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‘Green Book’: Will Word of Mouth Save the Wobbly Oscar Contender?

It's getting crowded at the pre-holiday box office, and there will be blood on the tracks before the season is through.

L to R: Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in GREEN BOOK

“Green Book”

Universal Pictures

Two high-level openings with Oscar hopes, Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book” (Universal) and Julian Schnabel’s “At Eternity’s Gate” (CBS), dominate the new releases entering the crowded and volatile specialized award season marketplace. “Green Book” is struggling to pull audiences with a multi-city opening at top theaters. The true 60s story starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali will need a dramatic word-of-mouth boost it before its planned quick expansion. Schnabel’s Vincent Van Gogh biopic launched well with its iconic subject promising strong positive specialized response ahead.

Lucas Hedges'Boy Erased' film premiere, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 29 Oct 2018

Lucas Hedges

AFF-USA/REX/Shutterstock

Boy Erased” (Focus) led the new expansions –among the best of wider releases this fall. The market has suddenly become very competitive, with a number of films struggling and risking not getting full holiday bookings as the lucrative Thanksgiving weekend approaches.

Opening

Green Book (Universal) – Metacritic: 70; Festivals include: Toronto, Mill Valley, Hamptons 2018

$313,000 in 25 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $12,520

Few of this year’s late releases have had the wind at their backs like Peter Farrelly’s 1960s Deep South interracial road trip saga. After winning the coveted People’s Choice Award at Toronto, it pushed to the front of the pack of Oscar contenders, and was given the sort of marketing push one sees more often from specialized companies than studios. (It was once set for Focus Features release.)

But all contenders, especially the most serious, need to get through the crucible of their opening weekend and how the public responds (a tricky process that Netflix is struggling with as the soon-to-be stream “Roma” opens on Wednesday). And based on the initial results, “Green Book” is falling short so far.

In a move familiar to canny Oscar campaigners Fox Searchlight and Weinstein, Universal opened “Green Book” at 25 theaters in 17 markets. The resulting per theater average from is $12,520; the four core New York/Los Angeles theaters will average a more robust $25,000.

This is by no means a disaster, but any comparison with films this season released in the same or similar four top theaters in New York and Los Angeles show how far it falls below its potential. Since Labor Day, “Free Solo,” “Boy Erased,” “Beautiful Boy,” “Mid90s,” “Colette,” “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” and “Wildlife” opened better — often much better — on their initial weekends. (“Suspiria” in two theaters almost doubled the approximate $100,000 it will take in.)

Universal’s attempt to broaden the initial dates was designed to spark strong word of mouth ahead of the planned 1,000 theater expansion this Wednesday. So they booked the movie in 15 other general audience theaters, including some with significant African-American patronage. Opening a movie with more than just the usual two cities is not uncommon. Fox Searchlight, Weinstein and others have shown success with this approach, particularly when trying to reach out to African-American audiences.

The $12,520 PTA for the 25 theaters shows itself to be weak in this context. It is behind Fox’s current success “The Hate U Give,” which managed $2,000 more in nine additional theaters (which makes its result more impressive, as PTAs go down usually with additional screens). It is lower than two Fox Searchlight films that were box-office disappointments, “Battle of the Sexes” anf “Hitchcock.” “12 Years a Slave” in 19 theaters managed around $50,000 on its way to a Best Picture win and around $60 million total.

In the theaters outside of the top two cities in some of the most commercial theaters, “Green Book” did not perform well. But it was the top gross at the Landmark in Los Angeles, and second or third best on four more screens. But then it was only fourth best at five, fifth at seven, sixth at two, seventh at four, and a lowly eighth and ninth at two more.

These are not encouraging results for a film with such high prospects. Universal in its summary of the figures describes them as “great,” but was unavailable when asked for further comment. They do report that these initial theaters gave the film an early A+ Cinemascore. And in that response is their best hope, as well as a sign of the logic to this plan. They clearly hope that word of mouth will overcome what is clearly initial resistance to the film’s marketing materials compared to what its pre-release bonafides have been.

