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Arthouse Audit: Terrence Malick’s ‘Knight of Cups’ Struggles; Doc ‘Trapped’ Surprises

Arthouse Audit: Terrence Malick's 'Knight of Cups' Struggles; Doc 'Trapped' Surprises

Terrence Malick’s “Knight of Cups” (Broad Green) is the first major post-Oscar opener trying to fill the void as the winners quickly fade to home viewing. But the film scored modest audience response, better than most this year but far below “The Tree of Life.” Also opening this week is another movie directed by a Cannes top-prize winner,  Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Cemetery of Splendour.”

With even lower numbers, the grassroots-supported “Trapped” (Abramorama) showed life in three markets, well above most social/political documentaries.

On the Oscar front, winners “Spotlight” and “Room,” though limited by their availability on Video on Demand, saw decent boosts, while “The Danish Girl,” also on VOD, managed a measly estimated $35,000 despite Alicia Vikander’s supporting actress win.

Oscilloscope’s “The Embrace of the Serpent” continues to expand to respectable results before going into more new top markets this week. It is one of the few 2016 releases to show much heft. In what is a sign of trouble, no second weekend grosses are listed this week. The handful that might have been included have no reported grosses, and it appears they would be of little significance in any event.


“Knight of Cups” (Broad Green) Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 54; Festivals include: Berlin 2015, Santa Barbara 2016
$56,668 in 4 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $14,172

It’s a far cry from 2011 when fresh from its Cannes Palme’ d’or win Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” opened with major anticipation to a $93,000 PTA in its initial four theaters. That led to further awards, Oscar nominations but a not overwhelming $13 million total (similar to the lower results from other critic-darling directors like Paul Thomas Anderson his last two times out and the Coen Brothers). Malick’s “To the Wonder” launched a bit wider (17 theaters) to modest results and an ultimate sub-$600,000 total. Malick’s latest, set in Hollywood with a top cast including Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman, had to wait over a year after its Berlin Film Festival premiere to finally open, suggesting that Malick interest peaked in 2011. This more conventional (and top theater booked) initial platform release managed one of the better PTA’s in what has been a dispirited recent season. But with mediocre reviews (even a bit below those for “To the Wonder”) this looks like it will get only Malick cultists as it expands nationally.

What comes next: Broad Green has shown its ability to maximize its releases led by access to top theaters and placement in smart play periods with less competition (their early fall release of “A Walk in the Woods,” until it was finally bested by Oscar-contender “Brooklyn” was the top Sundance 2015 grosser film). “Knight of Cups” will expand over the next few weeks initially as limited, with its cast possibly getting it somewhat wider interest and a likely total gross ahead of “To the Wonder.”

“Trapped” (Abramorama)  Metacritic: 76; Festivals include: Sundance 2016
$20,385 in 3  theaters; PTA: $6,786

A Sundance 2016 doc winner, this issue-oriented film about efforts in some states to kill off abortion providers with draconian laws was backed with an under $10,000 paid media outlay. A major social media campaign led by Lena Dunham helped to elevate awareness. The result was a three-city placement (NY, LA and Washington D.C.) in top theaters that resulted in a promising result above most serious, tough-minded docs.

What comes next: A traditional theatrical expansion in major markets (Landmark providing major support) along with special showings in smaller venues are already set in upcoming weeks.

The Other Side of the Door” (20th Century Fox)  Metacritic: 37
$(est.) 1,200,000 in 546 theaters; PTA: $2.198

High-riding 20th Century Fox (with more than a third of the box office for 2016 to date) reported grosses this week, but no estimates for this Anglo-Indian thriller about Western parents dealing with tragedy in India and their involvement with the supernatural. Hardly a complete disaster, but mainly a blip on their release schedule.

What comes next: Even with all the Fox films in the market, this likely gets some second-week play.

“The Wave” (Magnolia)  Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 67; Festivals include: Toronto, Hamptons 2015; also available on Video on Demand
$(est.) 60,000 in 27 theaters; PTA: $(est.) 2,222

This Norwegian disaster film plays like a studio film with subtitles, which combined with its good but not stellar reviews and lack of play beyond its submission in the Oscar race with parallel Video on Demand play. These aren’t bad grosses for this playoff.

What comes next: This will get more theater play, but its main home will be VOD.

“Cemetery of Splendour” (Strand)  Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 87; Festivals include: Cannes, Toronto, New York 2015
$(est.) 8,000 in 2 theaters; PTA: $(est.) 4,000

Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul will always be at best of niche interest even among core specialized moviegoers. His most recent film opened in New York to top flight reviews and some sampling, but it isn’t likely to advance more than similar esoteric locations elsewhere.

What comes next: It should reach most big cities, even if only for limited showings.

