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Arthouse Audit: Seniors Rule as ‘Grandma’ Opens Strong

Arthouse Audit: Seniors Rule as 'Grandma' Opens Strong

Four more Sundance Festival films opened this week (46 for the year so far, about the same as last year), led by “Grandma” (Sony Pictures Classics). In fact, 10 of the 19 films in play premiered at this year’s Sundance, with mixed results. The weekend’s other specialty standout, Broad Green’s “Learning to Drive,” broke out at Toronto last year. Both films boast senior leads. 

READ MORE:  Art House Blues: Why Did Indie Films Have Such a Terrible Summer? 

As we continue to track prime newspaper review coverage of new movies, this week the Los Angeles Times gave five films full reviews while three got capsules, and 13 titles earned mostly dismissive one-sentence links to their website, including for the first time three wide studio releases (“Hitman: Agent 47” and “American Ultra”). Thrown away in effect was a positive review for the VOD-available doc “Being Evel,” which clearly hurt that film’s local chances. The New York Times, on the other hand, continues its nearly total coverage of all releases other than Asian wide-release entries (averaging two or more weekly new openers).


“Grandma” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 77; Festivals include: Sundance, Tribeca, Los Angeles 2015
$120,856 in 4 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $30,214

What a difference a title makes! Two weeks ago, SPC opened the acclaimed Sundance-premiered drama “Diary of a Teenage Girl” in four theaters to a PTA of $13,000. Now another Park City acquisition (reported at around $2 million for worldwide rights) has opened in similar theaters to more than double the response. The key? Once again, it’s older audiences driving the indie specialized market. It doesn’t hurt that the resurgent Lily Tomlin is front and center here (in a potential awards-consideration lead role).

The estimated gross falls just below the recent Sundance entry “The End of Tour.” “Grandma” is 20% better than last summer’s senior-targeted gay romance “Love Is Strange” (also an August SPC release), which ended up a little over $2 million. More encouraging, “Grandma” is nearly double the start of Bleecker Street’s sleeper “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” which ended capitalizing on older viewers, exceeding expectations with $7 million. This is a big improvement for director Paul Weitz (“American Pie,” “About a Boy,” “Little Fockers” and “Admission”), whose previous specialized foray “Being Flynn” managed only $540,000 after an initial four-theater $11,000 PTA.

Tomlin’s presence, plus the universality of relationship issues (mother/daughter issues, grandchildren, loss of partner) that are no less familiar because she is gay should propel this closer to “Dreams” than “Strange.” And it has been positioned to expand in a period (before the deluge of fall releases) where it can thrive with less competition.  This is a strong start.

What comes next: “Grandma” will likely expand, per SPC’s pattern, somewhat less rapidly than some other potential crossover Sundance films (such as “Tour,” up to 355 theaters in its fourth week). But expect it to have a substantial national presence during September and beyond.

“Learning to Drive” (Broad Green)  – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 57; Festivals include: Toronto, Hamptons, Carmel 2014
$67,417 in 4 theaters; PTA: $16,854

While the PTA is not as strong as “Grandma,” initial results are positive. Again centered on an older character (Patricia Clarkson finds herself suddenly single and learns to drive from emigre Ben Kingsley), this showed initial appeal by being the runner up as People’s Choice among all films at last year’s Toronto Film Festival (“The Imitation Game” won). It hasn’t had a major festival presence since, and opens as Broad Green continues to gear up to release more of their slate this summer and fall.

The PTA is close to “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” which is impressive on two levels. For one, it is competing with “Grandma” for the same audience. For another, it comes with mixed reviews, below either of these two comparable films. And also of note, it had a better jump in gross yesterday than did “Grandma,” suggesting initial good word of mouth consistent with its earlier Toronto enthusiasm. Maybe most encouraging is the one different theater — AMC’s flagship Lincoln Square in Manhattan, a broad audience house — saw this place third for the weekend, which suggests potential crossover appeal.

Broad Green is strongly financed and staffed with top professionals and is potentially a big buyer at this year’s Toronto and beyond. But showing they can take a film without a lot of headwind, particularly a year after its premiere, get it into top theaters, provide smart marketing (helped here by the strong support of its cast) and get a decent initial result is a breakthrough for them. As always, what happens next is even more important. But they, like Bleecker Street earlier with “Danny Collins” and especially “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” have shown they are a player in the specialized world.

