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Arthouse Audit: ‘Lion’ and ‘Miss Sloane’ Show Promise

Two crowdpleasers and would-be awards contenders launched well during the crowded holiday fray, against rivals hanging in for the long Oscar haul.

Lion Sunny Pawar

Sunny Pawar plays young Saroo Brierley in “Lion”


Thanksgiving weekend usually launches a few of the top specialized releases of the year in New York and Los Angeles.

This year boasts two long-shot awards contenders, Weinstein Co’s “Lion” starring Dev Patel and EuropaCorp’s Jessica Chastain vehicle “Miss Sloane.” Both fell short of past high-end initial results, but showed sufficient strength to justify their respective strategies.

They enter a field of established specialty titles led by “Manchester by the Sea” (Roadside Attractions), “Nocturnal Animals” and “Loving” (Focus Features) as well as “Moonlight” (A24).

Miss Sloane

“Miss Sloane”



“Lion” (Weinstein) – Metacritic: 64; Festivals include: Toronto, Hamptons, AFI 2016

$128,368 in 4 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $32,092

Getting the full Weinstein treatment — prime holiday release date, top New York/Los Angeles initial theaters, major ad support aiming at not only specialized but eventual crossover audiences — this Australia-produced India family reunion story opened to respectable initial numbers. While “Lion” lacks the high-end reviews that buoyed past Weinstein films launched this weekend such as “The King’s Speech,” “The Imitation Game” and “Carol,” the crowdpleaser delivered one of the better opening platform numbers of the year.

“Lion” needs major word of mouth to succeed, but can count on full Weinstein support. With a slower-than-usual planned roll out and a feel-good vibe that could play well over the holidays ahead, this could end up grossing above some higher initial opening number films.

What comes next: A small expansion in Los Angeles this Friday (to reach awards voters), then Top Ten markets the following week before an initial expansion to around 600 theaters over Christmas.

“Miss Sloane” (EuropaCorp) – Metacritic: 65; Festivals include: AFI 2016

$63,000 in 3 theaters; PTA: $21,000

Jessica Chastain again shows her ability to draw both critical praise and specialized audiences with this FilmNation-produced, Canadian-filmed political thriller set in corrupt D.C. With director John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love,” “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) at the helm, this needed a significant initial platform showing in New York and Los Angeles to gain attention in a crowded market. These numbers are strong enough to give it a shot (again, like “Lion,” this nabbed modest reviews). EuropaCorp is betting that this release date boosts a long-shot Chastain Oscar nomination to sustain “Miss Sloane.”

What comes next: December 9 is the date slated for its next wave.

“Seasons” (Music Box) – Metacritic: 67; Festivals include: Seattle 2016

$26,723 in 13 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $2,056

Co-directed by veteran French actor and nature documentarian Jacques Perrin (Oscar-nominee “Winged Migration”), this movie focuses on animals in their natural setting in a time of climate change. It opened in multiple markets to modest results in time to get attention just as the doc awards field lines up.

What comes next: 15 more markets come aboard this week.

“On the Map” (self-released)

$6,500 in 1 theater; PTA: $6,500

This off-the-radar Israeli documentary with awards hopes scored an ideal theater (the Royal in West Los Angeles) for its initial date. It details the unexpected success of a 1970s national basketball team against top-notch opponents. With a strong Los Angeles Times review, this got a better than average result.

What comes next: New York opens on December 9.

Toshiro Mifune The Last Samurai

“Mifune: The Last Samurai”

“Mifune: The Last Samurai” (Strand) – Metacritic: 58; Festivals include: Venice, Telluride 2015, AFI 2016

$(est.) 5,000 in 1 theater; PTA (per theater average): $(est.) 5,000

Another documentary racing to beat the awards deadline, this recounting of the legendary Japanese actor opened to modest results at New York’s IFC Center.

What comes next: Los Angeles opens this Friday.

“Evolution” (IFC) – Metacritic: 78; Festivals include: Toronto 2015, New Directors/New Films 2016; also available on Video on Demand

$6,927 in 2 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $2,309

The best-reviewed new specialized release this week opened in New York and Los Angeles to parallel its Video on Demand availability. Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s French genre film is being release by IFC’s Midnight division (nearly always VOD parallel), a sign of how tricky the subtitled market is for off-beat non-mainstream films.

The story here — a remote seaside town is populated only by adult women and young boys — and its horror/other worldly feel is similar to “The Lobster.” That film (made in English with known actors) was a sleeper success earlier this year. Similar to “The Lobster,” it was initially acquired by the now defunct Alchemy, with its delayed release more than a year after its initial Toronto showing a result of that.

What comes next: It’s a tough world for subtitled films on VOD, but these strong reviews could help this film an audience.

