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Record Opener ‘Disaster Artist’ and ‘The Shape of Water’ Lead Specialty Box Office Surge

With so many Oscar contenders jostling for theater play, the question is how their distributors manage their success.

"The Disaster Artist"

James Franco in “The Disaster Artist”

The hits keep on coming. Both “The Disaster Artist” (A24) and “The Shape of Water” (Fox Searchlight) opened strong, despite the usual strong-fall off in post-Thanksgiving audiences. Last year the month of November saw only one specialized release, “Manchester By the Sea,” pull an opening platform per theater average over $60,000. This year has already seen five.

“The Disaster Artist” (in 11 markets) showed the best performance in New York/Los Angeles of any title this year (nearly $120,000 per theater), besting last weekend’s numbers for “Call Me By Your Name” (Sony Pictures Classics). They join other Oscar-bound strong openers including “Lady Bird” (A24) and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Fox Searchlight).

Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer"The Shape of Water"

Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer”The Shape of Water”

Fox Searchlight

This marks unprecedented strength over such a short period, with “Lady Bird” and “Three Billboards” already performing well in wider release. At some point exhibitors are going to be challenged to handle so many hits (all will not go wide at the same time). These are good problems to have after a year of uneven art house results.

Woody Allen’s latest “Wonder Wheel” (Amazon) played at a respectable if unimpressive level, falling short of other recent openers as well as his top recent films. While the second weekend of “Darkest Hour” (Focus) fell more than the same weekend of “Call Me,” the World War II drama’s hold was reasonable for a non-holiday weekend.

Wonder Wheel

“Wonder Wheel”


The Disaster Artist (A24) – Metacritic: 76; Festivals include: South by Southwest, Toronto 2017

$1,221,000 in 19 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $64,254

James Franco’s 16th feature as a director is not only his biggest yet but also the biggest specialized opener of the year. A24 opened this in 19 theaters in 11 markets, including many of the biggest general audience theaters. The result was the biggest gross in all but New York’s Lincoln Square (where it was bested by “The Shape of Water” with more seats) and sellouts in some shows which reduced the gross.

The multi-city break was a risk, but the results were stellar: among similar initial openings “The Disaster Artist” ranks as one of the best ever, in league with eventual Oscar-winners “Black Swan” (domestic total: $106 million) and “Precious” ($47 million).

And “The Disaster Artist” qualifies as the top first specialized weekend of 2017 just after “Call Me By Your Name” claimed the title. Its five New York/Los Angeles theaters will end up with something around a $120,000 per theater average, just after “Call Me” managed a very strong $103,000 last weekend. And that was a holiday with a strong Friday, while the post-holiday is usually one of the worst weekends of the year. This true-story film about Tommy Wiseau’s DIY production of legendary bad film “The Room” clearly has hit an initial resonant chord beyond the specialized older audience.

What comes next: A24 has a nice problem on its hands. Whatever its plans for this film, the demand from exhibitors to expand quickly will be intense, despite the heavy traffic ahead over Christmas. They likely will insist no dates without a commitment to play into next year, and also want to make sure their “Lady Bird” keeps its strong presence. This already has shown it has a major audience. Now the question is how they manage their success.

Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones in the film THE SHAPE OF WATER. Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

“The Shape of Water”

Fox Searchlight

The Shape of Water (Fox Searchlight) – Metacritic: 85; Festivals include: Venice, Telluride, Toronto 2017

$166,800 in 2 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $83,400

Guillermo Del Toro’s latest (acclaimed) fantasy film ranks as his biggest initial grosser. Opening only in New York (enabling question/answer sessions in both its initial city, then already nearly sold out Los Angeles next weekend), it scored a spectacular initial number, more impressive as it was competing for seats and attention with three other top early release titles at the Lincoln Square in New York.

This is the second straight big opener for Fox Searchlight after “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” as well as their second later year awards contender. They are having a great rebound after a spotty record after “Brooklyn” two years ago. That has changed with these two films, with their only problem how to handle two hits at once at a time when screens are at a premium.