Its Saturday grosses were up 40 percent from Friday, a respectable but not spectacular increase for this kind of adult appeal film (“12 Years a Slave” with much higher numbers was up about the same). Universal has to be scrutinizing its intended expansion to 1,000 theaters this Wednesday. The film could use a slower release build in order to maximize word of mouth.

What comes next: Near-term early awards boosts could help, but this next week is going to be critical for how this fares. So far, it looks like a challenge.

“At Eternity’s Gate”

CBS Films

At Eternity’s Gate (CBS) – Metacritic: 78; Festivals include: Venice, New York 2018

$92,000 in 4 theaters; PTA: $23,000

Vincent Van Gogh has been a draw in films in recent years. This latest effort, the fifth feature from painter Julian Schnabel, stars Willem Dafoe and enjoyed a decent if not spectacular start at four prime New York/Los Angeles theaters during a competitive time frame. The total from four theaters is slightly less than the much higher profile “Green Book.”

For all their high-end cultural appeal, Schnabel has not been a box-office darling. His biggest performer, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” opened marginally bigger (in adjusted terms), and these opening numbers are ahead of his earlier “Before Night Falls.”

What comes next: 12 additional cities start the film’s expansion this Wednesday.

Shoah: Four Sisters (Cohen) – Metacritic: 96

$2,426 in 1 theater; PTA: $2,426; Cumulative: $3,225

The last film from Claude Lanzmann, director of the monumental  “Shoah,” is four and a half hours of additional interviews from the period when he made the original films. The initial reviews are in the same range. The initial targeted engagement opened in New York to only minor initial response.

What comes next: Los Angeles opens Wednesday. Expect this to have a presence for an extended time through various media, relying on Lanzmann’s enormous reputation and the impact of his masterpiece.

Hugh Jackman stars in Columbia Pictures' THE FRONT RUNNER.

“The Front Runner”

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Week Two

The Front Runner (Sony)

$72,000 in 22 theaters +18); PTA: $3,273; Cumulative: $163,000

Jason Reitman’s telling of the downfall of Gary Hart, which was looking for a possible Oscar nomination for Hugh Jackman, continued its weak run after its mediocre limited start last week. Though Sony will continue with its expansion, this shows no signs of finding any sort of significant response ahead.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Netflix); also streaming

$(unknown) in est. 8 theaters (+ est. 5); PTA: $(unknown); Cumulative: $(unknown)

After its initial odd four-day runs at three theaters, the Coen Brothers’ latest film, which debuted on Netflix on Friday, added at least five more theaters while returning to the original three. Where seating information is available, it played mainly on small screens, with some sellouts indicated. The point for Netflix isn’t the gross — getting film critic reviews the same as other movies is key for them, as well as establishing the point that for certain releases there will be theaters. The (unreported) results when “Roma” opens this Wednesday in limited initial dates will be closely scrutinized.

El Angel (The Orchard)

$20,848 in 11 theaters (+9); PTA: $1,895; Cumulative: $52,871

Modest second weekend expansion for this recreation of a celebrity Argentine outlaw.

Ongoing/expanding (grosses over $50,000)

Boy Erased (Focus) – Week 3

$1,280,000 in 409 theaters (+332); Cumulative: $2,634,000

The widening of Joel Edgerton’s well received drama about gay conversion therapy had a response well ahead of similar early breaks this fall. With strong support from Focus, this so far has built strong audience support. That’s not automatic for a controversial social issue film: the strong cast led by Lucas Hedges, Russell Crowe, and Nicole Kidman clearly boosted the cause. Unlike several other struggling films, this looks to be nicely positioned to expand further and benefit from both immediate and later holiday playtime.

Dolly Wells as "Anna" and Melissa McCarthy as "Lee Israel" in the film CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? Photo by Mary Cybulski. © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Photo by Mary Cybulski

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Fox Searchlight)- Week 5

$880,000 in 555 theaters (+164); Cumulative: $5,058,000

Melissa McCarthy’s foray into specialized continues to show steady interest at what looks like its widest point. but the dramedy is falling short of Searchlight’s “The Old Man and His Gun” at roughly the same point of its decent run. For the older core specialized moviegoers, a big star like McCarthy seems to have less pull than Robert Redford despite her strong acclaim for this role.

