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Arthouse Audit: Panic Time? ‘Mommy,’ ‘Red Army,’ ‘Black Sea,’ ‘Cake,’ ‘Duke of Burgundy’ All Disappoint

Arthouse Audit: Panic Time? 'Mommy,' 'Red Army,' 'Black Sea,' 'Cake,' 'Duke of Burgundy' All Disappoint

Expectations were not high for any of the top titles (most of which received earlier major attention at Cannes and Toronto). That none managed to amass a per screen average of over $7,000 — when $15,000 is considered the usual minimum at these theaters–suggests ongoing issues with the market.

Meanwhile several Oscar contenders plus critics’ fave “A Most Violent Year” are continuing to play well.  They’re drawing audiences away from the new product, along with the must-see “American Sniper.” But still, the weakness among several films hoped to be among the post-awards season draws in upcoming weeks has to give distributors pause.

Of note this week is the return of Video on Demand availabilities on many new titles, at least seven of those that opened in New York and Los Angeles are taking that route, including acclaimed niche title, “The Duke of Burgundy.” Others included A24’s “Son of a Gun” (an Australian prison-set thriller starring up and comer Brenton Thwaites, showing on Direct TV) and Drafthouse’s Japanese S&M comedy “R100,” and Barry Levinson’s “The Humbling” (Millennium, starring Al Pacino),  none of which reported numbers. Based on the figures for the non-VOD titles, though, they may have taken the correct course.

One bright note: although Kino Lorber has only a partial gross so far, it appears that Jean-Luc Godard’s “Goodbye to Language” (Kino Lorber) is scoring a major triumph in its long-delayed Los Angeles opening. They are estimating $22,000 for the weekend at the not centrally located and usually repertory Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, a stellar performance suggesting that there is a strong base of cinephiles in the LA area that will turn out for challenging films when properly marketed.

Considering that a big chunk of the potential audience is currently in residence in Park City, one can imagine that despite its one week lock there it should have further potential in the market. The film has also secured upcoming dates in both Boston and Washington, tricky because of the lack of specialized theaters that can play 3D.


Cake (Cinelou/Freestyle) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 49; Festivals include: Toronto 2014
$1,003,000 in 482 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $2,081; Cumulative: $1,003,000

We’ll never know what impact an Oscar nod for Jennifer Aniston might have had on “Cake.” Presumably landing fewer screens and less marketing than it might have, the result is unimpressive, particularly for a popular actress whose studio films regularly gross over $100 million. Cinelou and Aniston’s handlers scored amazing press attention and Golden Globe and SAG nominations, going from Toronto acquisition to release in a short time. But though the operation was a success, the patient is on life support.
What comes next: The grosses are good enough to hold on to most screens, but a further
expansion seems unlike unless Aniston upsets at the SAG awards Sunday.

“Black Sea” (Focus) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 63
$35,000 in 5 theaters; PSA: $7,000

Playing platform but a bit more commercial than most limited Focus Features, this film from Britain’s Film4 (on a roll with “Mr. Turner,” “A Most Wanted Man,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Under the Skin”) is a commercial/thriller from smart director Kevin McDonald (“The Last King of Scotland”), which lent it extra heft. It opened in the U.K. last month to negligible results, and its initial domestic dates look no better. The New York/Los Angeles theaters are top end, but the grosses aren’t.

What comes next: This has a quick national expansion to 300 theaters next week.

“Red Army” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 83; Festivals include: Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, New York 2014
$20,122 in 3 theaters; PSA: $6,707; Cumulative: $26,056

Why has no doc other than Oscar contender “Citizenfour” scored so much pre-opening attention? SPC clearly had high hopes for this Cannes and fall fest entry, which failed to make the shortlist for Oscar feature documentary. It has a strong story, crowd-pleasing elements, strong reviews, great theaters, substantial ads. What happened? Something seems to have forechecked this, but it looks stuck in the penalty box. This could still get decent word of mouth, but at this level of gross and no awards attention ahead, it is in the danger zone.

What comes next:  It opens in San Francisco and Washington next week, Chicago the following, with other major cities set through March.

Mommy (Roadside Attractions) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 75; Festivals include: Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, AFI 2014
$20,950 in 4 theaters; PSA: $5,238; Cumulative: $3,259,000 (including earlier Canadian gross)

was supposed to be 25-year-old Xavier Dolan’s breakout film in the U.S.
His fifth feature (at only 25) has received festival acclaim, major
press attention and decent reviews as well as solid support from
Roadside Attractions (coming off a strong 2014 performance). But its
initial grosses are perhaps the most disappointing of all the weak
openings. Its edginess perhaps isn’t a great fit for an increasingly
older-skewing audience, but it should have gotten better sampling than
this. It has been a real hit in Canada — the gross there in terms of
relative population is $30 million.

