With “Birdman,” everything came together. Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Broadway-set visual tour-de-force was nurtured by Fox Searchlight to help maximize not only the opening but also its position as one of the year’s top awards contenders. The hype out of Telluride was strong and the reviews followed through. But other recent films have earned nearly as good reviews without the same success: see “Pride” and “Whiplash.” Searchlight knew how to position “Birdman,” which boasts more name stars at their absolute best, in limited release, building buzz as they go.
We should not assume that this is an automatic crossover smash and a Best Picture frontrunner. It’s too early for that. This opening is not a record, not even for this year. Searchlight’s own “Grand Budapest Hotel” opened last March with the same configuration and great reviews, to double this PSA ($200,000). “The Master” — which only made it to $16 million in total domestic gross — opened the previous fall to $147,000 in five theaters. (“Birdman” couldn’t get as many seats during this more congested playtime.)
In a year when few specialized films have caused much of a stir, “Birdman” has shown — right at the start of the heavy-hitter season — that audiences can still mount an enthusiastic initial response.
What comes next: The next round of theaters will be limited openings (about 45-50) in the largest markets across the country, with a further broadening weekly thereafter.
This is what can happen when a specialized film actually attracts a younger audience (nearly 80% under 40, and very impressive 29% in their early 20s). Backed by strong reviews, a well-designed media (including elevated social) campaign and aimed at a broader than usual audience, “Dear White People” sustained its high-end Sundance response nine months later to a strong result. The PSA was above “St. Vincent” and “Whiplash” from last weekend by some distance, but this is even more impressive because of the larger number and variety of theaters.
The core four New York/Los Angeles theaters alone look like they are heading to a very strong PSA of around $45,000. Roadside then, as make sense for an African-American themed film, also opened in seven additional theaters to that audience (one more in Los Angeles, then three each in Atlanta and Washington). Though not as strong as the best results, for theaters that are not normally part of a limited opening run, these are also positive.
For the specialized market to pull out of the uneven arc of this year, it will need to push films that manage to break out of the same-old older audience mold. Roadside has another hit, and like their recent “The Skeleton Twins” they took a chance on finding a different route.
What comes next: This jumps to 350 theaters in 75 markets next weekend, with a real chance that it will be able to expand much wider ahead.
“The Tale of Princess Kaguya” (GKids) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 90; Festivals include: Venice, Toronto 2014
$51,686 in theaters; PSA: $17,229
Enterprising GKids has managed to break into the Oscar Animated Feature race with several foreign-made films, and this Studio Ghibli production (not from master director Hayao Miyazaki) is positioned to continue that trend. This is the best-reviewed animated film of the year (by a large margin). Its opening numbers (at one theater each in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto) are quite strong, particularly with the modest ad buy. This isn’t at the level of the also Ghibli-made “From Up on Poppy Hill” (from Miyazaki’s son) which last year did $57,000 its first weekend in two theaters in a less competitive time frame. But this is still a good start and positions the film well for awards ahead.
What comes next: This will have a gradual limited expansion in the weeks ahead.
“Listen Up Philip” (Tribeca) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 76; Festivals include: Sundance, Locarno, New York 2014
$24,291 in 2 theaters; PSA: $12,146
Coming out of the Sundance Next section, this edgy New York comedy/drama with Jason Schwarzman and Elisabeth Moss opened in two theaters in that city with personal appearances at some shows. The result — aided by a strong New York Times review and including multiple sell-outs in smaller capacity auditoriums — was a decent number ahead of what most Sundance-premiered films have opened to this year.
What comes next: As is usual for Tribeca, this goes quickly to Video on Demand (this Tuesday), but also expands to 15 more cities next Friday.
“God the Father” (Rocky Mountain)
$15,000 in 1 theater; PSA: $15,000
This contemporary faith-based movie had a test run backed by heavy group sales in one theater (Midland Texas) to a decent number.
What comes next: The main release date for this is October 31.
“Hiroshima, mon amour” (Rialto) (reissue)
$ est. 18,000 in 5 theaters; PSA: $3,600
Alain Resnais’ masterful 1959 has been remastered and given a theatrical launch by classic film distributor Rialto to an overall modest result, but with significant enough attention to elevate the release of the upcoming Blu-ray.
What comes next: This should get some additional calendar dates along with its home viewing ahead.
“The Golden Era” (China Lion) – Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 60; Festivals include: Venice, Toronto 2014
$48,000 in 15 theaters; PSA: $3,200
Hong Kong director Ann Hui has been making films, many seen in the U.S., since the late 1970s. Hong Kong submitted her latest work, a biopic about a 1930s Chinese writer, for the Oscar this year. The film quickly followed its major festival premieres with a Chinese-American adjacent theater opening rather than an art-house route. At nearly three hours long and mixed reviews, this would have been a mainstream challenge. The modest grosses where it played are much below China Lion’s recent more mainstream success “Break Up Buddies.”
What comes next: This would appear to have limited future appeal– unless it’s embraced by Oscar voters.
