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SPC’s ‘Pain & Glory’ Best Subtitled Opener of Year, and Audiences Embrace a Chinese Propaganda Hit

China’s blockbuster propaganda film found a welcoming audience in North America, while “Judy” was warmly received as it went wide.

“Pain and Glory”

The fall awards season has begun in earnest, with “Judy” and its strong Best Actress candidate playing wide in its second weekend, and the opening dates for three potential Best Actor possibilities in one early October weekend.

“Joker,” of course, is wide, while Netflix’s “Dolemite Is My Name” and its limited dates had unknown results. But “Pain and Glory” is a return to form for Pedro Almodovar and his long time relationship  with his domestic distributor, Sony Pictures Classics. Its strong initial New York/Los Angeles numbers show it outpaced all specialized subtitled films released this year and a few prior years besides other than possibly “Roma.”

Meanwhile, three Asian limited releases made the top 12. These include two action-oriented titles from India, but also the fascinating response to “My People, My Country,” an out-and-out propaganda-minded film that opened in 70 theaters right after its homeland Revolution holliday release.


Pain and Glory (Sony Pictures Classics) – Metacritic: 87; Festivals include: Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, New York 2019

$160,087 in 4 theaters; PTA: $40,022

This is a return to form for SPC, both in terms of its impressive long-term relationship with Pedro Almodovar (which goes back over three decades when its principals were at Orion Classics). It includes 12 of the master’s films, and all since 1998.

With Antonio Banderas’ lead performance only one of the several elements expected to get awards attention, this looks to be the best specialized subtitled opener since “Roma” last November. We estimated Alfonso Cuaron’s first weekend (boosted by Thanksgiving, but somewhat seat restricted) at around $40,000, though in one fewer theater. More impressive, this is double the initial limited numbers for both “Cold War” and “Shoplifters” last year. Both of those films, along with “Roma,” provided a temporary surge in the troubled foreign-language market. Now “Pain and Glory” should begin another cycle, with Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” from Neon joining the fray this Friday.

In adjusted numbers, the results are not far behind the best Almodovar openings. What makes that particularly impressive is in the current market, specialized film performances don’t compare well with their predecessors; even getting close is a strong sign of a revival. This is also ahead of early results for such top films as “Amour,” “A Separation” (both SPC Oscar winners), and other breakout non-English films in recent years.

The Angelika in New York was standout among theaters; Lincoln Plaza is no longer around, although Landmark’s West 57th Theater did fine.

What comes next: This expands to more top cities this Friday, with around 100 markets by the end of the month. That is more rapid than normal for SPC for subtitled films, which shows real confidence in its appeal.

My People, My Country (China Media)

$865,000 in 70 theaters; PTA: $12,537

This astonishing below-the-radar gross is tiny compared to the opening week in China of over $200 million. It’s the major release touted by the government to commemorate the 70th anniversay of the Revolution. This result in the U.S. and Canada (about a third of the theaters in the latter) for what the New York Times described as a triumph of propaganda, is astonishing. This placed #12 overall with just a few theaters. In over 50 of them on Friday, it was their second-best gross, trailing only “Joker.”

The film is a series of seven short segments, each showing average people at the time of different major events sinces 1949, including the first atomic bomb test, the turnover of Hong Kong to Beijing control, and the Summer Olympics. Among the directors involved was the great Chen Kaige.

The playdates look to be mostly in areas that include Chinese expats working or studying in North America. The biggest circuit involved was AMC, owned by a Chinese company. Their Empire Theater in Times Square looks to gross around $50,000. But even in locations like Champaign, Ill. (a college town), this played well and ahead of all films but “Joker.”

What comes next: The word of mouth seems to be strong at home. Further appeal remains to be seen here.

Fox Searchlight

Lucy in the Sky (Fox Searchlight) – Metacritic: 36; Festivals include: Toronto 2019

$55,000 in 37 theaters; PTA: $1,486

Natalie Portman and Jon Hamm as astronauts and their complicated personal involvement was one of the more anticipated fall releases. “Fargo” writer Noah Hawley’s film directing debut was slaughtered in reviews and its multi-city debut was an unmitigated disaster. Fox Searchlight should return to form ahead with “Jojo Rabbit” and “The Hidden Life.”

What comes next: The plan has been for this to expand to over 300 theaters ahead, which could still happen. But it appears unlikely to improve much.

