The fall season began in earnest this weekend as several top festival films opened well. Fox Searchlight’s tough guy thriller “The Drop,” starring Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, landed in sixth place in the Top Ten, opening in over 800 theaters for an excellent gross of $4.2 million. The clear standout among the specialty films, “The Skeleton Twins” delivered the best limited initial showing since “Boyhood.”
“Boyhood” continues to dominate the summer specialty openers, but four summer releases are still grossing $380,000 or better deep into their run. Such robust takes show that the core older art-house audience is the most reliable demographic these days.
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“The Skeleton Twins” (Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 76; Festivals include: Sundance, San Francisco, Seattle 2014
$410,756 in 15 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $27,383
Although several films from Sundance this year have seen significant success, led by “Boyhood” and “A Most Wanted Man,” until now U.S. Dramatic Competition debuts have not gained much traction theatrically (so far, a majority have had parallel Video on Demand play). However “The Skeleton Twins” changes the pattern. This comedy, which stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as two unusually distant twins finding themselves at the center of each other’s lives after a lengthy estrangement, opened in five cities for a very impressive initial result: it yielded the top gross at the four New York/Los Angeles theaters that offer exclusive first week limited runs.
As an example of the film’s strength, if you compare and contrast it with the best limited opening in recent weeks, “Love Is Strange,” that film, with slightly better reviews, scored a PSA of $23,000 in only 5 theaters, all top end. With a significantly wider release in three times as many theaters, many of which can yield lower grosses than the core limited houses, “Skeleton” still ended up with a higher PSA.
Thus “The Skeleton Twins” could prove to be one of the top grossers to come out of Sundance this year. (“Whiplash” and “Dear White People” are still to come). Roadside and Lionsgate’s “A Most Wanted Man” marks the second biggest Sundance hit.
What comes next: This expands to the rest of the top ten markets this weekend with a substantially wider break the following week.
“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” (Weinstein) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 55; Festivals include: Cannes 2014
$77,181 in 4 theaters; PSA: $19,295
Weinstein acquired the original version of this romance starring Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy for a reported $3 million at last year’s Toronto, at which point it consisted of two versions of one story told from each point of view of a couple. The two films were reedited into a single feature encompassing both stories, which premiered at Cannes this May, and is now being released first. The initial result, at four top New York/Los Angeles theaters, is decent, if not at the $25,000+ PSA seen at similar venues by “August:Osage County,” “Begin Again” or “Philomena,” though better than the $15,000 first weekend for “The Railway Man,” which TWC managed to get to 600 theaters and a $4 million total.
This was titled with “Them” to distinguish this from the “Him” and “Her” versions until the last minute (the print ads now omit this), which suggests the ongoing perception issue TWC has faced in reinventing the film. The reviews overall were mediocre, with Metacritic’s top critic consensus rating coming in at 55 (which they call “mixed or average”) while the original films are at a much better 70. It was always going to be difficult to do a theatrical release of the two original films, which tell parallel, not consecutive stories. Expecting theaters to play a four-hour film or audiences to sit through it would have been difficult. But even with the director’s assent and oversight, taking what was the hook for the film when it played last year at Toronto and going a more conventional route carried considerable risk, particularly when having to go through the filter of critical response.
TWC might have considered a VOD release through their Radius division (although the original deal may not have allowed this) of the two first films. With “Her” and “Him” scheduled for limited big city release in mid-October (after the combined version has expanded), they will at least still have some exposure. But it’s tough to get maximum interest in this version when a movie-savvy core audience is aware of the alternative, and that likely will have some impact (along with the mixed reviews) as to how well “Them” will do.
What comes next: Moving quickly to 50 markets next weekend or shortly after.
“My Old Lady” (Cohen) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 54; Festivals include: Toronto 2014
$133,601 in 6 theaters; PSA: $12,145
Maggie Smith has capped a brilliant career with a great decade and a half that has seen “Gosford Park,” the “Harry Potter” series, “Dowton Abbey” on TV, and recent crossover hits “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and “Quartet,” so it was reasonable to expect some interest in this Paris-set comedy/drama costarring Kevin Kline and Kristen Scott-Thomas. Directed by veteran writer Israel Horovitz (at 75, his first effort at the helm, the same age that Dustin Hoffman made his debut with “Quartet”) and based on his play, this was placed at six prime New York/Los Angeles theaters, but opened by some distance below either the “Marigold” or “Quartet” level (although the latter’s twice as big PSA was aided by only having two theaters). This actually opened on Wednesday, an unusual non-holiday maneuver designed to enhance word of mouth going into the weekend, adding another $26,600 to the total so far. Clearly, this lacks the crossover appeal of Smith’s other hits.
