Three promising major releases boasting name directors, savvy specialty distributors and top theaters — “High Life” (A24), “Peterloo” (Amazon Studios), and “Amazing Grace” (Neon) —opened this week with uneven results. Not one of the films has potential to break out for crossover national play at a time when theaters are hungry for strong product.
Robert Pattinson vehicle “High Life” from the great Claire Denis performed the best in top locations, with a respectable initial number. “Amazing Grace” also showed some audience interest, but less than its earlier Oscar-qualifying run promised. Mike Leigh’s delayed “Peterloo” lagged behind.
Specialized film is at a crossroads. Given streaming alternatives like Netflix and Amazon (which will play around with conventional theatrical windows more in future), these three films beg the question of whether dedicating three months to an initial theatrical release remains the smartest move for such important films.
High Life (A24) – Metacritic: 80; Festivals include: Toronto, New York 2018
$100,000 in 4 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $25,000
Claire Denis’ career spans 30 years. Her debut, colonial African drama “Chocolat,” broke out in 1988, followed by critics’ fave “Beau Travail.” “High Life,” an English-language space travel film starring Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche, garnered high-end reviews consistent with most of her releases, opening stronger than any of her previous films. The film drew moviegoers at four major theaters at a decent level, though with a second-day drop. This is a younger-skewing specialized film, which makes A24 a logical distributor and gives it a chance to find (along with its well-known cast) ongoing interest as it expands.
What comes next: That expansion beyond core specialized theaters starts this Friday.
Amazing Grace (Neon) – Metacritic: 96; Festivals include: Doc NYC, AFI 2018
$96,000 in 8 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $12,000; Cumulative: $207,389
The historic 1972 Aretha Franklin church recording sessions, filmed by Sydney Pollack and long-delayed because the singer blocked its release, reopened this week last December after strong one-week Oscar-qualifying runs in New York and Los Angeles, when it generated rave reviews but no Oscar nod. Neon then acquired the film and landed new dates including the best platform theaters as well as a handful of top crossover houses in the two cities.
The initial numbers look less sensational than the initial strong Film Forum nearly-sold-out run (which benefited from reviews and a sense of urgency to catch it in one week). This time, “Amazing Grace” was the top gross at The Landmark in Los Angeles, second best at the Angelika (both with two screens), but neither theater yielded high-end numbers. The film placed fifth-best at the Arclight Hollywood and Lincoln Square against studio titles. The four top theaters will average around $18,000 each. That’s okay, but not in the range of films that break out as major successes. A Fathom Events launch might have worked with this film.
While the initial results aren’t spectacular, the film clearly demonstrates appeal for African American audiences, particularly with Easter ahead. In Los Angeles, the Baldwin Hills in the center of the community was only #6 among the film’s screens, and unlike most of the other theaters, declined Saturday from Friday. This could remain a heartland success film, particularly in core Gospel music areas where Franklin remains an icon. But it looks like more of a struggle than expected.
What comes next: This will have a significant expansion for Easter this Friday.
Peterloo (Amazon Studios) – Metacritic: 72; Festivals include: Venice, Telluride 2018
$30,426 in 3 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $10,142
For five decades, Mike Leigh has been grabbing acclaim. It’s impressive that he is able to continue to make personal, politically-inspired stories involving social themes. Here he recreates a key 19th-century massacre when British government forces suppressed a pro-democracy movement. While the movie scored modestly favorable reviews, Amazon Studios, continuing to favor a traditional release for their key films, skipped the overheated awards season and booked top theaters. But the results were at best mediocre for the pedigree of this film.
What comes next: Four more major cities open this Friday, with more in the following week.
The Public (Greenwich) – Metacritic: 47; Festivals include: Toronto 2018
$279,294 in theaters; PTA (per theater average): $1,054
Emilio Estevez’s return to directing after almost a decade (“Bobby” in 2006 received considerable attention) is officially under the banner of Universal Home Entertainment, though direct distribution has Greenwich Entertainment on board. This theatrical release as opposed to initial home availability for this story of urban homeless finding shelter in a library received neither good reviews or much sign of audience interest.
What comes next: No word on when this moves to home viewing, but its theatrical life seems limited.
Storm Boy (Good Deed) – Metacritic: 67; also on Video on Demand
$46,744 in 56 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $835
This adaptation of a well-known Australian novel showed little interest in national theaters parallel to its home availability.
What comes next: Home viewing only is ahead.
Diane (IFC); also on Video on Demand
$68,032 in 33 theaters (+30); PTA: $2,001; Cumulative: $101,438
Kent Jones’ story of an older small town Massachusetts woman realizing that her life of caring for others hasn’t fulfilled her is having a regular specialized expansion while concurrently having life on VOD. These are reasonable results for a day-and-date film thus far.
The Chaperone (PBS)
$26,520 in 13 theaters (+11); PTA: $2,040; Cumulative: $40,198
PBS produced this film with people who created “Downton Abbey.” Its period story about a woman who was the companion of silent film icon Louise Brooks expanded to top cities this weekend to minor reaction.
Ongoing/expanding (Grosses over $50,000)
Hotel Mumbai (Bleecker Street) Week 3
$1,754,000 in 930 theaters (+6); Cumulative: $6,372,000
With Dev Patel in the lead, this recreation of the Indian terror attack kept about the same theaters, but saw about a 45% drop this weekend. It should end up as Bleecker Street’s highest grossing release since “Logan Lucky” in 2017.
The Mustang (Focus) Week 4
$771,000 in 350 theaters (+169); Cumulative: $2,045,000
This French-made, American-flavored story of Nevada prisoners and their mutual rehabilitation with horses doubled its theaters. It is playing modestly but shows signs of sustaining more business ahead.
Gloria Bell (A24) Week 5
$390,000 in 642 theaters (-485); Cumulative: $5,031,000
A24 aggressively pushed this Julianne Moore centered American remake of the original Chilean middle-age woman with an independent streak story into a national break. It has passed $5 million mark but doesn’t look to go much further.
The Aftermath (Fox Searchlight) Week 4
$375,000 in 344 theaters (+183); Cumulative: $1,104,000
Keira Knightley carries this story of a British family relocating to Germany after World War II. The movie looks to end up as a lesser-grossing title by the usual Fox Searchlight standards. The company remains with its autonomy intact under new Disney ownership.
Apollo 11 (Neon) Week 6
$201,700 in 187 theaters (-167); Cumulative: $8,086,000
CNN Films’ presentation of significant new footage from the first moon landing continues to find interest as it continues its run. It remains the top documentary release of the year so far by a significant distance.
Transit (Music Box) Week 6
$61,039 in 55 theaters (-9); Cumulative: $612,482
Christian Petzold achieved traction with his earlier “Barbara” and particularly “Phoenix.” His latest film, a romantic thriller set in contemporary France hasn’t had much impact though the critical response has been at a high level. It’s not quite getting the response it deserves.
Ash Is Purest White (Cohen) Week 4
$53,763 in 39 theaters (-7); Cumulative: $304,990
Jia Zhang-Khe’s latest film is one of this great director’s most acclaimed. He’s never achieved much beyond a niche audience for his past releases. This drama spanning 18 years in China is getting more attention that his previous releases in U.S. theaters.
Never Look Away (Sony Pictures Classics) – $22,192 in 26 theaters; Cumulative: $1,179,000
The Hummingbird Project (1091) – $19,975 in 71 theaters; Cumulative: $349,871
Sunset (Sony Pictures Classics) – $18,459 in 18 theaters; Cumulative: $62,945
Birds of Passage (1091) – $11,036 in 18 theaters; Cumulative: $495,196