What comes next: This will expand in a widening pattern a little less quickly than “Dreams” –four new markets this Friday, 15 the next week, and possibly 150 or more theaters by the fourth week. But based on the initial response, it could see increased exhibitor interest.

“Digging for Fire” (The Orchard)  – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 73; Festivals include: Sundance, Sarasota, Traverse City 2015
$24,354 in 3 theaters; PTA: $8,181

Another Sundance film, the latest comedy/drama from prolific Joe Swanberg (“Happy Christmas,” “Drinking Buddies”). Though his films never have been breakout specialized hits, with low-budgets and early alternate platform presence Swanberg has grown a brand. Similar to “Drinking Buddies,” this is having a limited pre-VOD play with dates in three cities (New York/Los Angeles/Chicago). The Music Box in Chicago (Swanberg’s home base) accounted for about half of the gross. (The VOD presence affected overall initial theater interest, particularly in Los Angeles).

This is a prime example of using key cities to launch a VOD play. The Orchard got significant review and other media attention for the film, their ad spending will increase attention ahead, standing out ahead of other new VOD releases. 

What comes next: VOD starts on Tuesday, but will also have a theater play in the top 20 markets this Friday.

“Station to Station” (Submarine Deluxe)  – Criticwire: B-; Festivals include: Sundance, Sydney 2015
$9,494 in 1 theater; PTA: $9,494

This collection of one-minute segments about a cross-country train tour shows the power of a good Los Angeles Times review, the right theater and grass roots marketing. This is a very good gross for the Nuart, Landmark’s single screen calendar location, and suggests similar dates nationally could also draw an audience.

What comes next: Future dates are to be determined, but this looks like it has high-end specialized niche potential ahead. New York will open in October, with calendar dates in other locations likely.

“She’s Funny That Way” (Lionsgate)  – Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 44; Festivals include: Venice, Tokyo, Edinburgh 2014; also available on Video on Demand
$(est). 45,000 in 27 theaters; PTA: $(est.) 1,677

Peter Bogdanovich’s comedy is mainly VOD, but it got a national sampling ahead of some similar releases to add to its awareness. Nothing special, but mission accomplished. This is a bit unusual because it has older appeal, but Lionsgate, which regularly releases action films to VOD generally is a good judge of its product. The veteran director’s feature directing career among more or less active American directors is predated only among major names by Francis Ford Coppola and William Friedkin (he predates Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood).

What comes next: VOD mainly.

“Being Evel” (Gravitas Ventures)  – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 72; Festivals include: Sundance, Seattle, Miami 2015
$(est.) 8,500 in 14 theaters; PTA: $567

Sundance again, in this case in the doc competition. This recap of Evel Knievel’s life also is on VOD, its main home, with multi-market theaters getting it review attention but little gross.

What comes next: VOD primarily.

“The Love Affair” (ABS-CBN)
$(est.) 725,000 in 74 theaters; PTA: $(est.) 9,797

Another Asian popular cinema reaching out to US audiences. this Filipino romance did a strong number at its limited theaters even though it is totally off the radar for most audiences and media.

What comes next: Most likely sticking to these core theaters.

“The Quay Brothers in 35MM” (Zeitgeist)
$9,831 in 1 theater; PTA: $9,831; Cumulative: $18,423

Ideally booked at Manhattan’s Film Forum, this collection of experimental stop-action animated shorts from the longtime British-based, American born twins had a terrific performance. The five-day figure (this opened Wednesday) shows the impact of Christopher Nolan’s involvement (he is credited with curating this; note the 35mm format). The program includes a short film on their studio directed by Nolan.

What comes next: Though a niche audience item, Nolan’s name and this gross could bring considerable specialized interest, particularly in calendar locations.

