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Arthouse Audit: Eclectic Limited Holiday Films Led By ‘The Interview,’ ‘American Sniper,’ and ‘Selma’

Arthouse Audit: Eclectic Limited Holiday Films Led By 'The Interview,' 'American Sniper,' and 'Selma'

Even with many wide releases grabbing much of the core adult specialized crowd during the holiday, a wide array of ongoing releases thrived this weekend. Led by two amazing results — an initial record-busting one for Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” in only four theaters, and a stellar expansion for “The Imitation Game” — multiple wider films showed major success. This includes a number of films that are in the middle of the Oscar race, along with one that never was expected to be — “The Interview.” If a month ago someone had suggested that this would be a prime indie theater presentation over Christmas, it would have seemed about as unlikely as it becoming a Best Picture contender. The latter isn’t happening, needless to say, but its results are a prime part of the specialized story this week.


American Sniper” (Warner Bros.) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 73; Festivals include: AFI 2014
$610,000 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $152,610; Cumulative: $850,000 (4 day PSA: $212,500)

No opening in the extraordinarily successful directorial career of 84-year-old Clint Eastwood comes close to this Iraq-war based best selling adaptation. The three-day PSA (this opened on Christmas Eve for evening previews) more than quadruples the best limited opening ever for an Eastwood film (including “Million Dollar Baby” and “Gran Torino,” both passing the $100 million mark). It’s by far the best Christmas limited release ever, again by a huge margin. Last year, Universal opened “Lone Survivor” in two of the four theaters playing this film (“Sniper” filled to capacity two New York, one Los Angeles and one Dallas theater for nearly all the shows for $91,000 ($45,000 PSA) before going on to a $125 million wide run.)

“American Sniper” is second to “The Grand Budapest Hotel” as the best platform opening of 2014, but that underplays its success. That film opened to much greater capacity in its theaters with nothing remotely similar in terms of competition, so this has to be considered at least equally impressive. And it comes with three of its four theaters not exactly smack dab in the middle of the core audience for this military-themed (and typically for Eastwood, morally complex) story.

Eastwood since “Gran Torino” has struggled to find the commercial success of many earlier directing efforts, and hasn’t been much of an awards factor since “Letters from Iwo Jima” in 2006. Oscar prognosticators have been downplaying its chances for this year, but this result might change that (many Academy members — older white males — share the demographic of the film’s core audience). But the response at the theaters so far — continuing sell-outs, a rare A+ Cinemascore across the board from all groups– suggest that this will be the biggest film, at least as a director, in Eastwood’s career.

What comes next: The wide break, per Warner Brothers this morning, remains set for January 16.

Selma(Paramount) – Criticwire: A; Metacritic:91; Festivals include: AFI 2014
$590,000 in 19 theaters; PSA: $31,053; Cumulative: $912,000 (4 day PSA: $48,000)

Ava Duvernay’s Martin Luther King biopic (which so far is just behind “Boyhood” in terms of registered critical acclaim) had a strong start, although far behind “American Sniper,” which had a higher number in 15 fewer theaters. It played at the usual core New York/Los Angeles theaters, but significantly its four biggest weekend numbers come from one theater in Atlanta and three in Washington D.C. dominated by African American audiences. Other theaters are decent considering the high-end holiday competition, but it appears that the greatest crossover appeal could be ahead after this lands expected multiple Oscar nominations. It should be noted that “Precious” open in 18 theaters to nearly $1.9 million in October, so this didn’t come close to that number.

What comes next: The wide national expansion is January 9.

“The Interview” (Sony) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 52; also available on Video on Demand
$1,800,000 in 331 theaters; PSA: $5,438; Cumulative (four days): $2,800,000 (4 day PSA: $8,459)

The unexpected most newsworthy film of the year ended up with a decent four-day holiday total. It played in 2,000+ fewer theaters than other wide releases, and most of these were independents with less draw and not the usual destination for a first-run Seth Rogan comedy. Add that “The Interview”‘s  Video on Demand/streaming availability drew more attention than any prior release –providing unusually robust as competition–and this end result is actually positive. This was clearly an event, with seeing the film on its first day a goal for much of its audience. But nearly two-thirds of the take comes from the rest of the weekend, so it isn’t just a one day wonder. By the way, notice how the fears of terrorism at theaters disappeared about as quickly as the Ebola panic a couple months ago?

What comes next: The theatrical future likely doesn’t extend much beyond next weekend. Sony has, at least so far, not released any numbers on its streaming sales, and any information ahead might only be anecdotal or somehow gleaned from the details of corporate earnings reports later on. But as a precedent, it remains unclear whether this is more than a fluke not to be repeated any time soon by any of the six core studios, however much they might be eager to try it themselves. Certainly the lack of major chain participation will send a strong message, and these grosses (under very special circumstances) likely aren’t enough to make them change their policies.