What comes next: This will expand fairly rapidly this weekend, a smart move with the overall market for new films both weak at the moment but also with a lot of major recent festival titles soon to dominate interest of upscale audiences.
“The Green Prince” (Music Box) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 55; Festivals include: Sundance 2014
$38,000 in 4 theaters; PSA: $9,500
Another Sundance premiere, from the World Documentary category. Telling the story of a Palestinian recruited to aid Israeli intelligence, and his relationship with his contact, this opened in three cities (Washington as well as Los Angeles), and is performing at a decent level at top theaters somewhat similar to the similarly-Sundance premiered “Last Days in Vietnam.”
What comes next: This will start its expansion to other cities next weekend.
“Take Me to the River” (Abramorama) – Criticwire:; Metacritic: 57; Festivals include: South by Southwest 2014
$25,439 in 12 theaters; PSA: $2,111
This documentary, as have several successes of late, focuses on African-American musicians, in this case Delta-based veterans gathering to recreate their past magic one more time. It premiered at South by Southwest to enthusiasm, and now is getting a theatrical release (including a wider six theater break in Los Angeles) to OK results for this level of normal performance for these venues.
What comes next: Films like this usually have some crossover appeal, and Abramorama has shown itself able to maximize the potential gross in the past, so this likely will see further play in more markets.
“Bird People” (IFC) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 71; Festivals include:Cannes, Toronto 2014; Also available on Video on Demand
$8,149 in 1 theater; PSA: $8,149
Pascal Ferran’s “Lady Chatterly” had some minor exposure in the U.S. a few years ago. “Bird People” premiered at Cannes and then just played at Toronto. IFC often opens its films on VOD right away, but less frequently for subtitled films. This is actually a multi-language film (including substantial English), with Josh Charles starring as a businessman who walks away from his life after landing in Paris. It received a very strong New York Times review on Friday, but opened only at the IFC Center without substantial advertising, leading to a just OK initial gross.
What comes next: Apart from VOD, opens in top ten markets this month,
“Last Days in Vietnam” (American Experience/PBS)
$25,150 in 3 theaters (+1); PSA: $8,383; Cumulative: $63,388
Continuing interest is evident for this Sundance-premiered doc, which added Washington to its initial theaters this weekend.
“But Always” (China Lion)
$95,000 in 20 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $4,750; Cumulative: $311,564
Not a bad hold for this Chinese romantic film, which dropped just over a third in its second weekend at its theaters in Asian-American markets across the country.
Expanding/ongoing (grosses over $50,000)
“Boyhood” (IFC) – Week 10
$975,320 in 659 theaters (-116); Cumulative: $21,918,000
This is a case where a distributor actually is underplaying its success in its Sunday AM emails. The gross only fell 15%, and with some theaters ending their runs, the PSA actually stayed the same. This continues to give every indication of continuing to show strength for weeks ahead.
“The Trip to Italy” (IFC) – Week 5; also available on Video on Demand
$480,500 in 155 theaters (+71); Cumulative: $1,680,000
This comedy continues to impress despite its concurrent VOD availability.
“A Most Wanted Man” (Roadside Attractions) – Week 8
$470,000 in 395 theaters (-26); Cumulative: $16,637,000
Late in its run, but still adding to its impressive totals.
“Magic in the Moonlight” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 8
$463,183 in 399 theaters (-131); Cumulative: $9,916,000
Not great grosses, but another film whose PSA actually stayed the same with fewer theaters.
“Love Is Strange” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 4
$380,248 in 102 theaters (+58); Cumulative: $1,276,000
This is beginning to settle in for what appears to be an OK multi-week run at many of these theaters, including new openings. It appear to have much cross-over appeal, somewhat disappointing for a film with such strong reviews and interest in its cast and previously untold story about the plight of an older married gay New York couple). Still, expect SPC to get the most possible out of this ahead.
“Calvary” (Fox Searchlight) – Week 7
$190,000 in 206 theaters (-79); Cumulative: $3,349,000
Fox Searchlight did its best for this Irish priest drama, but it is now running out of steam and looks likely to top out at around $4 million.
“The One I Love” (Radius/Weinstein) – Week 3 – Also available on Video on Demand
$84,475 in 82 theaters (+10); Cumulative: $429,000
The offbeat rom/com is getting most of its viewing on VOD, but the theatrical part continues to expand a bit. It might bring in something under $1 million.