What comes next: 40 to 50 theaters in 12 total markets will play next weekend, with over 700 anticipated by Christmas.

Wonder Wheel (Amazon) – Metacritic: 50; Festivals include: New York 2017

$140,555 in 5 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $28,111

Amazon’s initial venture into hands-on distribution (rather than partnership with major specialized companies) is their second effort with Woody Allen after last year’s “Cafe Society.” This 1950s Coney Island-set romantic drama received mediocre reviews, not helpful against highly acclaimed titles already playing in New York and Los Angeles. The initial grosses fall in the low range of Allen’s recent films, about the same as 2015’s “Irrational Man.”

What comes next: This expands to the top ten markets this Friday, with a wider nationwide play the following week.

“The Other Side of Hope”

The Other Side of Hope (Janus) – Metacritic: 84; Festivals include: Berlin, Telluride, Toronto 2017

$17,052 in 3 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $5,684

Veteran Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki remains one of the few European filmmakers to get a near automatic American release. His latest, about a Syrian refugee in Helsinki, told with the usual droll style despite its serious subject, got terrific initial reviews in its initial New York/Los Angeles runs with a modest sampling similar to many subtitled releases.

What comes next: Expect playoff over the next couple months in big cities.

Big Time (Abramorama/Mongrel)

$7,571 in 2 theaters; PTA: $3,786

This documentary about acclaimed Danish architect Bjarke Ingels got a modest response in its initial dates including New York.

What comes next: Documentaries about niche creative forces tend to find audiences, giving this a shot at interest around the country.

Also available on Video on Demand:

Love Beat Rhymes (Lionsgate) – $(est.) 4,500 in 8 theaters

"Call Me By Your Name"

“Call Me By Your Name”

Sony Pictures Classics

Week Two

Call Me By Your Name (Sony Pictures Classics)

$281,280 in 4 theaters (no change); PTA: $70,320; Cumulative: $908,175

A drop of only 32 per cent would be impressive in the second weekend in the same initial theaters. That this acclaimed drama about a gay romance in 1980s Italy managed this despite coming after the holiday shows continued promise for this awards frontrunner.

Sony Pictures Classics is expanding this more slowly than most other recent blockbuster openers, in part because it likely will benefit from maximum initial wide placement at the time of certain Oscar nominations. Other big cities will see openings by Christmas.

Darkest Hour (Focus)

4106_D015_00585_R_CROPGary Oldman stars as Winston Churchill and Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI in director Joe Wright's DARKEST HOUR, a Focus Features release.Credit: Jack English / Focus Features

“Darkest Hour”

Jack English

$109,000 in 4 theaters (no change); PTA: $27,250; Cumulative: $412,000

Also sticking to its initial four theaters, this recreation of Churchill’s first critical days as Prime Minister managed to fall only 37 per cent after a holiday weekend. The total in most circumstances would be decent even if the anticipated film didn’t rise to the level of the five higher opening titles in recent weeks. Its expansion to 50 theaters next weekend will give a better indication of its chances of becoming a competitive player, with its appeal to older audiences critical to specialized success.

The Man Who Invented Christmas (Bleecker Street)

$863,053 in 674 theaters (+48); PTA: $1,282; Cumulative: $3,151,000

The second weekend of the mid-level release of this Charles Dickens biopic had a respectable hold. But it comes after a weak start. The number with little else opening should be able to sustain a third week ahead in most locations.

Bombshell – The Hedy Lamarr Story (Zeitgeist/Kino Lorber)

$8,000 in 1 theater; PTA: $8,000; Cumulative: $45,000

A decent hold for this documentary about the sex goddess star who accomplished much more in her career, though it did fall considerably from its $18,000 opening holiday weekend.