Dolemite Is My Name (Netflix) – Metacritic: 77; Festivals include: Toronto 2019

$ (unknown) in 19 theaters; PTA: (unknown)

It’s a mystery. Unlike some Netflix pre-streaming theatrical releases, its playing at few theaters that allow for online specific seat purchase, and thus a way to estimate response. It is playing at a strange combination of locations, with a little under half in the New York/Los Angeles area, but with only minor inroads into black communities that might flock to the Eddie Murphy-starring film about Rudy Ray Moore, 1970s pioneer director and star. It remains to be see if this low-key play and lack of gross reporting damages Murphy’s awards chances.

What comes next: Netflix play starts October 25.

War (Yash Raj)

$1,581,000 in 305 theaters; PTA: $5,184

Taking the #9 spot in the over all Top Ten, this contemporary thriller set within the Indian military had an impressive per-theater total in limited play.

What comes next: The theater count here includes nearly all sites where this has appeal, so little expansion is expected.

Sye Raa Narashimha Reddy (Indin)

$(est.) 930,000 in 297 theaters; PTA: (est.) $3,131

A revolt against oppressive British rule in the early 19th century is the focus of this high-end Indian film, which reached #10 among all films this weekend.

What comes next: As with “War,” it is playing at appropriate theaters.



Roadside Attractions / screencap

Week Two

Judy (Roadside Attractions)

$4,446,000 in 1,458 theaters (+997); PTA: $3,049; Cumulative: $8,904,000

Roadside quickly expanded the dates (triple last week) for this late-in-life portrayal of Judy Garland. With Renee Zellweger’s performance its major draw, it kept its position in the Top Ten at #7. It’s not exactly an equal comparison, but this looks to be the best weekend gross of any Roadside release ever other than its faith-based “I Can Only Imagine.” “Judy,” which they are releasing with partner LD Entertainment, will give a better sense of its ultimate appeal with next weekend’s hold. As of now, it appears poised to gross close to $20 million.

First Love (Well Go)

$60,625 in 40 theaters (+38); PTA: $1,516; Cumulative: $93,052

Japanese director Takeshi Miike’s latest genre caper expanded quickly to multiple cities with some interest, but below the level seen last week initially in New York and Los Angeles exclusive dates.

Fantastic Fungi (A23a)

$16,015 in 3 theaters; PTA: $5,338; Cumulative: (est.) 63,000

Excellent hold in limited theaters for this documentary about how the fungus world is central to human existence. New York this Friday, Los Angeles later and other cities are still to come.

Ongoing/expanding (Grosses over $50,000)

The Peanut Butter Falcon (Roadside Attractions) Week 9

$495,251 in 623 theaters (-312); Cumulative: $18,993,000

The sleeper feel-good wrestling world story continues to push toward a very impressive $20 million. A big part of its success has been the length of its run, it’s now in its third month and still leading the list of expanded films by a big margin.

“Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice”

Greenwich Entertainment

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Greenwich) Week 5

$299,346 in 204 theaters (-43);  Cumulative: $2,807,000

The new normal is for sellable documentaries to expand quickly and maximize their audiences without lengthy runs, particularly when they feature iconic figures like Linda Rondstadt. This is still finding interest, and has a shot at an impressive $3.5 million.

Brittany Runs a Marathon (Amazon) Week 8    917  6666

$194,586 in 348 theaters (-569);  Cumulative: $6,807,000

This around $15 million acquisition by Amazon at Sundance looks to end up barely above $7 million. It will get considerably more viewing when it hits Prime likely before long.

Where’s My Roy Cohn? (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 4

$83,435 in 26 theaters (+14); Cumulative: $225,832

The slow expansion of this documentary about the lawyer whose career spanned from Joe McCarthy to Donald Trump and was a character in “Angels in America” is showing signs of finding a consistent niche audience. Expect it to get additional exposure ahead.

Promare (GKids) Week 3

$81,925 in 33 theaters (+2); Cumulative: $1,234,00

With its total mostly from an initial event showing, this Japanese animated film is still showing some full-week date interest in limited showings.

Official Secrets (IFC) Week 6

$55,341 in 99 theaters (-161);  Cumulative: $1,817,000

Gavin Hood’s “Eye in the Sky” three years ago grossed close to $20 million. His similarly set British intelligence thriller with Keira Knightley will fall short of $2 million.

Also noted:

The Farewell (A24) – $38,810 in 40 theaters; Cumulative: $17,565,000

Monos (Neon) – $35,100 in 45 theaters; Cumulative: $287,950

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Abramorama) – $23,655 in 17 theaters; Cumulative: $465,652

Honeyland (Neon) – $17,000 in 31 theaters; Cumulative: $650,019


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