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Arthouse Audit: ‘The Rover’ and ‘Signal’ Open Soft; Sundancers ‘Ivory Tower’ and ‘Hellion’ OK

Arthouse Audit: 'The Rover' and 'Signal' Open Soft; Sundancers 'Ivory Tower' and 'Hellion' OK

Fresh from Cannes, both “The Rover” and wider release “How to Train Your Dragon 2” opened this weekend. Just a year ago enterprising A24 opened “The Bling Ring,” but the comparison ends there. “The Rover” opened to only a fraction of the initial returns that Sofia Coppola’s film received, and, despite decent reviews and previously successful directing and acting elements, the film fell well below expectations. The same company’s “Obvious Child” showed some promise in its second weekend expansion, but the overall specialized market is lagging behind healthier grosses over recent months.


“The Rover” (A24) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 66; Festivals include: Cannes 2014, Sydney 2014

$70,000 in 5 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $14,000

Placed in five top New York/Los Angeles theaters, backed with strong A24 marketing, “The Rover” looked positioned to be a potential strong opener. Australian director David Michod’s followup to “Animal Kingdom” features well-reviewed performances from Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson. With a post-apocalyptic cross-country trek taken by a man obsessed with finding his stolen car (accompanied by much violence and oddball characters), the film has elements of other Australian dystopian classics like “Mad Max” and “The Road,” but with even more of an obsessive, loner throughline.

The resulting initial grosses are modest considering its elevated positioning. And it follows the underwhelming trend seen with other 2014 A24 releases with strong direction and distinctive style (“Locke” and “Under the Skin”). Luckily the more story-based “Obvious Child” is initially faring somewhat better. Is this another sign of target younger audiences no longer looking at specialized film (older ones are still out in force, as the year’s successes so far indicate)? Are action elements a turnoff? It likely isn’t one single factor, but all of these films should have boasted more appeal. 

By comparison, “The Bling Ring” last year opened this weekend to a $42,000 PSA, three times as much as “The Rover” on its way to just under $6 million domestic.

What comes next: A quicker than usual national expansion with above average specialized advertising expense will determine whether this has broader appeal.

“The Signal” (Focus) – Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 52; Festivals include: Sundance 2014, Seattle 2014

$146,000 in 120 theaters; PSA: $1,217

Under new management, a Focus film no longer get a careful, targeted release to maximize its chances. “The Signal” (like “The Rover” involving a cross-country trip through an isolated desert, in this case America with sci-fi elements) was premiered at Sundance (Midnight section) last January to mixed response, which made a more commercial, wider initial release logical. They didn’t place it as a specialized film, playing (though still limited) at youth-oriented somewhat more upscale multiplexes across the country.

Whatever their hopes, the outcome was bleak, with an average of not much more than 100 ticket buyers per theater, and little hope of much further theatrical life. This was not initially a Focus project, but came with the Filmdistrict team that has had better success with other films past and present. Without any big names attached, and the market (particularly VOD) flooded with genre/high-concept films, even the best marketing will have a tough time putting a mixed-response film over to a younger audience.

What comes next: Hard to see much growth ahead for this.

“The Ivory Tower” (Goldwyn) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 64; Festivals include: Sundance 2014, Miami 2014, Seattle 2014

$17,013 in 2 theaters; PSA: $8,507

Issue-oriented documentaries are hit-and-miss theatrically. The subject of this Sundance 2014 doc competition entry is timely (the burden of student loan debt on recent and future grads), with just in the last few weeks significant attention in Washington. From director Andrew Rossi, whose earlier Sundance entry “Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times” managed to get to an impressive $1 million gross in limited engagements, this opened at two strong New York/Los Angeles theaters to a gross that, while modest, still is at or above the level of most recent doc releases.

What comes next: Boston, Washington and San Francisco open next weekend, with a broader release, particularly in college communities, over the next few weeks.

“The Hellion” (IFC) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 58; Festivals include: Sundance 2014, South by Southwest 2014, San Francisco 2014, Seattle 2014; also available on Video on Demand

$9,000 in one theater; PSA: $9,000

The second Sundance 2014 narrative competitor to open is also the second to also be available on VOD (similar to IFC’s earlier release of “Cold in July”). This Texas-set drama about relatives (the adults in the cast include Aaron Paul and Juliette Lewis) raising a 13 year old boy had extensive festival exposure post-Park City, but landed with overall mediocre reviews for its New York debut. The $9,000 gross isn’t bad for a VOD-parallel release

What comes next: Los Angeles opens next week, with as usual IFC getting this placed in major cities despite VOD.

Also opening:

The other two new films reporting grosses are “A Coffee in Berlin” (Music Box), a black and white German film that would other than language feel at home in any U.S. indie program. It took in $4,100 at one New York theater. Veteran Agnieszka Holland’s four-hour made (for Europe at least) for cable film “The Burning Bush” (Kino Lorber) about the Czech 1968 uprising did $3,200 ($4,430 for five days) at New York’s Film Forum (it also showed up domestically on the niche subscription net site Fandor). 


Two of last week’s openers reported figures, to different results. A24’s “Obvious Child” jumped to 18 theaters (+15) to gross $145,000, PSA $8,056. This among recent releases is better than average, though it still isn’t a clear indication of the film’s ultimate fate. If it develops any sort of word of mouth, and in particular with the otherwise weaker draw of recent week releases, this could find itself propelled to a $2 million+ gross (assuming the distributor doesn’t push for an elevated, wider release pattern). Radius/Weinstein’s “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon” had much lower interest, taking in only $32,200 in 18 as well (+14) for a PSA of only $1,789.

With earlier successes now mostly played out, 8 other initially limited films managed over $50,000 this weekend:

“Chef” (Open Road) Week 6 – $2,276,000 in 1,102 (-196); Total: $14,076,000 – PSA went up, hung on in Top 10

“Belle” (Fox Searchlight) Week 7 – $510,000 in 339 (-337); Total: $8,569,000

“Words and Pictures” (Roadside Attractions) Week 4- $399,000 in 217 (+119); Total: $1,070,000

“The Grand Seduction” (EOne) Week 3 – $276,000 in 104 (-3); Total: $1,284,000 – this Canadian film has had most of its dates at home

“Ida” (Music Box) Week 7 – $252,000 in 104 (+17); Total: $1,664,000 – this surprise Polish arthouse success continues to thrive beyond expectations

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Fox Searchlight) Week 15 – $190,000 in 149 (-36); Total: $58,103,000

“The Immigrant” (Weinstein) Week 5 – $166,000 in 140 (-5); Total: $1,700,000

“Fading Gigolo” (Millennium) Week 9 – $51,000 in 48 (-6); Total: $3,614,000

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