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Arthouse Audit: Oscar Frontrunner ‘Son of Saul’ Debuts as Sole New Specialty Non-VOD Entry

Arthouse Audit: Oscar Frontrunner 'Son of Saul' Debuts as Sole New Specialty Non-VOD Entry

Son of Saul,” the Hungarian Cannes prize-winner and critically heralded Holocaust film began what is likely to be a multi-month run, calibrated in hopes of winning the Foreign Language Oscar (Sony Pictures Classics are almost always in the running with a film or two) as well as to maximize grossing potential. It had a decent if not spectacular start. while it’s unlikely that box office behemoth “Star Wars: Force Awakens” impacts a small specialty film like this, the timing is still not optimal for such a dark and serious film. Its adult audience should be around in the weeks ahead, however, and SPC is going to make sure they will be aware of it.

We aren’t quite done with the new releases. Apart from qualifying runs, “45 Years” (IFC) and “Anomalisa” (Paramount) open for the specialized market, while “The Revenant” (20th Century Fox) opens platform runs and, a bit wider, the 70mm dates for “The Hateful Eight.” All will vie for initial attention over the next two weeks.

This weekend also is critical for those awards-contending films fighting for presence in wider release over the holidays to bolster their totals as well as Oscar chances. The four best performers out there (“Spotlight,” “Brooklyn,” “The Danish Girl” and “Trumbo”) combined grossed $3.600,000, compared to the $4.3 million last year’s similar top four (“The Theory of Everything,” “Foxcatcher,” “Birdman” and “The Imitation Game”) took in a year ago. The 16% drop in that total is equivalent to the overall declining specialized take throughout 2015.

Previous years have seen Asian general audience films open well at this point. This year, two actually, in still limited dates, made the Top Ten. “Diwale,” costarring Bollywood superstars Shah Ruhk Khan and Kajol, placed ninth at close to $1.9 million, while the historic epic romance “Baijirao Mastani” did nearly as well in tenth. That’s nearly $4 million worth of business for Indian films in one weekend.


“Son of Saul” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Criticwire: A-, Metacritic: 89; Festivals include: Cannes, Toronto, New York 2015
$38,891 in 3 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $12,964

With multiple awards already, great reviews, its expected inclusion on the Oscar Foreign Language Film semi-final list and top New York/Los Angeles theaters in place, this first person POV Auschwitz drama opened on the tricky pre-Christmas weekend as the sole new specialized debut of note. The initial result can be considered reasonable, if not at the high end of potential, particularly with its tough, demanding subject. Two direct comparisons: SPC opened “Amour,” also not exactly holiday fare, the same weekend two years ago. With even more acclaim, an established art house director and two name actors, that opened to a PTA of just under $23,000 (over 40% better). But that film managed to reach nearly $7 million ultimately with a Best Picture nomination, a stunning performance not easily repeated.

Among other recent subtitled openers, the initial numbers fall below “Wild Tales” (after it had received its Oscar nod), “Ida” and this year’s “Phoenix,” but ahead of foreign-nominated opener “Timbuktu” and last year’s Christmas newbie “Leviathan” pre-nomination. It is much better than its strong Oscar rival “Mustang” a few weeks ago (that reached only $6,800 PTA). SPC last year this weekend opened the English-language “Mr. Turner” in five theaters with a $21,800 PTA in five.

Again, while accepting that these grosses are in the range of similar films of late (some of which reached a $3 million+ gross), what remains unclear is its potential. SPC is pushing hard not only for a Foreign Language win, but also other Oscar categories similar to “Amour”  (Best Picture, Director and Screenplay categories, as well as Best Actor; “Amour” placed in Actress). That’s a few weeks down the line. Meantime, expect at least a stabilization in these initial grosses and the potential for growth. 

While attention is focused on Quentin Tarantino’s initial 70mm film showings of “The Hateful Eight,” these three Saul dates are being presented in 35mm, the format in which it was shot. It won’t be across the board, but where possible SPC is favoring theaters that can still present it in this format.

What comes next: The next top markets come on board on Jan. 8 and 15, with a wider break on Jan. 29

“Pierrot le fou” (Rialto) (reissue)
$7,600 in 1 theater; PTA: $7,600

Jean-Luc Godard’s mid-60s amour fou comedy about Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina on the run from gangsters opened at New York’s FIlm Forum. The gross is in line with other Godard restorations Rialto has shown there is recent years.

What comes next: Other calendar and other niche bookings will hit major cities early next year.