Week 2

“Mistress America” (Fox Searchlight)
$237,000 in 32 theaters (+28); PTA: $7,406; Cumulative: $378,048

Performing nearly equally to the similar second weekend rollout of its fellow Sundance player “The End of the Tour” (which had a $7,020 PTA in 36 theaters), Noah Baumbach’s well-received comedy, once again like “Frances Ha” starring and co-written by Greta Gerwig, is having a decent early expansion. These numbers are below both what “Frances” and his more recent “While We’re Young” did on their second weeks, suggesting that this could end up more of a core specialized film than moderate crossover successes. Ongoing word of mouth will be the key, but early indications are that Searchlight plans to concentrate on a more limited base and hope for steady business rather than attempt the much wider push their earlier hoped-for breakout “Me and Earl and the Dying GIrl” got and never quite accomplished. Though the ultimate grosses might be lower, this has a chance to be a decent performer for them at significantly less expense.

“Meru” (Music Box)  
$172,000 in 32 theaters (+25); PTA: $5,375; Cumulative: $318,298

Music Box continues to successfully position this mountain-climbing documentary in a combination of specialized and more commercial theaters in an unconventional mix of markets. These are quite good numbers across the board, and suggest real potential to reach an even wider crossover audience ahead. This looks like one of the better documentary performers of the year.

Paulette” (Cohen Releasing)   
$8,542 in 1 theater (unchanged); PTA: $8,542; Cumulative: $22,092

The second weekend gross comes in at nearly the same as its initial take — not great but an indication of good audience response at the Paris Theater in New York for this French older woman character film. This looks to have some potential at other big city theaters that respond well to subtitled films.

Ongoing/expanding (Grosses over $50,000 in under 1,000 theaters)

“Mr. Holmes” (Roadside Attractions)  Week 6
$606,500 in 430 theaters (-159);  Cumulative: $15,390,000

Still doing significant business late in its run, Roadside is going to get this to an impressive $17 million or more.

“The End of the Tour” (A24) Week 4
$523,625 in 355 theaters (+222);  Cumulative: $1,690,000

This David Foster Wallace book tour/Rolling Stone interview story expanded into a nationwide significant play this weekend with modest results. The PTA of under $1,600 doesn’t suggest much more crossover potential and the need to sustain this level of interest to maintain these theaters for much longer. A24 has had a terrific year, and this film received among the best reviews of any of their releases. It seems to have had more difficulty getting the level of interest in its subject matter, with known actors Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg, despite the acclaim for their performances, not drawing as much as hoped.

“Phoenix” (IFC)  Week 5
$342,144 in 108 theaters (+54);  Cumulative: $962,692

Clearly the serious arthouse/subtitled success of the summer and potentially the year, this German post-World War II drama is quietly become a wider hit. It is expanding a bit more quickly than the breakout “Ida” last year (which was in 58 theaters in its fifth week, with a nearly equal total gross at that point despite a less wide release at that point). But this looks prime to get significantly over $2 million, a major triumph these days for a film like this.

“Irrational Man” (Sony Pictures Classics)  Week 6
$225,324 in 185 theaters (-240);  Cumulative: $3,525,000

Now dropping theaters and gross quickly, Woody Allen’s latest continues to look like it will struggle to hit $5 million, making it his lowest performer since before “Midnight in Paris” gave his career new life.

“The Diary of a Teenage Girl” (Sony Pictures Classics)  Week 3
$180,359 in 69 theaters (+47);  Cumulative: $425,030

Though this well-reviewed 1970s coming of age drama continues to get sampling at new core theaters as it expands, its performance remains below expectations. Older audiences, key these days, aren’t flocking to it, and its potential to reach younger and particularly female audiences isn’t being realized.

“Amy” (A24)  Week 8
$139,500 in 100 theaters (-31);  Cumulative: $7,638,000

Apart from its own impressive gross, the most important accomplishment for this doc bio is that it showed strong theatrical life, rather than just trying to reach its younger audience via cable, VOD or Netflix initially. This response will only enhance its later platform appeal.

“Best of Enemies” (Magnolia)  Week 4   410/189
$(est.) 105,000 in 57 theaters (+10);  Cumulative: $(est.) $515,000

Holding quite well at an OK level in still mainly specialized theaters, this Gore Vidal/William F. Buckley feud doc continues to reach an upscale audience.

Briefly noted:
“The Prophet” (GKids) – Week 3; $47,000 in 24 theaters; cumulative: $144,000
“Listen to Me, Marlon” (Showtime) – Week 4: $43,538 in 26 theaters, cumulative $240,435

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