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Behind Weinsteins’ Three Weekend Winners: Surprising ‘Snowpiercer,’ ‘Begin Again’ & ‘Yves St. Laurent’

Behind Weinsteins' Three Weekend Winners: Surprising 'Snowpiercer,' 'Begin Again' & 'Yves St. Laurent'

This weekend belongs to The Weinstein Company, which opened three films: John Carney’s original musical “Begin Again,” Radius’s well-reviewed Bong Joon-ho actioner “Snowpiercer,” and fashion biopic “Yves St. Laurent.” With room in the market to play–other current films had expanded or were near the end of their runs–these three well-positioned new openers dominated the weekend.

The Weinsteins have been quiet since the last award season. Thus far TWC’s biggest 2014 grosser was Dimension’s “Vampire Academy”($7 million), and with $4.4 million in the till, “The Railway Man” marks their only limited release to pass $2 million. 


“Snowpiercer” (Radius/Weinstein) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 84; Festivals include: Deauville 2013, Berlin 2014, Los Angeles 2014

$162,100 in 8 theaters; PSA: $20,263

The torturous history of the battle to get Korean director Bong Joon-Ho’s first English language film, which stars Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton as survivors on a train of survivors during a Dystopian Ice Age) released in his original 126-minute version has been well-reported. Radius took over the release from TWC, and it’s a rousing success.

The $40-million Korea production has already grossed over $80 million worldwide, mainly in South Korea. Radius made a point of the release date as an action alternative to “Transformers.” And it’s working. 

First, the reviews have been among the strongest of the year (the 84 from Metacritic is the best for a Weinstein company film since “The Master”). Radius usually (but not always) has parallel Video on Demand play. Though the date for this has not been announced, the theaters playing the film — both initially this weekend and those listed for next Wednesday’s expansion on Moviefone — come mainly if not nearly entirely from those that are willing to be flexible rules about playing VOD films (Landmark, the major specialized chain, so far has little if any participation). This suggests that the film is headed for an early VOD playoff after this initial success.

Why does VOD now seem premature? Here’s why. Only one theater played both this and “Begin Again” — downtown Manhattan’s Angelika, one of the best in the country for limited openings. Through two days, “Snowpiercer,” scheduled for only one screen, grossed $25,200. “Begin,” playing on three screens, has taken in $18,000. Even more startling for veteran gross watchers — L.A.’s Sundance Sunset, which has struggled to get top first run films in the last two years, has grossed over $24,000 in two days – far better than any previous film, while “Begin,” again at three screens at the Arclight, has grossed just under $22,000. The patchwork quilt of other theaters (including three other markets, a Korean-neighborhood LA theater, and only one small screen at New York’s Lincoln Center and another in Brooklyn) — all over-performed based on normal grosses. But these two core NY/LA numbers prove that this could have been a much bigger theatrical success.

What comes next: Some expansion this Wednesday to other cities while we await confirmation of VOD plans.

“Begin Again”
(Weinstein) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 61; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, Tribeca, San Francisco, Seattle 2014

$148,325 in 5 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $29,665

Playing at five strong theaters in New York and Los Angeles, director-writer Carney’s American debut, following his success with “Once,” scored the best opening since “Chef” six weeks ago (which did $34,000 in six). Positioned to fill the need for a crossover specialized midsummer film, aided by stars Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, this has looked like a prime contender since Weinstein acquired it for around $7 million out of Toronto (then titled “Can a Song Save Your Life?”). The film fits snugly into the Weinstein’s well-marketed crowdpleaser wheelhouse.

Curiously, the PSA comes in just below the unheralded “Once” opened to in 2007 in only two theaters, but with lower ticket prices. Fox Searchlight’s sleeper hit ended up just under $10 million, with an Oscar Best Song win and of course yielded a Tony-winning Broadway musical. Those elements and the cast elevated expectations. “Begin Again” earned mixed reviews.

Similar initial PSAs often lead to decent or better crossover successes — certainly “Chef,” heading to $25 million or more is one example. In a crowded Christmas period, Weinstein manage to open “August Osage County” to mid-30s and backed by an intensive award-oriented release campaign, the film got up to $37 million. The equally high- grossing “Philomena” also opened only slightly better. “Begin Again” may prove more general audience (again, this year’s high-water mark for a two-city opening PSA is “Grand Budapest Hotel” at $200,000, almost seven times better than this with a name director and better reviews). While the Weinsteins will push the film to its maximum, this initial gross is decent but not great. Upticks Friday from Saturday as well as reported strong in-theater audience survey responses suggest that word of mouth will tell the tale. 

