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Specialty Box Office: ‘Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck’ Primes HBO Pump, Russell Crowe’s ‘Water Diviner’ Is Spotty

Specialty Box Office: 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck' Primes HBO Pump, Russell Crowe's 'Water Diviner' Is Spotty

The weekend’s standout by far is music biodoc Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck,” which is using theaters successfully to promote its near-term HBO debut. Whatever the strategic play involved, its strong numbers suggests that taking advantage of a mixture of top theaters and early home availability is one future course for high-profile wider-interest specialized films.

Also notable is the strong initial response to another rock-based documentary, “Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock ‘n’ Roll” (Argot), which is off to a great start at New York’s Film Forum.

Among expanders, A24 continues its winning streak as “Ex Machina” takes sixth place with $5.4 million and “While We’re Young” adds another $1 million.


“Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” (HBO) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 82; Festivals include: Sundance, Berlin, Miami, Hot Docs 2015
$(est.) 150,000 in 3 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $(est.) 50,000

Is this a model for the future? HBO Docs has been reticent in putting their original product into theaters first (partly because of brand pride) other than qualifying some of their documentaries. But the recent limited success of Alex Gibney’s “Going Clear” (a huge hit in Los Angeles) and its extra publicity has perhaps encouraged HBO to spread their wings further. That film grossed $60,000 in three theaters its first weekend; this Sundance-premiered Kurt Cobain doc did two and a half times better in its showings in New York, Los Angeles and Seattle (all exclusive). The imminent (May 4) HBO showing limits its theatre access, but they did manage to get the Arclight in Hollywood, which alone will do more than half of the total (with a strong capacity, it had a healthy increase yesterday), as well as the more seat-limited IFC Center in Manhattan (also an increase) and the Egyptian in Seattle.

What comes next: The release plan is meant to get PR for the HBO showings. But this response shows that a potential audience does exist for at least an initial platform play for soon to be home-available movies. HBO, Netflix and others may learn from this gross and increase their efforts to get top theaters to consider home-adjacent movies.

The Water Diviner (Warner Bros.) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 51; Festivals include: Dubai 2014
$1,250,000 in 320 theaters; PSA: $3,906

By my count, Russell Crowe is the 29th Best Actor Oscar winner (out of 78) to direct a theatrical feature film (along with four Best Actress winners). Only a handful have managed the trick more than once. Quite often these are personal dream projects, usually starring the director (which helps to land financing), but makes the film more challenging for a rookie. 

Crowe chose a story close to his heart: an Australian father goes to Turkey to search for his three sons who are missing after his country’s tragic experience at the battle of Gallipoli. Its international performance so far ($23 million before this weekend, including a strong $5 million in his native country) shows that he can still draw as an actor. Warner Bros. is the U.S. distributor (though not producer), and opted to go for an initial limited national release. The pattern is close to Weinstein Co.’s “Woman in Gold,” but it’s not as successful. That film in 258 theaters grossed $2.2 million with more than double the PSA. To its credit, yesterday had a 41% jump from Friday, compared to “Gold”‘s 29% “Gold.” The A- Cinemascore indicates decent initial response (and adult moviegoers tend to be a little more critical, so the score might actually be more impressive).

What comes next: Warners has a distribution-only deal, and expects to keep this limited with no major expansion plans. The real sign of how this is faring will come with next weekend’s results, but at this point it has a chance to play for several weeks (in a period with less adult competition) if the public responds favorably.

“Adult Beginners” (Radius/Weinstein) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 56; Festivals include: Toronto 2014, South by Southwest 2015; also available on Video on Demand
$40,130 in 10 theaters; PSA: $4,013

Radius acquired writer-director-star Nick Kroll’s comedy about a down and out brother who moves in with his sister’s family and takes over nanny duties at last year’s Toronto. It is one of their typical VOD/top city initial releases (limited to theaters that are willing to go day-and-date). Radius is comparing this to the Mark Duplass/Elizabeth Moss “The One I Love,” also a parallel VOD play. That opened about 20 per cent better, doing $48,000 its initial weekend on eight screens. The VOD totals so far are reported at over $200,000.

What comes next: Radius normally adds theaters to these releases in other top markets. In the case of “The One I Love,” they got to over $500,000, so look for this to add a few hundred thousand dollars in theaters in addition to its much larger VOD haul.

“Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock ‘n ‘Roll” (Argot) –
Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 36; Festivals include: Doc NYC 2014,
Rotterdam 2014
$(est.) 15,000 in 1 theater; PSA: $(est.) 15,000; Cumulative: (est.) $20,000

Opening last Wednesday in New York’s Film Forum, this low-profile doc about Cambodia’s rock scene prior to the Khmer Rouge did a terrific gross, one of the best this year at this top location. Once again, an off-beat cultural/artistic based story finds an audience, at least initially, showing what appeals to the non-fiction film audience in theaters.

What comes next: This gross should get this a lot more bookings other than those that Argot has already set.

“Brotherly Love” (Freestyle)
$250, 000 in 200 theaters; PSA: $1,250

Marketed to urban audiences, this Philadelphia-set story about the conflicts facing a budding high school basketball superstar Keke Palmer (“Akeelah and the Bees”) was co-produced by star Queen Latifah. The result though modest does indicate they got some attention in multiple markets, led by Philly, natch.

What comes next: Not likely to see much further expansion.

“Blackbird” (Image) – Criticwire: C ; Metacritic: 33; Festivals include: Pan-African 2014
$(est.) 42,000 in 12 theaters; PSA: $(est.) 3,500

This story of an African-American gay youth in a Christian school opened off the big-city radar, but managed to get some attention in its dates, including the DC and San Francisco Bay areas.