Photo by Merie Wallace, courtesy of A24

“Lady Bird”

Photo by Merie Wallace, courtesy of A24

Ongoing/expanding (Grosses over $50,000)

Lady Bird (A24) Week 5

$4,454,000 in 1,194 theaters (+403);  Cumulative: $17,089,000

The Best Film and Actress wins from the New York Film Critics confirm that Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age film is one of the top awards contenders of the year. As it hits over 1,000 theaters for the first time, the public is with it as well. “Lady Bird” and “Three Billboards” are in the same territory and both have a long way to go. “Lady Bird” could soon outpace “Moonlight” ($27.8 million) as A24’s biggest-grossing film.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Fox Searchlight) Week 4

$4,530,000 in 1,430 theaters (+816); Cumulative: $13,671,000

Martin McDonagh’s breakout initial success continues to thrive. It placed #8 overall and is finding success outside just core specialized locations. Searchlight has pushed an aggressive expansion so far, which is sometimes a risk, but in this case has paid off with an already strong total that looks to grow much larger with not only the holidays and awards consideration ahead, but clear appeal to a crossover audience.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. (Sony) Week 3

$1,935,000 in 1,663 theaters (no change); Cumulative: $9,503,000

Denzel Washington’s turn as a crusading Los Angeles lawyer (from the director of “Nightcrawler”) has received elevated support from Sony (including an initial platform opening). Its mixed reviews and intense competition in the upscale market has left it with a minor response despite playing broadly nationwide.

"Loving Vincent"

“Loving Vincent”

Loving Vincent (Good Deed) Week 11

$211,071 in 161 theaters (+14); Cumulative: $5,502,000

The sleeper of the specialized fall continues to find new business as it plays deep into its third month.

My Friend Dahmer (FilmRise) Week 5

$140,000 in 90 theaters (+15);  Cumulative: $939,234

This specialized graphic novel adaptation continues to find interest in a very crowded marketplace, now just shy of $1 million.

"The Florida Project"

“The Florida Project”

The Florida Project (A24) Week 9

$129,240 in 120 theaters (-54); Cumulative: $4,873,000

Now an established awards contender after Sean Baker’s Best Director win (as well as Willem Dafoe’s) from the New York Film Critics, this Orlando-set child survival drama soon will pass the $5 million mark.

Last Flag Flying (Lionsgate) Week 5

$100,000 in 110 theaters (+12);  Cumulative: $816,844

Richard Linklater’s latest, another road trip with a trio of military types from the author of “The Last Detail,” continues to struggle to find any interest in a period of intense competition from other specialized titles.

The Square (Magnolia) Week 6   70-860

$(est.) 70,000 in 51 theaters (-19); Cumulative: $(est.) 930,000

This Swedish comedy/drama set in the art world looks soon to become one of the few arthouse subtitled films this year to pass $1 million.

Jane (Abramorama) Week 7

$73,286 in 49 theaters (-2); Cumulative: $1,253,000

One of the most successful theatrical documentaries of the year continues to sustain its presence in advance of its expected run for an Oscar.

Victoria & Abdul (Focus) Week 11

$65,000 in 131 theaters (-13); Cumulative: $22,037,000

As Focus moves on to “The Darkest Hour” and soon, Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Phantom Thread,” they are still dining on their specialized success with Stephen Frears’ retelling of elderly Queen Victoria’s friendship with an Indian servant.

Novitiate (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 6

$52,875 in 163 theaters (+43);  Cumulative: $468,545

Still expanding, this 1960s set nuns-in-training drama has failed to gain traction despite continued support from SPC.

Also noted:

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (A24) – $40,787 in 41 theaters; Cumulative: $2,192,000

The Breadwinner (GKids) – $(est.)37,000 in 43 theaters; Cumulative: $(est.) 103,000

1945 (Menemsha) – $33,777 in 11 theaters; Cumulative: $158,289

Thelma (The Orchard) –  $31,423 in 36 theaters; Cumulative: $81,449

God’s Own Country (Goldwyn) –  $24,000 in 13 theaters; Cumulative: $249,000

Faces Places (Cohen) –  $16,105 in 13 theaters; Cumulative: $520,758

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