fell short of “Zero Dark Thirty”‘s pre-Christmas draw –which had less competition, a slew of great reviews and multiple screens available to play–exhibitors will note this result and be eager to book “Lone Survivor” when it goes wide.

What comes next: In a January without a lot of big titles, this has a real shot of significant success as other films push for attention in a very crowded awards-audience field.

“The Invisible Woman” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 78; Festivals include Toronto 2013

$37,100 in 3 theaters; PSA: $12,367

Directed and starring Ralph Fiennes, with Felicity Jones and Kristin Scott-Thomas, this 19th-century English film about Charles Dickens’ romance with a younger woman opened on Wednesday. The positive news for SPC is that the five-day total of $58,300 weighs heavily toward the weekend gross, suggesting it could gain strength in its initial days. That said, this is a mixed result for this well-reviewed, robustly marketed film positioned at year’s end to maximize awards attention. At this point, prospects look limited.

Last year SPC had a successful year-end launch with eventual Best Picture nominee “Amour.” This year, they added “The Past” to their slate for two films. Unfortunately, the opening weekends for both films combined (“The Past” opened last weekend) is about the same as last year’s pre-Christmas opening of “Amour.” This year’s record-level intensity of wide release acclaimed films makes it tough for even a company as good at its job as Sony Pictures Classics to grab its share of the audience.

What comes next: To maximize potential, SPC is anything but hasty in expanding films. But “The Invisible Woman” is going to need great word-of-mouth and for audiences to exhaust other, more competitive prestige films for it to thrive over the next couple of months.

“August: Osage County” (Weinstein) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 59; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, AFI 2013

$179,500 in 5 theaters; PSA: $35,900

This post-Christmas date in a crowded year meant that only one of “August: Osage County”‘s theaters had a second screen available, and overall seating was reduced. Some reviews, particularly influential ones in the New York and Los Angeles Times, were scathing. There were some sellouts, although online ticket sites indicate that sales were mainly last-minute, suggesting a not-so-huge overflow crowd. Bottom line, this performance is at best OK for a much-anticipated and heavily marketed film based on a play that, in NY and LA, is a known quantity. And the star power of Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, who’re both picking up awards buzz, certainly doesn’t hurt.

Now for the comparisons. The best example is Streep’s Oscar-winning film “The Iron Lady,” a somewhat less commercial project for American audiences for whom she was the main draw. Reviews were better and upon opening, she had already won best actress from the New York Film Critics. It also opened just after Christmas (in four theaters), but with a much higher PSA of $55,000. Looking back, other recent post-Christmas limited openings also had much higher PSAs ranging from $95,000 to $48,000, including “There Will Be Blood,” “Revolutionary Road,” and “Blue Valentine.” Last year, “Zero Dark Thirty” had a second platform weekend PSA of $63,000. Among these films, including “The Iron Lady,” only “ZD30” managed to gross over $40 million domestic (“Blue Valentine” least of all).

The recent world of limited awards runs has been full of big stage adaptations that fell short at the box office despite high expectations — among dramas, “Closer” and “Carnage,” and “Nine,” “Rent” and “The Producers” among musicals. Streep starrer “Doubt,” with better reviews, and four acting Oscar nods, only ended up at $33 million, with its best wide weekend (1,237 theaters) grossing $5.3 million on its way to a $33 million total.

The reported budget on “August” was a frugal $25 million, and The Weinstein Company certainly provided the film an impressive platform. This film is tailor-made to soar at this time of year and in these cities and theaters. The marketing has emphasized the comic elements of this Eugene O’Neill/Tennessee Williams-esque stage adaptation a la recent Streep hits “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Julie and Julia.” 

But it’s doubtful that its national wide release on January 10 will exceed “Doubt.” Streep, of course, has been an amazing dynamo of late, with an unprecedented draw for an older actress. “August: Osage County” is fighting for significant Oscar attention, including a long-shot bid for Best Picture as well as viable nomination chances for Streep and Roberts. But this is just one of many films vying for awards attention in the coming weeks, and some of them had better initial limited grosses than this did. So it could be a tricky road ahead.

What comes next: The national release comes two days before the Golden Globes and six days before the Oscar nominations, so it will need to stand on its own for the first wide weekend. No company gives a film of this pedigree more attention and has more marketing commitment than TWC does, so its fate is hardly sealed. Perhaps a bit of Streep-fatigue is setting in, and the tricky appeal of this film under the best of circumstances might ultimately keep it from reaching its hoped-for potential.


All films here, many with strong performances already and a bright future ahead, were affected by the large number of films available for discerning, review-oriented audiences. Fortunately, as with this week’s arthouse openers, time and room for growth remains on the horizon, even if some of the individual grosses don’t stand out.

Spike Jonze’s “Her” (Warner Bros.) expanded in its second week to other major cities and in New York/Los Angeles to $645,000 in 47 theaters (+41) and a per-screen-average of $13,723. For this significant expansion, these are quality grosses. If audiences continue to respond positively to this offbeat, younger-leaning film, the future here looks good. But “Her” will need strong Oscar nomination support to click with a broader audience in spite of strong reviews.

Also in its second weekend is SPC’s “The Past,” which grossed $39,200 (PSA: $7,840) in five theaters, aided by the addition of two. This remains much lower than what SPC saw initially from “Amour” in 2012 and “A Separation” in 2011.

Still expanding is “Inside Llewyn Davis” (CBS), which grossed $1,255,000 in 161 theaters (+13) with a PSA $1,255,000. The total so far is $4,625,000. These are encouraging numbers for a film whose future will in part be determined by its Oscar nomination haul, which has potential but isn’t guaranteed.

A slew of other ongoing films brought in audiences of varying sizes. Two Weinstein films had multi-hundred theater runs with varying results. “Mandela: A Walk to Freedom” went far wider Wednesday than its initial limited openings suggested, and its gross of $2,422,000 in 975 (+971, PSA $2,484, total $4,731,000) landed the Nelson Mandela biopic at #13 overall. Longer running “Philomena” managed to hold on to an impressive 727 theaters (-11) despite the crowded market, adding another $1,829,000 and bringing the total to $16,506,000.

“Nebraska” (Paramount), awaiting wider expansion until major awards and noms roll out next month, lost 60 theaters but still managed to increase its gross by 38% with $800,000, now totaling $5,774,000. This is just behind “All Is Lost” (Roadside Attractions), now nearing the end of its run until Robert Redford gets — or doesn’t get — a best actor nod. It did $64,000 in 66 theaters, and has done $5,964,000 thus far.

“The Book Thief” (20th Century Fox) played far more theaters (463) and took in another $640,000 for a total thus far of $17,910,000 despite dwindling awards possibilities. Two films in the thick of things — “12 Years a Slave” (Fox Searchlight, with $388,000 for a $37,814,000 total) and “Dallas Buyers Club”  (Focus, $287,000 for the weekend and a $15,774,000 total) — had steep theater losses, but both are primed to return in a few weeks in the wake of January awards and nominations. The lone subtitled multiple-city film this season, Janus’ “The Great Beauty,grossed another $73,300 to reach $786,400.

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