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Arthouse Audit: Two Comedies Score as ‘Chef’ Beats Out ‘Fading Gigolo,’ ‘Palo Alto’ Shows Promise

Arthouse Audit: Two Comedies Score as 'Chef' Beats Out 'Fading Gigolo,' 'Palo Alto' Shows Promise

Two films, Jon Favreau’s “Chef” (Open Road) and Gia Coppola’s “Palo Alto,” (Tribeca) both scored more than $20,000 per screen in limited openings this weekend. “Chef” leads a week with fewer than normal new Video on Demand releases. 

Radius/Weinstein veered from its usual pattern with a wider initial release of the food documentary “Fed Up,” also eschewing VOD for now. Distributors may be backing away from a rush to home viewing for specialized films. With Cannes starting midweek, offering a slew of acquisition opportunities, the ideal release pattern question is a risky business looms large.


“Chef” (Open Road) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 63; Festivals include: South by Southwest 2013, Newport Beach 2013, Tribeca 2013

$204,000 in 6 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $34,000

Certainly no distributor is going to avoid VOD more than Open Road, which is owned by the two largest exhibitors (Regal and AMC) and acquires independent films (often when finished, in this case before shooting). But up to now, it has been a wide release company, despite having specialty veterans on their team, including CEO Tom Ortenberg. With “Chef” they opted for a slow rollout, despite “Iron Man” director Favreau’s standing as a tentpole creator. And it looks like they could find success with an above-average start in its limited runs.

Going with an unusual initial six-theater New York/Los Angeles run, the estimated PSA ranks with “Fading Gigolo” and “Under the Skin” as the best PSA of the year since “The Grand Budapest Hotel” in early March. (“Gigolo” had one less theater and a slightly higher PSA). Like “Gigolo,” this is less a critic-driven than broad-audience comedy aimed in part at older moviegoers. The accessible plot about a once-top chef reinventing himself running a food-truck lends itself to potential marketing even without cast names like Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlet Johansson. Strong festival audience attention (including younger-skewing SXSW) gave Open Road the confidence to take this out slowly to build word of mouth. It looks like they bet right.

What comes next: This will expand to about 250 screens by Memorial Day weekend. This start suggests, particularly with the full support of two theater chains during the tough summer period, that this will be the first limited opening since “Budapest” to break out to a wider audience. Meantime, Open Road builds some cred as a festival distributor just before Cannes. With Focus now seeming less adventurous with acquisitions, Open Road will find plenty of interested sellers.

“Palo Alto” (Tribeca) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 73; Festivals include: Venice 2013, Telluride 2013, Toronto 2013, Tribeca 2014, San Francisco 2014

$80,600 in 4 theaters; PSA: $20,150

Tribeca Films has released around 40 films over the last four years, nearly all with VOD components, but none has come close to the level of this limited opening for Frances Ford’s granddaughter Gia Coppola’s debut film. After stellar festival presentation over the last four months, the film opened in New York/Los Angeles in appropriate theaters. With reported sellouts keeping the gross down at some locations and with a much smaller ad buy than many limited openings (including “Chef” this week), the result is not only Tribeca’s strongest so far, but quite promising on its own. 

The story about upscale Bay Area alienated high-school students covers somewhat familiar territory, including Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” (which A24 opened last year with more than double the PSA). “Palo Alto” nabbed mixed to favorable reviews and featured Emma Roberts and James Franco (as producer-actor-writer). Luring younger specialized audiences is tricky for any distributor. Still, particularly when combined with major ad pushes, some recent films (particularly “The Spectacular Now” last year, which did nearly $200,000 in four theaters its opening weekend) have shown that this demo can be reached. “Palo Alto” is more of an art film aimed at conveying its creator’s vision (including off-putting characters and a tricky ending). All this means that it, despite its pedigree, was never an automatic sell. That it achieved this PSA (similar to recent decent openers like “Only Lovers Left Alive” and “Locke”) means that Tribeca and its associates got the film as far as it could be expected to be.

What comes next: Fifteen cities this Friday, with more planned as they emphasize the theatrical model for this film.

“Fed Up” (Radius/Weinstein) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 71; Festivals include: Sundance 2014, San Francisco 2014, Hot Docs 2014

$130,000 in 18 theaters; PSA: $7,222

Also atypically eschewing VOD for its opening, Radius launched this doc (focusing on how food production leads to obesity) to multiple cities beyond the normal New York/Los Angeles model (which reduces the PSA), with a decent start considering its issue-oriented subject matter. Weinstein as usual wasn’t modest with its advertising. With ads looking like a throwback to Michael Moore films (listing corporations who refused to be interviewed) and Katie Couric involved in both the production and promotion, this has a much bigger head of steam going for it than most similar films. But none of that guarantees ticket sales, and these initial numbers show that it has attracted at least a promising level of initial interest.

