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Arthouse Audit: Openers Struggle, ‘Love & Friendship’ and ‘The Lobster’ Flourish

Arthouse Audit: Openers Struggle, 'Love & Friendship' and 'The Lobster' Flourish

The opening weekend specialized box office was grim this Memorial Day holiday—as best as we can tell. 

That’s because increasingly, distributors are refusing to report the box office numbers for under-performers. This weekend something unprecedented occurred: no distributors reported the estimated gross on a single new film. Some might be waiting for the full four-day estimate, but they usually report three-day as well as four-day. So all the estimated grosses listed for new films here are as close as possible, garnered from reliable sources. The outlook is not good, particularly for well-reviewed subtitled films.

Memorial Day weekend has been a great launching pad in the past for top English-language films from established directors, including Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” and Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight.” This year’s batch included a group of recent festival-acclaimed films from less-renowned if well-regarded festival favorites, Hany Abu-Assad’s “The Idol” (Adopt) and Athina Rachel Tsangari’s “Chevalier” (Strand), as well as high-profile documentaries launched at Sundance and other fests. None managed much of a pulse.

On the other hand, holdovers showing strength on their third weekends as as they widen include Whit Stillman’s “Love & Friendship” (Roadside Attractions) and “The Lobster” (A24). These two distributors are leading the way in negotiating tricky specialized audiences. The Lobster” comes from a Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, whose earlier film “Dogtooth” (a controversial Oscar nominee) had as limited an appeal as “The Idol” and “Chevalier.”

In a period where more distributors are ending the practice of recognizing “clearance” (theaters demand exclusivity over nearby local competitors), it’s tempting for specialized theaters to take advantage of new policies that allow them to play the latest wide release such as “X-Men: Apocalypse.” There are exceptions, but more and more, subtitled films are struggling to gain a purchase with audiences. 


“The Idol” (Adopt) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 64; Festivals include: Toronto, London 2015
$(est.) 22,000 in 17 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $(est.) 1,294

Palestinian director Abu-Assad has had success in the art market before, led by “Paradise Now.” “The Idol,” which is about a Gaza youth and his uphill struggle to appear on the Arabic version of “American Idol,” got positive reviews and good theater placement in New York, and Los Angeles. Adopt took it wider than usual, but with little audience response.

What comes next: This has scheduled dates in other markets ahead.

Chevalier” (Strand)  – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic 74:; Festivals include: Locarno, Toronto, New York 2015, South by Southwest 2016
$(est.) 6,000 in 3 theaters; PTA: $(est.) 2,000

The distinctive Greek director Athina Rachel Tsangari is a colleague in her country’s revitalized cinema with Lanthimos. Her well-received story about six men, all friends, and their challenging weekend cruise in the Aegean opened in New York and Boston (where the director has been teaching at Harvard). The results are disappointing despite top theater placement and rave reviews.

What comes next: Los Angeles opens this week.

“Presenting Princess Shaw” (Magnolia) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 75; Festivals include: Toronto 2015, South by Southwest 2016
$(st.) 5,000 in 3 theaters; PTA: $(est.) 1,667

This festival favorite about a cyber interaction between an Israeli musician and a New Orleans singer bears resemblance to Sony Pictures Classics’ Oscar-winning hit “Searching for Sugar Man.” Despite strong reviews and decent theater placement, Magnolia chose to emphasize Video on Demand play, so the doc sold few tickets in New York and Los Angeles.

What comes next: This will get more play in other cities, but its VOD life will be nearly its entire play.

“Holy Hell” (self-released)  – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 63; Festivals include: Sundance 2016
$(est.) 8,500 in 3 theaters; PTA: $(est.) 2,833

Acquired by CNN prior to its release, this Sundance-premiered documentary about the West Coast spiritualism group Buddhafield got some theater play (which brings more reviews and awards qualification). The grosses are minor, but that is secondary as it got the hoped-for attention.

What comes next: Minimal additional theater play with its cable presentation ahead.

Also available on Video on Demand:

“The Ones Below” (Magnolia/Toronto 2015) – $(est.) 4,500 in 2 theaters

Week Two

“Maggie’s Plan” (Sony Pictures Classics)
$105,387 in 19 theaters (+14); PTA: $5,547; Cumulative: $193,865

Greta Gerwig’s latest role as an independent New York woman (this time pursuing single motherhood) went to top ten markets with a modest result a bit below SPC’s “The Meddler” and much behind their “Grandma” last August Though its second week brought 13 more theaters, Gerwig’s most recent release “Mistress America” had a PTA about $2,000 higher on its way to a disappointing $2.5 million total.