“Two Days One Night” (IFC) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 91; Festivals include: Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, New York 2014
$30,580 in 2 theaters; PSA: $15,290; Cumulative (5 day): $48,220

IFC (and Sony Pictures, see next) have opened high-end subtitled films around Christmas in recent years to PSAs of about $20,000 or a bit more (“Pina,” “A Separation,” “Amour”). This gross (at two New York theaters) isn’t quite at that level, but overall it’s a decent start. The three-day average is about the same as the Dardenne brothers most recent release, “The Kid With a Bike,” which went on to about $1.5 million nationally. This time they had the plus of not only a big name (Marion Cotillard), but also her recent win as best actress from the New York Film Critics (along with her role in “The Immigrant”). However, this surprisingly failed to make the list of nine for consideration for the Foreign Language Oscar, further clouding the question of her competitiveness for a nomination herself.

What comes next: The Los Angeles opening has been delayed until January 9, with other big cities rolling out quickly after that.

“Leviathan” (Sony Pictures Classics) –  Metacritic: 91; Festivals include: Cannes, Telluride, Toronto 2014
$15,156 in 2 theaters; PSA: $7,578; Cumulative (4 day): $22,986

Andrey Zvyagintsev’s lengthy Russian drama about corruption in a remote town received (similar to “Two Days One Night”) very high-end reviews, but has a less immediate director/cast draw than “Two Days One Night,” but playing at similar New York theaters amid much competition still opened to a passable or better start. This remains on the Oscar shortlist, and between that and a potential longer term appeal as word spreads about the film, it has a chance to be a slow-burner that accumulates a decent gross over the longer run, particular with its upcoming Oscar potential.

What comes next: Los Angeles opens on Wednesday, with its further expansion likely to be more gradual over the next two months.

Week 2

“Mr. Turner” (Sony Pictures Classics)                          
$251,948 in 24 theaters (+)19; PSA: $10,948; Cumulative: $493,576

SPC opened Mike Leigh’s terrifically reviewed biopic in other leading cities (exclusive runs mainly) this weekend, to decent but not extraordinary results. This is another film that could benefit from a slow build and an appreciative audience discovering it over time. The remaining holiday playtime should be a boost, and still possible awards acclaim ahead would be a huge help.

“Winter Sleep” (Adopt)
$(est.) $6,500 in 2 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $3,750; Cumulative: $(est). $17,600

Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Cannes winner continues with modest results in New York, but at least the gross stayed the same.

“P.K.” (UTV)                               
$ (est). $1,600,000  in 264 theaters (-8); PSA: $(est.) 6,061; Cumulative: $(est.) 7,660,000

Most Bollywood films released in the U.S. do most of their business their first week, but the holiday helped give this extra strength. This now could pass $10 million, an extraordinary result for a film with most an ethnic-group base, It could draw more than one million domestic ticket buyers.

Ongoing/expanding (grosses above $50,000 in under 1,000 theaters)

“The Imitation Game” (Weinstein) Week 5
$7,930,000 in 747 theaters (+713)/4-day: $11,007,000; Cumulative: $14,631,000

The three day PSA is over $10,000, but even better is that the total gross so far is $3 million ahead of “The King’s Speech” through Dec. 28 four years ago without about an identical playoff. This is an outstanding success.

“The Theory of Everything” (Focus) Week 8
$1,205,000 in 736 theaters (-275); Cumulative: $22,369,000

The PSA stayed steady (if not spectacular) for this already quite successful Stephen Hawking biopic, which like many of the films listed today still has much further to go.

“Foxcatcher” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 7     
$947,489 in 315 theaters (+8); Cumulative: $6,147,000

The gross with a tiny increase in theaters is about the same as last week, meaning that despite very heavy competition this is holding its own, with of course a boost from holiday playtime.

“Birdman” (Fox Searchlight) Week 11
$820,000 in 292 theaters (-160); PSA: $23,778,000

A terrific hold for this — down only 5% despite a big drop in theaters. The holidays helped, and of course this should find new life over the next two months. Searchlight has done a stellar job in maximizing this and keeping it strong nearing the end of its third month.

“Inherent Vice” (Warner Bros.) Week 3
$200,000 in 16 theaters (+11); PSA: $12,497

Thomas Anderson’s 1970s Pynchon adaptation expanded in New York and Los
Angeles and opened in Toronto, but remained limited to top theaters in
those areas. This is a modest result for the time period and playdates,
showing continued core interest but not suggesting that this will have
significant crossover success when it goes wider (but still limited) on
January 9.

“Whiplash” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 12
$180,295 in 87 theaters (-24); Cumulative: $5,458,000

Late in its run, SPC has managed to hold on to some theaters to benefit modestly from holiday playtime. This could return and increase its take after the nominations.

“The Homesman” (Roadside Attractions) Week 7
$59,800 in 61 theaters (-105); Cumulative: $2,157,000

The end of the run added a little more to the modest total for Tommy Lee Jones’ Western.

“The Bababook” (IFC) Week 5; Also available on VOD                    
$58,280 in 47 theaters (-32); Cumulative: $605,367

This acclaimed Australian horror film, a rare one with a female director, continues to find some theatrical interest despite is easy home viewing availability.

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