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Specialty Box Office: Oscar Contender ‘Embrace of the Serpent’ Breaks Subtitled Slump

Specialty Box Office: Oscar Contender 'Embrace of the Serpent' Breaks Subtitled Slump

Well, at least one foreign film is reaching an audience, and it’s the last Oscar nominee out of the gate. Colombia entry “Embrace of the Serpent” (Oscilloscope) scored a terrific result for a subtitled film, which have fared poorly in recent months. On the other hand, three subtitled overseas hits aimed mainly at audiences familiar with their languages and released by top mainstream distributors grossed over $2.5 million in limited multi-city play, led by China blockbuster “The Mermaid” (Sony), which scored a massive $29,000 per screen average.

The rest of the action continues to come mainly from ongoing Oscar contenders. Two would-be Oscar hopefuls, Michael Moore’s “Where to Invade Next” and “Lady in the Van,” are also showing signs of life, with the latter breaking to over 500 theaters. They must fill the void when the Oscar nominees complete their theatrical runs.


“Embrace of the Serpent” (Oscilloscope) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 81 Festivals include: Cannes, Toronto 2015, Sundance 2016
$50,165 in 3 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $16,722:; Cumulative: $61,374

Ending the recent drought among platformed subtitled films, this black and white Colombian Amazon story opened just as Academy members are viewing their screeners. This strategy works best when a film opens with a splash, so these numbers (which would have been higher for the three days had it not opened on two New York screens on Wednesday to catch Oscar voters) could give this long-shot contender a boost. Apart from rave reviews, the exotic subject matter— different from the more conventional subjects of other recent releases— boosted its audience allure.

What comes next: A significant expansion in New York and Los Angeles as well as opening the San Francisco Bay area this weekend. Irrespective of the Oscars, this should see significant play throughout March and beyond based on these grosses.

“The Mermaid” (Sony) – Metacritic: 66
$1,015,000 in 35 theaters; PTA: $: 29,000

Director Stephen Chow (“Kung Fu Hustle”) has had success in the U.S. before in specialized markets, but nothing like the show for this huge mainland smash. The title character is a seductress who falls for the businessman she was intended to destroy. This like so many other recent breakout subtitled hits this was downplayed by mainstream media, despite Chow’s previous crossover success. 

What comes next: That huge PTA will get this a lot more attention right away.

“Busco Novio par Mi Mujer” (Lionsgate/Pantelion)
$900,000 in 357 theaters; PTA: $2,521:; Cumulative: $900,000

The title for this Mexican comedy translates to “I’m Looking for a Boyfriend for My Wife,” and once again Lionsgate’s partner Pantelion has found success in key areas with little regard for attention outside the community. With established and rising stars familiar to the intended audience, they managed again to tap the initial niche market.

What comes next: These films usually stay to core theaters, with word of mouth determining how much higher they go. This climbed a decent 24 per cent on its second day.

“We Are Twisted Fucking Sister” (Music Box) –  Metacritic: 65; Festivals include: IDFA 2014
$(est.) 4,000 in 5 theaters; PTA: $(est.) 800:; Cumulative: $$4,000

This is playing single dates and partial shows in its ongoing release as the Long Island metal band Twisted Sister’s documentary, first festival shown in 2014, finally lands gets a limited release.

What comes next: This should find home interest down the line.

Also on Video on Demand:

“Forsaken” (Independent/Toronto 2015) – $(est.) 26,000 in 41 theaters
“Rolling Papers” (Alchemy/South by Southwest 2015) – $(est.) 5,500 in 13 theaters
“Crazy About Tiffany’s” (Gravitas Ventures) – $(est.) 11,500 in 8 theaters

International releases:
“Neerja” (20th Century Fox/India) – $585,315 in 73 theaters

Week 2

“Where to Invade Next” (Drafthouse)
$560,210 in 275 theaters (-33); PTA: $2,037; Cumulative: $1,987,000

The theater count dropped the second weekend for Michael Moore’s personal tour of Europe and environs comparing what governments offer their respective citizens. The PTA fell less than a third, suggesting that the populist doc is finding fans. It should be able to sustain a run at some of the better-grossing locations.