What went wrong for Rebecca Miller’s well-reviewed, accessible, New York romantic comedy (compared by some reviewers to Woody Allen’s Oscar-winner “Annie Hall”), co-starring Julianne Moore and Ethan Hawke? Did SPC’s marketing miss the mark? Is Gerwig a turn-off for some moviegoers? (Fox Searchlight’s “Mistress America” also did much less than expected with good reviews.) Finally, “Maggie’s Plan” is facing strong competition.

“Weiner” (IFC) – also available on Video on Demand
$164,970 in 27 theaters (+22); PTA: $6,110; Cumulative: $293,638

This gross for a quickly expanding political documentary would be notable under normal conditions. But IFC added video on demand in its second weekend, irrespective of new audiences still finding their way to theaters. The Sundance U.S. Documentary Feature winner seems to have struck a nerve and looks to continue to accumulate grosses separate from VOD far above normal.

Ma ma” (Oscilloscope) 
$16,000 in 11 theaters (+10); PTA: $1,455; Cumulative: $26,194

This Penelope Cruz starrer expanded after its New York debut to little response. Bad reviews in Los Angeles and elsewhere continue to drag this down.

“Almost Holy” (The Orchard)

$1,478 in 5 theaters (no change); PTA: $296; Cumulative: $7,188

This Ukraine-set doc about a renegade minister helping homeless kids had few takers on its second weekend.

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

“Love & Friendship” (Amazon/Roadside Attractions)  – Week 3
$2,496,000 in 493 theaters (+446); Cumulative: $3,490,000

Whit Stillman’s Jane Austen adaptation continues to show major appeal in its third weekend. It expanded to about as many theaters as Roadside took for its hit “Hello, My Name Is Doris.” The result was roughly 50% stronger this time around, a stellar result that placed this at #9 overall this holiday weekend. 

Here’s how strong “Love & Friendship” is so far: The gross for Roadside’s hit “Mud” was $40,000 higher in 852 (far more) theaters. Stillman’s film looks primed for more expansion ahead and the chance at reaching the top tier of specialized releases of the year. With Amazon producing the film and their ready access to streaming, this theatrical success couldn’t come at a better time.

“The Lobster” (A24) – Week 3
$725,092 in 116 theaters (+92); Cumulative: $1,386,313  (U.S. only)

The holiday weekend and a sprawling ensemble of known stars helped to boost its numbers, but despite the intense market competition, “The Lobster”‘s total is impressive. As unexpected as any result this year, Lanthimos’ original romantic fable managed about 80% of the gross of “Eye in the Sky” in its third weekend in about as many theaters. That’s very strong for an unconventional film without obvious appeal to older audiences, and another example of how A24 seems to be ahead of the curve in getting younger audiences interested in quality offbeat films. This isn’t getting the response their breakout success “Ex Machina” did last year (which expanded more rapidly), but “The Lobster” should continue to find interest as it expands further.

“A Bigger Splash” (Fox Searchlight) – Week 4
$400,000 in 378 theaters (+250); Cumulative: $1,313,000

The major expansion for this beautiful people vacationing on the Riviera film hit some resistance, with two other similarly widening films stealing its thunder.  With a PTA of just over $1,000, this looks to have reached its maximum level of interest, with a long run not looking likely.

“The Man Who Knew Infinity” (IFC) – Week 5
$440,352 in 288 theaters (+17); Cumulative: $2,503,000

With only a small uptick in theaters, the gross only went down 11% this weekend. That shows continued interest that could help this British academic math world biofilm starring Dev Patel stick around for a while.

“The Meddler” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 6
$541,515 in 420 theaters (-44); Cumulative: $2,985,000

SPC got this out quickly to maximum theaters but it has only gotten a modest response as this Susan Sarandon mother/daughter story isn’t going to reach the level of their recent bigger “Grandma” and “Lady in the Van.”

“Sing Street” (Weinstein) – Week 7
$118,500 in 175 theaters (-345); Cumulative: $2,764,000

A major disappointment as this crowd-pleasing Irish film failed to gain traction despite Weinstein’s aggressive push.

“Eye in the Sky” (Bleecker Street) – Week 12
$69,032 in 81 theaters (-117); Cumulative: $18,367,000

The last hurrah for the biggest specialized success of the year so far.

“Hello, My Name Is Doris” (Roadside Attractions) – Week 12
$59,625 in 83 theaters (-73); Cumulative: $14,185,000

Sally Field’s big rebound still is holding in some sites as it wraps up its run.

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