“Songs My Brother Taught Me” (Kino :Lorber)  Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 63; Festivals include: Sundance, Cannes, AFI 2015
$3,680 in 1 theater; PTA: $3,680; Cumulative: $6,480

Manhattan’s Film Forum hosted this Native American South Dakota coming of age drama that debuted at Sundance last year. The Wednesday opening boosted its total, but this is a lesser recent result for that venue.

What comes next: A release focusing on Midwestern region dates among other core arthouse dates are ahead for this.

“Colliding Dreams” (International Film Circuit)   Metacritic: 81; Festivals include: New York Jewish 2015
$15,972 in 4 theaters; PTA: $3,993

The history of Zionism and its complicated roots and development is the subject of this documentary which in four widely scattered initial theaters had a modest response.

What comes next: Jewish focused docs have a ready national audience that can be attracted, so expect this to get niche distribution to push its gross to a level beyond what this initial result might suggest.

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

“Spotlight” (Open Road) Week 18; also available on home video
$1,832,000 in 1,227 theaters (+542); Cumulative: $41,628,000

It made total sense for Open Road to push the VOD button (more than four months after original release) with its Oscar chances uncertain until the envelope was opened last week, ironically, as Open Road is owned by two leading exhibitors. Their home release is similar to last year’s winner “Birdman,” also having parallel track play just after its wins. That film did $1,923,000 its post-win weekend, with a total gross a bit over a million lower (they played at a similar number of theaters). “Spotlight” likely tops its predecessor’s $42.3 million take, modest for a Best Picture winner but by any definition a major success for Open Road.

“The Lady in the Van” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 8
$708,468 in 429 theaters (-193); Cumulative: $7,107,000

Dropping about a third after its widest weekend, Maggie Smith’s vehicle without any awards heft will end up ahead of similar older actress centered recent film “I’ll See You in My Dreams” ($7.4 million) and “Grandma” (7.0 million).

“The Big Short” (Paramount)  Week 13
$535,000 in 314 theaters (-229); Cumulative: $69,384,000

Even with no VOD, not winning Best Picture cost Paramount a lot. Start off by comparing the theater count to “Spotlight” – 915 fewer. The gross is less than a third as this, after a great run (it will end up $25 million or more ahead of Open Road’s film). This will now quickly retreat until it gets elevated attention in its home availability.

“Room” (A24)  Week 21; also available on home video
$445,220 in 565 theaters (+35); Cumulative: $14,145,000

Unfortunately, no figures are available for the Video on Demand and other home viewing sales for the Best Actress winner. It likely soared, but at the cost of what would have been a big theatrical spike. The gross is actually about 25% even with some added theaters. This should easily pass $15 million, placing its third among still A24’s releases (the two highest are the wider-released “Ex Machina” and their current “The Witch.”) Last year’s specialty winner in the category “Still Alice” was only slightly better after the same post-awards weekend, but as a later release it held off home viewing and ended up at $18,750.

“Brooklyn” (Fox Searchlight) Week 18
$390,000 in 287 theaters (-190); Cumulative: $37,223,000

No wins, but the added exposure managed to keep Searchlight’s long-running success in some theaters. It will come in only about $5 million under “Birdman” and more than double Best Actress winner “Room.” Even in a rare year without a winner, Searchlight came out fine.

“The Mermaid” (Sony)  Week 3
$(est.) 380,000 in 106 theaters (+29); Cumulative: $(est.) 2,482,000

Sony isn’t reporting numbers, but they keep broadening the run of Stephen Chow’s Chinese smash with some success at specialized as well as more ethnically inclined venues.

“Where to Invade Next” (Drafthouse)  Week 4
$215,200 in 150 theaters (-62); Cumulative: $2,958,000

It is losing theaters quickly, but its PTA remains about even. The core interest among Moore fans remains, even if this hasn’t had remotely the wider interest of his earlier films.

“Son of Saul” (Sony Pictures Classics)  Week 12
$142,508 in 180 theaters (+29); Cumulative: $1,516,000

Credit SPC with returning to the Oscar Foreign Language winner’s circle after a two-year absence. But as has been the case its entire run, “Son of Saul” still is facing audience resistance,  with only a $12,000 gross bump despite its win and adding 29 theaters. The total gross is less than the most recent still in theatrical release winner “The Great Beauty” saw when it post-win played in only 77 theaters.

“Embrace of the Serpent” (Oscilloscope)  Week 3
$67,000 in 23 theaters (+2); Cumulative: $300,138

Though it didn’t win the Foreign Language Oscar, this Colombia Amazon-set film continues to get interest, with showing the top gross in its two top-flight Manhattan locations. This expands to 60 theaters, including some remain top 10 markets, this Friday.

“45 Years” (IFC)  Week 11   
$100,000 in theaters (-110); Cumulative: $3,936,000

IFC got this Best Actress nominated film up to nearly $4 million as it ends is three month run as a decent art house success.

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