The Hate U Give (20th Century Fox) – Week 7

$815,000 in 595 theaters (-517); Cumulative: $28,258,000

Still adding to its impressive total deep into its run, George Tillman Jr.’s timely drama about a high school girl’s actions after a police killing is still finding interest. This will end up in the low $30 million range and leads the totals for all initially limited releases this year.

A Private War (Aviron) – Week 3

$725,000 in 865 theaters (+827); Cumulative: $1,092,000

Aviron succeeded in getting a strong group of theaters in a crowded period for their Rosamund Pike vehicle about an acclaimed war correspondent. That’s where their success ends, with a per theater average under $1,000 putting it in precarious shape going into the holiday weekend.

TimothŽe Chalamet as Nic Sheff and Steve Carell as David Scheff star in BEAUTIFUL BOY

“Beautiful Boy”

Francois Duhamel

Beautiful Boy (Amazon) – Week 6

$587,016 in 558 theaters (-218); Cumulative: $6,406,000

This should be the last wide week for the Steve Carell/Timothee Chalamet drug addiction story, with Amazon having drawn significant attention and a strong gross to aid its awards hopes.

Free Solo (Greenwich) – Week 8

$491,825 in 187 theaters (-79); Cumulative: $8,960,000

National Geographic’s acclaimed documentary is still strong as it continues its climb to at least $10 million, with some level beyond that increasingly likely.

The Old Man and the Gun (20th Century Fox) – Week 8

$160,000 in 171 theaters (-224); Cumulative: $10,611,000

The last stages of Robert Redford’s bank robber portrayal continue to maximize what has been a well-played release by Fox Searchlight.

Mid 90s (A24) – Week 5

$125,000 in 84 theaters (-256); Cumulative: $7,159,000

Jonah Hill’s debut feature set in the world of 1990s teen skateboarders is wrapping up its run at a level that suggests he has reason to pursue a parallel career in directing.

 

 

MARIA CALLAS WITH PHOTOGRAPHERSVARIOUS - 1968

“Maria by Callas”

REX/Shutterstock

Maria By Callas (Sony Classics) – Week 3

$110,507 in 29 theaters (+3); Cumulative: $484,009

Response remains steady (and positive) in the still limited dates for this documentary about the legendary diva with new material from her private archives.

Suspiria (Amazon) – Week 4

$93,950 in 53 theaters (-208); Cumulative: $2,234,000

The initial strong interest and then quick national release has left Luca Guadagnino’s take on the Argento classic mostly played out by its fourth week.

Burning (Well Go) – Week 4

$65,000 in 25 theaters (-2); Cumulative: $300,954

This South Korean film, which continues to get reviews close to the best of any 2018 film, is doing better than average business for a specialized foreign-language feature.

Wildlife (IFC) – Week 5

$65,612 in 98 theaters (-7); Cumulative: $728,585

This Jake Gyllenhaal/Carey Mulligan family drama continues to struggle to find an audience, pulling under $1,000 per theater this weekend.

Border (Neon) – Week 4

$55,001 in 30 theaters (+14); Cumulative: $337,261

Sweden’s entry for Foreign Language Film expanded with minor impact similar to most recent subtitled releases.

Colette (Bleecker Street) – Week 9

$51,522 in 86 theaters (+5); Cumulative: $5,089,000

In its final stages, Keira Knightley’s portrayal of the French novelist has passed $5 million: it’s one of the strongest early fall releases.

Also noted:

Tea With the Dames (IFC) – $18,721 in 24 theaters; Cumulative: $728,585

The Wife (Sony Pictures Classics) – $18,103 in 25 theaters; Cumulative: $7,773,000

What They Had (Bleecker Street) – $10,326 in 24 theaters; Cumulative: $254,061

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