“A War” (Magnolia)
$(est.) 18,000 in 15 theaters (+9); PTA: $; Cumulative: $(est.) 33,000

Magnolia is appropriately expanding this Oscar contender quickly this week and next to play as many theaters as possible before the awards, but this is showing little more interest than its initial two cities play last week.

“Dough” (Menemsha)
$45,375 in 9 theaters (no change); PTA: $5,052; Cumulative: $133,562

Miami-area older audiences are responding strongly to this English comedy about a kosher chef and his decidedly unkosher recipes. The second weekend looks down only around 10%, which should get attention from other exhibitors as Menemsha looks to get this open in a more traditional specialized release pattern ahead.

“Touched With Fire” (Roadside Attractions)
$65,617 in 67 theaters (+61); PTA: $960; Cumulative: $91,816

This Katie Holmes-starring bipolar drama went national this weekend to negligible results.

“Mountains May Depart” (Kino Lorber)
$(est.) 5,000 in theaters (no change); PTA: $(est.) 5,000; Cumulative: $(est.) 14,560

Though Jia Zhang-khe’s acclaimed Chinese film had a mixed start last week at Manhattan’s Lincoln Plaza, it only looks to fall slightly its second weekend.

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

“The Lady in the Van” (Sony Pictures Classics)  Week 6
$1,501,000 in 540 theaters (+410); Cumulative: $3,814,000

A respectable showing for this Maggie Smith-starrer in its big expansion. The PTA is better than two thirds of last weekend’s at far fewer theaters, a higher level than usual and showing its wider appeal. The gross is the same as “Grandma” last September when it expanded to nearly twice as many theaters. This could justify further expansion and a total approaching $10 million.

“The Big Short” (Paramount) Week 11
$875,000 in 432 theaters (-103); Cumulative: $67,122,000

With more gross coming aboard late in the run because of its Oscar contention, this has grossed $30 million more at this point as had last year’s winner “Birdman” a week ahead of the awards.

“Brooklyn” (Fox Searchlight)  Week 16
$728,000 in 443 theaters (-52); Cumulative: $35,326,000

There’s an outside shot that this could catch up to same-day platformed released “Spotlight.” The cumulative margin keeps decreasing each week.

“Spotlight” (Open Road)  Week 16
$ 515,216 in 401 theaters (-54); Cumulative: $38,095,000

Open Road has done a great job of sustaining this Oscar front runner’s presence for four months now.

“Room” (A24)  Week 19
$417,702 in 352 theaters (+56); Cumulative: $12,668,000

This picked up theaters this week in a pre-Oscars rush with Brie Larson looking like the frontrunner for Best Actress.

“45 Years” (IFC)  Week 7
$339,480 in 246 theaters (+9); Cumulative: $3,384,000

Also adding a handful of theaters as audiences chase down nominees they haven’t seen. This of all the acting nominees has had the smallest playoff, making this a specialized success without much crossover exposure.

“The 2016 Oscar Nominated Shorts” (Magnolia) Week 4
$(est.) 240,000 in 196 theaters (-29); Cumulative: $(est.) 2,290,000

Fast approaching the $2,412,000 total of last year’s edition (the best of the previous ones), this has been another successful release in what has become a perennial.

“Carol” (Weinstein)  Week 14
$100,000 in 101 theaters (-40); Cumulative: $12,300,000

Also picking up late viewers with its six Oscar nominations, “Carol” is unlikely to reach $13 million without any wins. 

“The Danish Girl” (Focus)  Week 13
$(est.) 65,000 in 72 theaters (-16); Cumulative: $(est.) 10,910,000

Another acting nominee getting last minute interest mainly from fans playing catch-up.

“Son of Saul” (Sony Pictures Classics)  Week 10
$84,194,000 in 75 theaters (+25); Cumulative: $1,112,000

The theater count is the highest this Oscar Foreign Language favorite has had in its uneven run, which still leads all foreign Oscar nominees in total gross.

“Anomalisa” (Paramount) Week 8
$50,000 in 45 theaters (-27); Cumulative: $2,480,000

Though it never broke out, Paramount deserves credit for nurturing this acclaimed animated film through a multi-week national release, now in its last stages just before Oscar night where it is an alternative choice to the likely winner “Inside Out.”

Also noted
“Mustang” (Cohen) – $34,823 in 24 theaters; cumulative: $675,924
“Trumbo” (Bleecker Street) – $ in 31 theaters

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