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Arthouse Audit: Sundance Fest Draws More Ticket Sales than Limited Openers

Arthouse Audit: Sundance Fest Draws More Ticket Sales than Limited Openers

Lingering fears of competition from Oscar titles and the distraction of the Sundance Film Festival turned this weekend into a must-avoid for most specialized distributors. With the East Coast storm shuttering theaters, more tickets were likely sold at Park City and vicinity than for all the limited openers combined in the top two markets. Throw in more newbies with Video on Demand play than those without, and the result is rock bottom, even for some entries with good reviews, top theaters and/or past festival pedigree.

Plenty of films are available for a range of Sundance buyers, but they know that many of last year’s titles showed up on Video on Demand, cable, PBS, Netflix, Amazon and other venues. And among the 2015 Dramatic premieres to surpass $5 million in domestic box office, both “Dope” and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” failed to perform against their high purchases. Last year’s three top grossers were senior appeal “A Walk in the Woods” and “I’ll See You in My Dreams” and younger-targeted “Brooklyn,” which will likely wind up at number one.

Among the leading Oscar contenders not in wider release, Fox Searchlight’s “Brooklyn” remains the best performer, and seems to have more momentum than competitors “Spotlight” and “Room,” which have been in theaters longer. Many distributors aimed their maximized expansions and advertising at this weekend. Surging “The Big Short” topped them all, though it still lags behind this weekend’s #1 film overall, “The Revenant.”


“Aferim” (Big World) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 88; Festivals include: Berlin, Tribeca, AFI 2015
$16,420 in 5 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $3,284

This Romanian film did not get the Oscar Foreign Language boost it hoped for. It is the first of several upcoming would-be contenders, similarly well regarded, that failed to make the cut. Its reviews in New York and Los Angeles were terrific, but even with the storm impact, this partly comic 19th century fable failed to equal its acclaim with box office interest.

What comes next: With the lack of much new product, this still should be able to expand to top cities in weeks ahead.

“Bleak Street” (Leisure Time) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic 63; Festivals include: Toronto 2015
$1,008 (one day) in 1 theater

Veteran Mexican director Arturo Ripstein’s drama opened on Wednesday at New York’s Flim Forum. The Friday gross (they were shut down Saturday) came in at the lower end of what many of this theater’s opening gross.

What comes next: Though Spanish-language films sometimes get an extra specialized boost, this looks marginal at best.

“Ip Man 3” (Well Go)  – Metacritic: 58; 
$762,400 in 103 theaters; PTA: $7,402

By far the biggest grossing of the “Ip Man” films, this time focused more on the broader Chinese-American audience than more specialized crossover crowds, this scored a strong opening despite the storm. WellGo is one of the top handlers of these and similar films, with a broader sense of maximizing higher-end entries than some of their competitors. That paid off.

What comes next: This should sustain itself at these theaters and have a chance at expanding.

“Monster Hunt” (FilmRise) –  Metacritic: 48
$21,000 in 40 theaters; PTA: $467

This 3D period fantasy adventure, at $382 million, is the biggest-grossing Chinese film ever. But while most of these films land parallel international and North American releases, this summer 2015 smash is only now showing stateside, released by a specialized rather than a Chinese market distributor. The dates include the original Mandarin version and also an English-dubbed, slightly shorter one. The result is far below what top Chinese hits normally do. Either its broad-based humor didn’t appeal to audiences that normally flock to similar films here, or its delayed release muted the interest.

What comes next: Hard to see this expanding much further.

“Caged No More” (Freestyle) 
$(est.) 75,000 in 106 theaters; PTA: $(est.) 708

Another disappointing faith-based related release, this story involves attempts to rescue girls kidnapped for sexual use abroad. Off the radar for mainstream media, this played all top markets to little response. The producers included people involved in the massive hit “God’s Not Dead,: showing how hard it is to repeat the formula.

What comes next: Not likely to gain further traction.

“Pierrot le fou” (Janus)  (reissue)
$3,396 (one day) in 1 theater

Jean-Luc Godard’s mid-’60s masterpiece opened at Manhattan’s Film Forum on Friday (similar to many classic reboots). The theater was closed on Saturday, so this single day figure would normally project to over $10,000 for the weekend. That would have been a decent total, and suggests interest that should extend to similar venues across the country.

Also opened on Video on Demand:

“Exposed” (Lionsgate) – $(est.) 8,000 in 14 theaters
“JeruZalem” (Epic) – $(est.) 5,000 in 1 theater
“Synchronicity” (Independent) – $(est.) 2,500 in 3 theaters
“Mojave” (A24/Tribeca) – $(est.) 4,000 in 26 theaters
“All Mistakes Buried” (Breaking Glass) – $(est.) 1,200 in 6 theaters
“Prescription Thugs” (Goldwyn/Tribeca) – $(est.) 2,500 in 9 theaters

Other International releases

“Airlift” (B4U/India) – $(est.) 900,000 in 102 theaters
“Kyaa Kool Hai Hum 3” (B4U/India) – $(est.) 25,000 in 25 theaters

Week 2

“The Lady in the Van” (Sony Pictures Classics)
$187,000 in 30 theaters (+26); PTA: $6,234; Cumulative: $329,455

Factoring in some weather impact, this Maggie Smith vehicle managed a respectable expansion in its second weekend. At the same point two years ago, Weinstein had Smith’s “Quartet,” also with no Oscar acting nominations, and managed $304,000 in 28 theaters on its way to $18 million after an expensive national push. This likely doesn’t reach that level, but will reach older audiences eager for new films and will benefit from being the sole major newbie so far this year.