Openings also available on Video on Demand

“Extraction” (Lionsgate) – $(est.) 9,000 in 13 theaters
“He Never Died” (Vertical/SxSW15) – $(est.) 7,500 in 10 theaters
“The Emperor’s New Clothes” (IFC/Tribeca 15) – $(est.) 400 in 1 theater
“Anguish” (Gravitas Ventures) – $(est.) 2,000 in 10 theaters
“Noma: My Perfect Storm” (Magnolia) – $(est.) 2,500 in 13 theaters

New international releases

“Dilwale” (UTV/India) – $1.875,000 in 268 theaters
“Bajairo Mastani” (Eros/India) – $ 1,660,000 in 304 theaters
“Mojin: The Lost Legend” (Well Go/China) -$(est.) 250,000 in 20 theaters
“Surprise – Journey to the West” (Media Asia/Korea) – $(est.) 150,000 in 25 theaters
“Thanga Magan” (Wunderbar/India) – $(est.) 100,000 in 49 theaters

Week Two

“The Big Short” (Paramount)
$350,000 in 8 theaters (no change); PTA: $43,750; Cumulative: $1,292,000

The 50% second weekend drop in the same eight theaters in four cities needs to be looked at in context. In this case same theater competition from “The Force Awakens” (this is playing mainly at strong upscale studio-oriented venues), and also a stronger hold than similarly big opener “Inherent Vice” last year (down 57% its second stanza). In reality, Paramount would have been encouraged by an opening not much better than this figure, so consider this still strong. They go nationwide (focusing on upscale locations at this point) on Wednesday.

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

“Spotlight” (Open Road) Week 7
$1,483,000 in 825 theaters (-264); Cumulative: $22,861,000

This weekend marks a major milestone for Open Road’s Oscar front runner. Its to date gross now exceeds last year’s winner “Birdman” on the same weekend, and three weeks earlier in its run. And even with natural loss of screens over the holidays, this should sustain presence on far more than “Birdman” over Christmas week (292), with a resulting boost that should maintain its momentum. And that’s before its likely widest break around the times of the nominations next month. This looks headed for a $40-50 million total, with potentially even more possible.

“Brooklyn” (Fox Searchlight)  Week 7
$1,200,000 in 614 theaters (-333); Cumulative: $16,518,000

This Irish emigree tale is quietly itself amassing a decent result. And this weekend, though being in somewhat fewer theaters helped its cause, Searchlight can be happy that its PTA actually came in ahead of “Spotlight.” That is critical in helping them fight to maintain as many of the best grossing theaters ahead over the next two weeks.

“The Danish Girl” (Focus)  Week 4
$538,000 in 81 theaters (+57); Cumulative: $1,326,000

Though not performing at the level of the last two films or Focus’ own “The Theory of Everything” (a rough head to head comparison would be at best half as strong, likely a bit less), it has been positioned to justify a leap to 400 theaters next weekend. This will give this acting awards contending film a shot at its maximum potential. This took finesse in a very tough market.

“Trumbo” (Bleecker Street) Week 7
$385,240 in 273 theaters (-281); Cumulative: $6,252,000

Though it hasn’t been their widest release, “Trumbo” is setting its sights on being Bleecker Street’s biggest release yet. It’s already their third over $5 million, not bad for a distributor who only opened its first film last March. Getting to the $7.5 million “I’ll See You in My Dreams” achieved will depend on maneuvering through the tricky holidays and further presence before the SAGs and Golden Globes next month, both of which nominated this prominently.

“Youth” (Fox Searchlight)  Week 3
$247,000 in 61 theaters (+44); Cumulative: $516,322

Also positioning itself for a holiday expansion, “Youth” is not faring as well as “The Danish Girl.” But with mainly older audience appeal, it could see some improvement ahead.

“Carol” (Weinstein)  Week 5
$229,893 in 16 theaters (no change); Cumulative: $1,627,000

TWC’s unusually slow roll out for Todd Haynes’ period romance is atypical and without direct same-date comparisons, so let’s just say a 32% drop this weekend shows real strength going into their wider (but still limited) big city expansion next week.

“Room” (A24)  Week 10
$173,052 in 171 theaters (-27); Cumulative: $4,535,000

A24, which has had a terrific year, has held off going much beyond the core art market (with hopes that Oscar nods bolster a wider break next month). Meantime, the total gross —this shows how strong a year they’ve had— is only their fifth best of the year, and hasn’t so far matched some of the top competitors. The key is for it to remain as visible as much as possible in major cities with hopes of revival later.

“Macbeth” (Weinstein)  Week 3
$136,300 in 97 theaters (-11); Cumulative: $653,672

Three weeks and out for most of the theaters despite decent reviews and Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in the lead roles.

“Legend” (Universal) Week 5
$(est.) 115,000 in 85 theaters (-22); Cumulative: $(est.) 1,700,000

Universal has stopped reporting grosses, and likely by next week will have few theaters left for this under performing Tom Hardy-starrer.

“Chi-Raq” (Roadside Attractions) Week 3
$114,136 in 73 theaters (-212); Cumulative: $2,426,000

Spike Lee’s film is heading for the end of its theatrical life most places before, likely soon, becoming viewable on Amazon.

Also noted
“The Suffragette” (Focus) – $34,000 in 75 theaters; cumulative $4,616,000
“Hitchcock/Truffaut” (Cohen) – $24,392 in 22, cumulative $165,404
“Peggy Guggenheim Art Addict” (Submarine) – $18,547 in 18; cumulative $343,302
“Mustang” (Cohen) – $9,668 in 3; cumulative $114,315

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