What comes next: Given any sign of success, a Weinstein film is going to get full attention. So expect this to widen and get to a high-end gross level (over $2 million) for any doc, even in these best of times.

“God’s Pocket” (IFC) – Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 48; Festivals include: Sundance 2014, Sarasota 2014; also starts on Video on Demand on Wednesday

$23,400 in 3 theaters; PSA: $7,800

“Mad Men” actor John Slattery’s film directorial debut didn’t exactly set the world on fire with its Sundance competition debut. Lead Philip Seymour Hoffman’s untimely death soon after complicated matters more. But his appeal likely helped bring the initial New York/Los Angeles limited openings to an at least modest level (considering the reviews).

What comes next: This will widen theatrically over the next few weeks, but its mid-week premiere on VOD suggests that IFC thinks most of the interest will be on those platforms.

Among the openers of note not reporting grosses this weekend are two from Magnolia — Richard Ayoade’s highly regarded thriller “The Double” with Jesse Eisenberg, as well as Canadian horror film “Stage Fright” (also on VOD). Arthouse mainstay Atom Egoyan’s “The Devil’s Knot” (Image) with Reese Witherspoon, following four docs about the West Memphis 3, also went VOD along with scattered theatrical dates just before the director’s “The Captive” awaits its Cannes competition premiere. An extended version of the once-Miramax released French historical film “Queen Margot” (Cohen) opened to $5,500 at one theater.


An impressive 11 films managed to gross $50,000 or more as they add runs across the country, led by two-month leader “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Fox Searchlight) at #11. It grossed $1,465,000 in 770 theaters (-114) to reach nearly $53,750,000. In raw numbers, this is the best domestic performance yet for a Wes Anderson film, though adjusted for inflation “The Royal Tenenbaums” would have reached $72 million. This continues to represent a rarely-achieved total for a specialized film released outside the awards-enhanced zone late in the year.

Two second-week films continued to justify the signs of promise from their opening weekends. “Belle” (Fox Searchlight) had a rapid expansion to 45 theaters (+41) to take in $473,000 for a healthy (particularly for this number of theaters) PSA of $10,511. Next weekend will tell even more as clearer signs of its word of mouth level develop, but so far this looks like it has potential for substantial growth. At a much smaller number of theaters, Music Box’s acclaimed Polish 1960s drama “Ida” took in $104,000 in 7 (+4), with the PSA of just under $15,000 only slightly below its take last weekend despite the expansion (mainly to outlying Los Angeles theaters). Though clearly an art-house oriented film, this continues to show signs of unexpected appeal, with a particularly strong (and unusual) increase of growth at New York’s key Lincoln Plaza Theater. The initial success for this could lead to one of the surprise subtitled hits of 2014.

In its third week, A24’s “Locke” continues to struggle, with $239,000 in 73 (+48), total $540,000. The PSA of $3,274 suggests that audience response to this riveting Tom Hardy-starring film isn’t developing as hoped. John Turturro’s “Fading Gigolo” (Millennium) took in $768,000 in 340 (+230, PSA $2,259) to pass $2 million. They are moving much more quickly with this than they did with their hit “Bernie” two years ago. That film grossed more at a similar level of theater expansion in its 7th weekend despite having played in many of them in prior weeks on its way to over $9 million. “Gigolo” looks like it might end up around half that much. Weinstein’s “The Railway Man,” which opened the same week as “Gigolo” to a lower gross, is holding up much better. In 181 theaters (+17) it grossed $453,000 (PSA $2,503, down less than 20% from last weekend) to reach $2,276,000.

The longer runs continue to be led by the continuing impressive strength of “The Lunch Box” (Sony Pictures Classics), with $249,000 in 153 theaters (+4) getting it over $3.4 million. It is possible that it could end up the first Indian film ever to be the biggest grossing subtitled film for a year, even more unusual with its early year release. SPC’s “Only Lovers Kept Alive” continues its more modest run, with $197,000 in 92 (+25) for $1,081,000 total. A24’s “Under the Skin” added another $146,000 in 93 (-32) to top $2 million, less than seemed possible though when it opened strongly a month ago, “Finding Vivian Maier” (IFC) took in $101,000 in 82 (-8) to reach $1.1 million (along with its concurrent VOD earnings). And Music Box’s “Le Week-End” continues its successful run with $55,000 in 57 (-33) to near $2.1 million.

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