Ongoing/expanding (grosses over $50,000 and in under 1,000 theaters + two Oscar nominees)

“The Big Short” (Paramount) – Week 7
$3,500,000 in 1,351 theaters (-414); Cumulative: $56,714,000

Though this and “Spotlight” are on over 1,000 screens, both merit attention as initial platform releases in the middle of the Oscar race. “The Big Short” got a huge boost with its Producers Guild win (the last eight recipients went on to Oscar wins). It has outgrossed three of the four most recent winners (only the initially wide-released “Argo” did better). Its big studio early push meant that despite its nomination haul, it has already reached much of its audience. Unlike key rivals, the film lost theaters this weekend, with its gross down about $1.5 million (it was hit by the storm and lacked the holiday boost last weekend). And if box office is the determining factor, it lags far behind the surging “The Revenant.” That said, it’s a strong performance.

“Brooklyn” (Fox Searchlight) – Week 12
$1,675,000 in 962 theaters (+275); Cumulative: $27,539,000

Slow and steady looks to be working for Fox Searchlight, as a new surge in theater count shows their awards contender finding new viewers. At this point it is certain to top “A Walk in the Woods” to make it the biggest Sundance premiere grosser over the past two years (also ahead of “Boyhood,” which was already available for home viewing by now). This has been a smartly calibrated release the whole way: despite being near the end of its third month it still seems fresh.

“Room” (A24) – Week 15
$1,425,000 in 884 theaters (+591); Cumulative: $7,934,000

Talk about bad luck. A24 waited patiently for months to give its widest push for this acclaimed mother/son drama until this weekend. And then they faced the storm, which as with other films took its toll. Still, its per theater average is nearly as good as “Brooklyn” and ahead of “Spotlight” for the weekend, although both films have had stronger showings. Bottom line: going now, with maximum advertising, does help its chances particularly for their top goal, Brie Larson’s race for Best Actress. The gross is actually higher than “Still Alice” at this point last year (which won for Julianne Moore), though that film had a much later release.

“Spotlight” (Open Road) – Week 12
$1,377,000 in 1,030 theaters (+45); Cumulative: $33,007,000

Back up over 1,000 screens again for the second time (though a bit shy of its top count), this still competitive Best Picture entry remains ahead of the pace of last year’s winner “Birdman.” That film had grossed $31 million through the same weekend on its way to its win. It could be tough to maintain this number for long (the PTA lags behind rivals “The Big Short,” “Brooklyn” and “Room” this weekend), but Open Road’s distribution team (no doubt helped by their co-owners Regal and AMC, the two largest exhibitors) has nurtured its chances by keeping it front and center for months now.

“Carol” (Weinstein) – Week 10
$639,0000 in 692 theaters (-98); Cumulative: $10,574,000

Down to under $1,000/per screen and off its widest theater total, Todd Haynes’ exquisite period romance has topped $10 million. But despite a similar release pattern and awards trajectory, it will only get to about half of his 2002 “Far from Heaven,” which adjusted grossed $23 million.

“The Danish Girl” (Focus) – Week 9
$531,000 in 794 theaters (+315); Cumulative: $9,724,000

With a PTA below “Carol” even though it played many fresh theaters, it appears Tom Hooper’s transgender drama has reached its widest playoff. The awards interest should keep it in some play over upcoming weeks, but this looks to top out under $15 million, less than half of lead actor Eddie Redmayne’s success with “The Theory of Everything” last year.

“Anomalisa” (Paramount) – Week 4
$375,000 in 143 theaters (+106); Cumulative: $1,411,000

Paramount’s other high-end release is playing far more niche-like than their breakout hit “The Big Short.” This older audience animated film is playing nationally with decent sampling continuing. But it looks unlikely to cross over much wider despite its Animated Feature Oscar nomination.

“45 Years” (IFC) – Week 5
$220,000 in 40 theaters (+26); Cumulative: $740,203

IFC is having a slow rollout for their acclaimed English couple drama with Charlotte Rampling getting awards attention. It is doing about 40% better than their Belgian (and subtitled) Best Actress nominated “Two Days, One Night” in the same release pattern last year. That film got to a bit over $1.4 million. This expands to the rest of the Top 25 markets next week.

“Son of Saul” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 6
$98,637 in 34 theaters (+13); Cumulative: $504,891

Outpacing rival Oscar Foreign Language contender “Mustang” now, but lagging behind by some distance other recent winners in the category, either in early release during this period or shown earlier (such as “Ida” last year). For example, SPC’s Iranian “A Separation” on the same weekend, expanded to 31 theaters, grossed $266,000 in 2012.

“Trumbo” (Bleecker Street) – Week 12
$88,091 in 136 theaters (+70); Cumulative: $7,493,000

Bryan Cranston’s awards attention has boosted this long-running biopic into first year distributor Bleecker Street’s biggest grosser so far.

“Youth” (Fox Searchlight) – Week 8
$75,000 in 76 theaters (-18); Cumulative: $2,397,000

Searchlight has maxed out response to Paolo Sorrentino’s English language follow up to his Oscar winning “The Great Beauty.” At least its much better than his earlier “This Must Be the Place” with Sean Penn, which Weinstein only managed to get to $144,000.

“Mustang” (Cohen( – Week 10   
$56,009 in 54 theaters (-3); Cumulative: $443,165

Modestly (at best) riding its Foreign Language nomination, this Turkish/French coproduction is still ahead of most subtitled releases.

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