“The Duke of Burgundy” (IFC) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 86; Festivals include: Toronto, Fantastic Fest, Hamptons, AFI 2014, Palm Springs 2015; also available on VOD
$12,996 in 3 theaters; PSA: $4,332

An early entry in any “expect to see on a lot of 2015 10 best lists” file, Peter Strickland’s lesbian role-play story (with hints of David Lynch and Peter Greenaway among others) is also on VOD. This is striking, since films with this high a critical pedigree usually don’t go this route initially unless they have higher awareness (for example, Lars von Trier’s recent films, or IFC’s recent horror entry “The Babadook”). It seems to be another example of a wider release with immediate streaming viable. Meantime, the theatrical end, which includes the usually reliable IFC Center in New York, is weak.

What comes next: IFC always gets its significant VOD releases out into big cities, but this doesn’t seem destined for the attention it deserves.

“Song One” (Film Arcade) – Criticwire:B-; Metacritic: 49; Festivals include: Sundance, Hamptons 2014, Palm Springs 2015; also available on Video on Demand
$23,837 in 27 theaters; PSA: $883; Cumulative: $23,837

A year after premiering in competition at Sundance and Anne Hathaway’s first film shot after her Oscar win limped into some theaters to little response, but at least got it some publicity for its VOD exposure. The star gave it her support with appearances at two Los Angeles theaters, but it seemed to help little.

What comes next: Its future will be mainly on VOD.

Week 2

“Still Alice” (Sony Pictures Classics)
$411,139 in 38 theaters (+26); PSA: $10,819; Cumulative: $715,085

A rapid (for SPC at least) expansion, aimed at capitalizing on Julianne Moore’s ongoing Best Actress attention, this is a decent performance that compares favorably to the grosses the similar “Away from Her” attained its second week (a bit wider, but only somewhat more than half the PSA). Expect as the awards get closer and the near-certainty of Moore’s winning becomes more apparent that this will continue to prosper.


“Birdman” (Fox Searchlight) Week 15
$1,915,000 in 833 theaters (+362); Cumulative: $30,913,000

Searchlight made a big push this week, appropriate with two major industry awards this weekend (this won in a small upset the Producers Guild prize last night, and should fare well with the Screen Actors Guild tonight). This has never had a real wide breakout (its highest theater count was 862), but the gross keeps adding up, and the current performance and its real chance for high end Oscars should keep it on screen in the upcoming weeks.

“The Theory of Everything” (Focus) Week 12
$1,300,000 in 858 theaters (+349); Cumulative: $29,093,000

The theater count picked up again as Focus takes advantage of its strong nomination haul to breathe new life into this already nationally played biopic. The numbers aren’t strong enough to suggest it can sustain this level in the upcoming weeks, but they should be able to cross the $35 million mark in a few more weeks.

“Wild” (Fox Searchlight) Week 8
$946,000 in 505 theaters (-259); Cumulative: $34,709,000

Still leading all the other top specialized awards contenders except the breakout  “The Imitation Game” despite having a quieter presence, “Wild” still is showing some life late in its run.

“Whiplash” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 16
$787,007 in 567 theaters (+378); Cumulative: $7,600,391

Four months into its release, “Whiplash” had its widest break and biggest gross so far. Despite its significant niche popularity, multiple nominations and near-certain Oscar for J.K. Simmons, this has never really broken out, with $10 million looking like its likely maximum gross despite SPC major backing of the film during its long run.

“Foxcatcher” (Sony Pictures Classics); Week 11
$580,632 in 516 theaters (-243); Cumulative: $10,985,000

These aren’t major numbers, but the PSA at least held close to last week’s total. This looks though like it is close to the end of its Oscar boost.

“A Most Violent Year” (A24) Week 4                     
$455,600 in 68 theaters (+29); Cumulative: $1,354,000

Who needs awards? J.C.Chandor’s 1980s New York mob-related story had another uptick in theaters with the PSA only down slightly. This continues to show strength as a new release for those who’ve already seen the contenders.

“Boyhood” (IFC) Week 29; Also available on VOD and DVD
$197,394 in 197 theaters (+61); Cumulative: $24,919,000

If nothing else, this reissue of Richard Linklater’s award’s contender will push its gross over $25 million by next weekend.

“Mr. Turner” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 6
$162,208 in 43 theaters (+6); Cumulative: $1,851,000

A handful of new dates were added to Mike Leigh’s period biopic,  with its PSA lagging somewhat behind that of the director’s two most recent films. Both those topped $3 million, which this ultimately should also do.

“Two Days One Night” (IFC)  Week 5
$113,728 in 32 theaters (+17); Cumulative: $424,212

This, propelled now by Marion Cotillard’s Best Actress nomination, is getting into more markets with a modest performance. Curiously (perhaps because of far greater competition at the moment), despite the asset of her nod, this is grossing a bit less than the Dardenne brothers previous “The Kid With a Bike” at the same point in its run.

“Leviathan” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 5
$72,428 in 11 theaters (+5); Cumulative: $272,104

SPC is expanding their Russian Foreign Language contender slowly, still showing a handful of cities and with modest results. The positive news is that the PSA improved this weekend despite nearly double the dates, so positive word of mouth seems to be working.

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