International releases:

“Dear Zindagi” (Reliance Big/India) – $(est.) 1,083,000 in 154 theaters

“The Unmarried Wife” (ABS-CBN/Philippines) – $(est.) 280,000 in 51 theaters

"Manchester By The Sea"

“Manchester By The Sea”

Week Two

“Manchester by the Sea” (Roadside Attractions)

$1,250,294 in 48 theaters (+44); PTA: $26,048; Cumulative: $1,652,000

An excellent second-weekend gross accompanies the aggressive initial expansion for Kenneth Lonergan’s acclaimed awards-bound drama. The closest recent comparison is “Moonlight.” Impressively the PTA here is higher than Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” total in fewer (36) theaters. The holiday weekend helped, but the trajectory for “Manchester” and its future is strong. This Amazon Studios pickup is hitting all cylinders needed for expansion in a tricky period of lower grosses, with hoped-for initial prizes and nominations in upcoming weeks helping to position this for play over the Christmas holiday and beyond.

Nocturnal Animals

“Nocturnal Animals”

Focus Features

“Nocturnal Animals” (Focus)

$816,000 in 126 theaters (+89); PTA: $6,425; Cumulative: $1,670,000

After its wider than usual initial dates, Tom Ford’s sexy thriller quickly added dates in 35 major markets across the county to decent results. The movie enjoyed a Saturday night uptick above most other films, which suggests that it’s reaching its core adult audience early on. Word of mouth will be key to its future, but so far its wider than usual release pattern is reaping benefits.

“Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened” (Abramorama)

$17,670 in 3 theaters (+1); PTA: $5,890; Cumulative: $52,966

Los Angeles was added after the initial successful New York grosses for this documentary about Steven Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along” and how it overcame initial failure to become a perennial. A core audience of theater buffs and others continue to respond in its initial expansion.

"Daughters of the Dust"

“Daughters of the Dust”

Kino International

“Daughters of the Dust” (Cohen)  (reissue)

$9,068 in 3 theaters (+2); PTA: $3,023; Cumulative: $21,692

Julie Dash’s 1991 independent classic added Los Angeles this weekend as it continues to get significant critical attention above what most reissues receive.

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

“Loving” (Focus) Week 4

$1,691,000 in 421 theaters (+284); Cumulative: $4,070,000

This 1960s interracial love story widened further this holiday weekend to strong results. It landed #11 overall (ahead of Warren Beatty’s much wider new “Rules Don’t Apply”) and top ranking among specialized releases. Its performance is better than the best for “Moonlight,” a strong result aided by the elevated holiday audience, but against substantially more competition.

“Moonlight” (A24) Week 6

$1,300,000 in 618 theaters (-32); Cumulative: $8,625,000

Though down from its best weekend gross total and losing a handful of theaters, this independent success continues to add to its significant totals so far. Its future is mostly in the hands of expected award attention to give it wider interest.

Alma Dalaykan, Nurgaiv Rys, Aisholpan Nurgaiv and director Otto Bell

Alma Dalaykan, Nurgaiv Rys, Aisholpan Nurgaiv and director Otto Bell

Daniel Bergeron

“The Eagle Huntress” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 4

$278,292 in 64 theaters (+25); Cumulative: $923,643

Word of mouth is clearly helping this Kazakhstan-set documentary about a girl’s quest to succeed in a man’s world. The PTA is only slightly down despite a sizable increase in theaters. This looks to sustain a lengthy run and significantly higher grosses ahead.

“A Man Called Ove” (Music Box) Week 9

$110,296 in 81 theaters (-84); Cumulative: $3,017,000

This Swedish film managed to top the $3-million mark — a rarity for specialized foreign language films these days —  without either the benefit of holiday playtime through most of its run or the boost a potential Oscar nomination might bring later on.

“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” (Sony) Week 3

$210,000 in 1,176 theaters (no change); Cumulative: $1,593,000

With many dates limited to token showings, the second weekend of the expansion of Ang Lee’s film averaged $179 per theater. That’s about ten customers per theater.

Elle Isabelle Huppert


Sony Pictures Classics

“Elle” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 3

$123,256 in 36 theaters (+12); Cumulative: $404,756

Paul Verhoeven’s French thriller with Isabelle Huppert is performing at a level ahead of most subtitled films these days as it slowly expands. With a significant amount of upscale competition, these are reasonable numbers for a film with future awards attention ahead to boost it in upcoming weeks.

“The Handmaiden” (Magnolia) Week 6

$(est.) 82,000 in 54 theaters (-49); Cumulative: $(est.) 1,630,000

Though its theater count declined sharply, this South Korean period drama continues to add to its impressive total for a subtitled film.

Also noted:

“The Love Witch” (Oscilloscope) – $21,000 in 15 theaters; Cululative: $104,000

“Certain Women” (IFC) – $10,450 in 19 theaters; Cumulative: $1,033,000

“Christine” (The Orchard) – $8,667 in 7 theaters; Cumulative: $270,749

“The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Concert Years” (Abramorama) – $7,140 in 7 theatres; Cumulative: $2,882,000

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