What comes next: 45 additional theaters added on Wednesday, with a much wider national break of several hundred more on July 11.

“Yves Saint Laurent” (Weinstein) – Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 49; Festivals include: Berlin, San Francisco, Seattle 2014

$24,502 in 2 theaters; PSA: $12,251

The first of two biopics about the iconic fashion designer (Sony Classics has recent Cannes competition film “Saint Laurent” to go later this year; IFC released the doc “L’amour fou” in 2011 to minor results), this opened last Wednesday at exclusive New York (Film Forum) and Los Angeles (Landmark) runs (five-day total: $36,000). Considering in particular the mediocre reviews (very unusual for the Film Forum, whose films usually elicit strong critical response), this is an adequate result. It suggests at least some interest in the subject (easy to sell to those interested in fashion, others not so much).

What comes next: TWC anticipates this to be a targeted arthouse release over the summer, but without much crossover.

“America” (Lionsgate) – Criticwire: C-

$39,000 in 3 theaters; PSA: $13,000

Two years ago “2016: Obama’s America” shocked the industry by grossing $33 million despite having only a minor independent (Utah-based Rocky Mountain Films) as its distributor. This new film, from the same director Dinesh D’Souza (along with a “Schindler’s List” producer), is meant to be a retelling of U.S. history from a right-wing perspective, with a polemic slant about how far off the original path we’ve gone. Lionsgate came on board as distributor, with this opening well initially in three Houston and Atlanta theaters in advance of its wider release on Wednesday. (D’Souza, a well known conservative writer and commentator, also has been in the news recently with his federal guilty plea bargain deal over illegal campaign contributions.)

What comes next: 1,000 theaters are opening this next week.

“Whitey: The United States of America Vs. James J. Bulger” (Magnolia) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 72; Festivals include: Sundance 2014; also available on Video on Demand.

$14,000 in 3 theaters; PSA: $4,667

This was acquired by Magnolia along with CNN Films (the latter will show a shorter version of this later this year) at Sundance, where it played in the U.S. Documentary Competition. With its Boston crime legend focus, it not surprisingly opened in two theaters in that area as well as New York. Despite good reviews, the response looks spotty, at least theatrically. Apart from CNN down the line, this might have better prospects on ITunes and elsewhere.

What comes next: The theatrical end of the release continues with Los Angeles this week.

Also opening:

Three other new films reported grosses. China Lion’s “The Break Up Guru,” concurrent with its wide release in China, amassed $67,000 in 12 theaters across the country. Sundance doc competitor “The Internet’s Own Boy” (FilmBuff/Participant), also on VOD, took in $24,301 in 12. “Siddharth,” an Indian-made film from a Canadian director, managed $4,500 in 1 New York theater.


The standout among recent releases remains “The Obvious Child” (A24), which added another $556,000 in 196 (+141) in its third weekend (total so far $1,285,000). This puts it roughly better than half of recent success “Belle” at the same point of the run. This appears to have some, but limited, crossover potential, with room to grow but not likely be a breakout success.

The top gross among second weekers is Paul Haggis’ “Third Person” with $80,700 in 18 (+13, PSA $4,483). This is a slight relative improvement in expansion from its weak limited opening, but still looks unimpressive. “Le Chef” (Cohen) grossed a minor $34,800 in 19 (+18, PSA $1,832). Roman Polanski’s “Venus in Fur” (IFC, also on VOD) did $28,000 in 10 (+8, PSA $2,800). Code Black’s medical doc “Code Black” had the most impressive PSA ($10,350) with $21,700 in two. Also showing modest interest is the first U.S. release of Eric Rohmer’s “A Summer’s Tale” (Big World) with $11,000 in 2.

The rest of the initially limited films still grossing $50,000 or over:

“Chef” (Open Road) Week 8 – $1,654,000 in 801 theaters (-160); Total $19,410,000

“Ida” (Music Box) Week – $248,000 in 127 theaters (-6); Total $2,472,000

“Belle” (Fox Searchlight) Week 9 – $241,000 in 175 theaters (-); Total $9,641,000

“The Rover”
(A24) Week 3 – $100,596 in 247 theaters (-361); Total $979,900

“Belle” (Fox Searchlight) Week 9 – $241,000 in 175 theaters (-69); Total $9,641,000

“Words and Pictures” (Roadside Attractions) Week 6 – $135,000 in 105 theaters (-70); Total $1,701,000

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Fox Searchlight) Week 17 – $120,000 in 90 (-22) theaters; Total $58,550,000

“The Signal” (Focus) Week 3 – $67,000 in 180 theaters (-24); Total $553,000

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