What comes next: It remains to be seen whether these numbers encourage future dates.

“Misery Loves Comedy” (Tribeca) – Criticwire: C-; Metacritic: 50; also available on Video on Demand
$5,250 in 1 theater; PSA: $5,250

Comedian Kevin Pollak directed this doc about life as a comic, with New York’s IFC Center opening to buttress its VOD exposure.

What comes next: Los Angeles and San Francisco will open this Friday, with other big city markets later in May.

“The Forger” (Lionsgate) – Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 32; Festivals include: Toronto 2014; also available on Video on Demand
$(est.) 11,000 in 12 theaters; PSA: $917

From its Gala Premiere at Toronto to a VOD play, backed with a modest theater opening and a bad gross, this John Travolta vehicle was acquired by the nascent Saban group (who also acquired “The Horseman,” released through Lionsgate’s partner Roadside Attractions) with the likely intend to emphasize VOD.

What comes next: All VOD from here on.

“Kung Fu Killer” (Well Go) – Metacritic: 67; Festivals include: London 2014
$62,000 in 22 theaters; PSA: $(est.) 2,214

Not much traction for this latter-day martial arts Hong Kong entry from veteran director Teddy Chan. The Chinese market is going for more high-concept movies these days.

What comes next: Little further expansion seems likely.

“The Great Museum” (Kino Lorber) – Criticwire: C, Metacritic: 66; Festivals include Berlin, San Francisco, Seattle 2014
$2,500 in 1 theater; PSA: $2,500

IFC Center in New York also had this opening, a doc about the Art
History Museum in Vienna, got neither the reviews nor the business that
Frederic Wiseman’s “National Gallery” received in recent months.

What comes next: Likely spot bookings in major cities and some non-theatrical play.

Week Two

“True Story” (Fox Searchlight)
$1,175,000 in 856 theaters (+25); PSA: $1,373; Cumulative: $3,840,000

James Franco and Jonah Hill’s star appeal continues to propel this initially nationwide release to a modest result. The PSA is down 42% from last weekend, not a collapse but also not promising a long life. With “Avengers” opening this week, a fair number of its screens with these grosses will be in demand.

“Child 44” (Lionsgate)
$190,000 in 510 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $373; Cumulative: $1,073,000

Credit Lionsgate for holding all its screens, but the result (an average of perhaps 40 tickets sold per site) is not good as this Russian-set crime thriller with a strong cast ends its unsuccessful run.

“1915” (Bloodvine)  
$13,340 in 10 theaters (+1); PSA: $1,340; Cumulative: $43,788

With one New York run added to all its initial Los Angeles dates, this Armenia genocide story is getting more attention than significant business as part of the effort to raise awareness on the centenary of the event.

Felix and Meira” (Oscilloscope)  
$26,538 in 4 theaters (+3); PSA: $6,590; Cumulative: $50,086

Los Angeles opened this Canadian marital drama involving the orthodox community, with its strong Manhattan theater only dropping 12%, a very good hold.

Ongoing/expanding (Under 1,000 theaters, grossing over $50,000).

“While We’re Young” (A24) Week 5
$1,075,182 in 762 theaters (+49); Cumulative: $5,666,000

A decent hold for Noah Baumbach’s Brooklyn-set comedy, which is on track to become his highest grossing release. And even better for A24, it is their second million-plus grossing film for the weekend, a game changer for any relatively new independent distributor.

“Danny Collins” (Bleecker Street) Week 6
$431,000 in 396 theaters (-252); Cumulative: $4,724,000

Al Pacino’s aging rock star drama continues to add to its totals, looking to pass $5 million by next weekend for its distributor’s first time out.

“It Follows” (Radius/Weinstein) Week 7
$369,360 in 401 theaters (-540); Cumulative: $14,027,000

The PSA (which is not strong at this point) went up over last week, and Radius should get this up to $16 million or close, a decent return on their modest investment with the home video still to come.

“The Clouds of Sils Maria” (IFC) Week 3
$237,850 in 71 theaters (+44); Cumulative: $540,970

An impressive expansion for Olivier Assayas’ actress/assistant drama, which is benefiting from both continued strong reviews and its cast led by Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart.

“Wild Tales” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 10
$111,051 in 58 theaters (-23); Cumulative: $2,546,000

Argentina’s Oscar nominee continues to amass more gross, looking to head to more than $3 million, which is great these days for a subtitled film.

“Dior and I” (The Orchard) Week 3
$150,000  in 45 theaters (+42); Cumulative: (est). $288,667

A big expansion throughout the country, adding to its initial cities, brought decent results for this haute couture documentary that boasted strong initial dates. The screen count will double again next weekend.

The Salt of the Earth” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 5
$97,075 in 47 theaters (+7); Cumulative: $522,881

This Oscar-nominated documentary is getting the typical SPC rollout, with impressively both the gross and the PSA increasing in a week with some added theaters,

“What We Do in the Shadows” (Unison/Paladin) Week 11 
$73,050 in 65 theaters (-22); Cumulative: $3,210,000

The Kiwi vampire cult success continues to bring in added viewers nearly three weeks into its run.

“Still Alice” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 15
$59,387 in 101 theaters (-19); Cumulative: $18,656,000

Hanging around still with the DVD/home release due on May 12.

Finally, I dedicate this story to the memory of Richard Corliss, who was not only a great film critic and writer, but in Time Magazine and elsewhere showed a depth of knowledge about the movie business beyond any other critic. He helped to expand the public’s understanding about box office and popular culture and transcended the often artificial gap between mass market and specialized film as all critics should aspire to do. I am grateful beyond words for his friendship and support, and like so many will miss him deeply.

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