“Diplomacy” (Zeitgeist) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 74; Festivals include: Berlin, Mill Valley, Hamptons 2014
$7,962 in 1 theater; PSA: $7,962
Veteran German director Volker Schlondoerff’s Paris-set film about the tricky interaction between French officials and occupying Nazis opened at New York’s Film Forum last Wednesday to an OK result. The five-day total is $12,194.
What comes next: Zeitgeist will get this open around the country, many of them calendar and limited situations.
“Rudderless” (Goldwyn) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 52; Festivals include: Sundance 2014, Chicago 2014; also available on Video on Demand
$36,000 in 18 theaters; PSA: $2,000
William H. Macy’s directorial debut (a drama about a grieving dad immersing himself in his musician son’s work) premiered at Sundance, and like so many of this year’s films went the parallel theater/VOD route. The theater side is very modest at best.
What comes next: ITunes and elsewhere will see most of the future sales.
“St. Vincent” (Weinstein)
$685,000 in 68 theaters (+64); PSA: $10,074; Cumulative: $836,982
These are decent numbers for the fairly rapid expansion of this Bill Murray/Melissa McCarthy comedy/drama. The PSA is about $1,000 below what “Magic in the Moonlight” managed at about the same number over the Sunday its second weekend on its way to a $10 million gross.
Among these big city theaters, this is playing best at broader-audience appeal locations and heartland cities. That’s likely the best news for TWC – this is having a major expansion this weekend backed by a big TV campaign (possibly getting to around 2,000 theaters). The hope is that its play so far will encourage enough positive word of mouth (its audience survey response has been strong) to turn this into a much bigger ultimate gross than the lower-spending Sony Pictures Classics got (at far fewer theaters) for their recent Woody Allen film.
“Whiplash” (Sony Pictures Classics)
$210,801 in 21 theaters (+15); PSA: $10,038; Cumulative: $416,228
The PSA is about the same as “St. Vincent,” with only a third as many theaters. These are OK numbers, but seem less than what the film deserves or what reaction so far to it at screenings and initial dates would indicate. This still has a real shot of getting a groundswell of word of mouth reaction, but is going to need to show it soon if this is going to realize its potential. The worrisome element is that with a young lead character and an appeal to a similar aged audience, once again we might be seeing how difficult it has become to get under 35 year olds into specialized films.
“Kill the Messenger” (Focus)
$490,000 in 427 theaters (+53); PSA: $1,148; Cumulative: $1,855,000
Even with a jump in the theater count, the gross fell more than 50% from the mediocre first week take.
“Meet the Mormons” (Purdie)
$ est. 700,000 in 325 theaters (+58); PSA: $2,154; Cumulative: $4,652,000
Way down from its first weekend take of $2.5 million, good enough for #15 overall still.
“Awake: The Life of Yogananda” (Counterpoint/Self-Realization Fellowship)
$58,712 in 7 theaters (+6); PSA: $8,377; Cumulative: $92,853
After an extraordinary initial week single theater run of around $34,000, this documentary about the spiritual roots of yoga expanded with solid numbers in other markets.
“The Overnighters” (Drafthouse)
$5,462 in 2 theaters (+1); PSA: $2,731; $12,705
This acclaimed North Dakota- set doc is still struggling to gain any traction, with Austin added on this week.
Ongoing/expanding (grosses 50,000+)
“Men, Women and Children” (Paramount)
$320,000 in 608 theaters (+580); PSA: $526; Cumulative: $475,000
Paramount went ahead with its planned expansion for Jason Reitman’s latest, despite its bad openings. Here’s the sad result – this grossed less in 608 theaters than “Birdman” did in four. Ouch.
“The Skeleton Twins” (Roadside Attractions) Week 6
$294,000 in 155 theaters (-113); Cumulative: $4,721,000
Still adding gross to its already impressive total.
“Pride” (CBS) Week 4
$205,000 in 115 theaters (+18); Cumulative: $859,000
Plugging along at an underperforming level, but still looking to save some business ahead.
“My Old Lady” (Cohen) Week 6
$214,189 in 128 theaters (-84); Cumulative: $3,177,000
Still holding in at OK levels.
“The Good Lie” (Warner Bros.) Week 3
$ est. 160,000 in 135 theaters (-326); Cumulative: $2,080,000
The bottom fell out of this after its tepid openings with most theaters dropping out.
“Bang Bang” (Fox International) Week 3
$155,000 in 108 theaters (-128); Cumulative: $2,560,000
This action hit is now the biggest Bollywood opening in the U.S. for 2014.
“Breakup Buddies” (China Lion) Week 3
$85,000 in 24 theaters (unchanged); Cumulative: $692,000
This big local Chinese hit continues to show modest strength in its core theaters.
“Boyhood” (IFC) Week 15
$72,800 in 52 theaters (-20); Cumulative: $23,685,000
Still a presence nearing the end of its four month run.
“The Two Faces of January” (Magnolia) Week 4 ; also available on video on demand
$ est. 70,000 in 46 theaters (+2); Cumulative: $286,000
Some additional theater gross is added to its main VOD venue.