Arthouse Audit: ‘A Most Violent Year’ Starts Strong, ‘American Sniper’ Stays in the Box Office Stratosphere

Arthouse Audit: 'A Most Violent Year' Starts Strong, 'American Sniper' Stays in the Box Office Stratosphere
Arthouse Audit: ' Most Violent Year' Starts Strong, 'American Sniper' Stays the Box Office Stratosphere

The post-New Year’s weekend is always a key time for specialized audience films, but this year’s batch of entries would look impressive even without the competition among adult audiences from two major, new wide-release films (“Into the Woods” and “Unbroken”).

Three films stand out among many successes, putting an exclamation point on a year when theaters have seen a needed uptick in older (and female) audiences just as the core younger male demo decreased significantly. “A Most Violent Year” (A24) managed to gain a toe-hold despite its late holiday release in two cities, while “The Imitation Game” (Weinstein) continues to emerge as the best crossover performer in the bunch, and “American Sniper” (Warner Bros.) keeps performing at an unprecedented level of success in only four theaters.

One other new film saw a quiet release on Wednesday in Los Angeles County, per Oscar qualifying rules. Jennifer Aniston-starrer “Cake” (Cinelou/Freestyle) is playing one week in suburban Torrance out of the limelight (though it had a Wednesday and a Los Angeles Times review). As usual for such release, grosses weren’t posted, but sources indicate despite the extremely low profile this performed respectfully among an array of the other top-grossing films. It starts its regular nationwide run on Jan. 23

With nominations, expansions and return runs ahead, the first quarter of 2015 might see record-level business for limited releases (which will expand in the coming weeks).


“A Most Violent Year” (A24) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 82; Festivals include: AFI 2014
$188,000 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $47,000; Five Day Cumulative: $375,000

J.C. Chandor had earlier success with VOD smash hit “Margin Call” and Robert Redford-starrer “All Is Lost,” but neither film came close to the initial performance of this December 31 opening (at four New York and Los Angeles locations). This gritty, 1980s mob drama scored big with the National Board of Review and also scored terrific initial reviews, but neither guaranteed success. Given the intense holiday period competition, limited seating at its venues and the difficulty of getting attention so late in the game, these are especially terrific numbers that suggest major interest even if the film’s Oscar chances are not great.

What comes next: The wide date is Jan. 30, with limited expansion in the top 25 markets in the three weekends before then.

“The Search for General Tso” (IFC) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 69; Festivals include: Tribeca, Seattle 2014; also available on Video on Demand
$9,600 in 2 theaters; PSA: $4,800

The New York/Los Angeles theaters mainly served to elevate media attention for this mainly VOD doc about looking for the origins of the well-known but still mysterious Chinese restaurant staple.

What comes next: IFC as usual will supplement its home viewing with other big city openings over the next few week.

“L’il Quinquin” (Kino Lorber) – Metacritic: 80; Festivals include: Cannes, Toronto, New York 2014; also available (except NYC area) on Fandor
$2,500 in 1 theater:; PSA: $2,500; Cumulative: $2,500

Bruno Dumont’s French off-kilter small town murder mystery (with bodies found inside dead cows) premiered at Cannes before its scheduled multi-episode TV showing at home abroad. Even so, it ended up at number one on the prestigious Cahiers du Cinema ten best list for the year (just edging out Godard’s “Goodbye to Language 3D,” also handled by Kino Lorber in the U.S.). At three-and-a-half hours, it’s not ideal theatrical fare. New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center gave it a try, to limited success, but the strong reviews and exposure will give its showings on indie streaming site Fandor a boost (at the moment, nationally, except for the New York area at the moment).

What comes next: This will get limited further theatrical play at select locations, but its main viewing will be via streaming.

“The Taking of Tiger Mountain” (Well Go) – Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 65
$est. $55,000 in 7 theaters; PSA: $55,000; Cumulative: $est. 7,857

This Chinese Revolution epic, released in 2D in the U.S. (3D in its huge local opening last week) is from veteran Hong Kong action master Tsui Hark. These are typical if not outstanding numbers for the domestic ethnic market.

What comes next: This doesn’t appear to have much further potential before it hits the thriving Chinese home viewing market later.

Week 2

American Sniper” (Warner Bros.)
$640,000 in 4 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $160,000; Cumulative: $2,192,000

Clint Eastwood’s film actually went up 1% from its record-shattering take last weekend, and established a record for its second weekend that is better than nearly all first weekend hauls in history. Yes, the playtime helps, and the four theaters reacted to the initial response by adding seating, but that takes nothing away from how unprecedented this film’s success really is. At this point, potential Oscar attention would just be gravy as the film heads toward massive numbers when it goes wide on January 16. Until then, “Sniper” stays in just these four theaters in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas.

“Selma” (Paramount)
$645,000 in 22 theaters (+3); PSA: $29,318; Cumulative: $2,080,000

Very encouraging news for Ava DuVernay’s strong Oscar contender: adding three theaters, the PSA remained nearly the same. And with showing at a larger-than-usual number of theaters early in its run, the total is by any standards (other than “American Sniper”) impressive and encouraging. “Selma” goes wide on January 16, the day after the Academy Award nominations unspool, and it looks like Paramount has done what they’ve needed to keep this in the mix and provide an initial platform to build on.

“The Interview” (Sony); also available on Video on Demand
$1,110,000 in 581 theaters (+250); PSA: $1,893; Cumulative: $4,915,000

There is so much unprecedented about this film, so why not more? At the same time as its home viewing presence increased (new outlets, including cable on demand, were added this week), the theater count increased by more than 40%. Though mainly these are not top-tier theaters, this success is nearly unheard of, and comes with nearly all the marketing generated by the film’s ongoing free media publicity. Sony has not released any new figures about home revenues beyond the $15 million brought in the first four days, but these VOD figures likely tower over the impressive theatrical take so far.

“Two Days One Night” (IFC)       
$15,500 in 2 theaters; PSA: $7,750; Cumulative: $109,774

Marion Cotillard won yet another major critics’ award for her working-class performance, this time from the National Society of Film Critics. At two prime New York locations, the gross inched up slightly. Los Angeles opens the Dardennes’ film this Friday, though it had a qualifying LA run in December to get Cotillard eligible for possible Oscar contention which, despite critics’ backing, is unlikely to happen.

“Leviathan” (Sony Pictures Classics)         2
$30,901 in 3 theaters (+1); PSA: $10,300; Cumulative: $78,984

Los Angeles was added to the two New York runs, with an encouraging 50% PSA increase to get this lengthy acclaimed Russian drama to a somewhat more respectable gross. This will likely need a Foreign Language Oscar nomination (it’s on the Academy shortlist of nine) to take it beyond niche arthouse success as it expands nationally.

Ongoing/expanding (Over $50,000 and in under 1,000 theaters)

“The Imitation Game” (Weinstein) Week 6
$8,110,000 in 754 theaters (+7); Cumulative: $30,808,000

Up 2%, jumping over two films to take seventh place in this week’s Top Ten despite only being in 754 theaters, and continuing to perform on par with “The King’s Speech”‘s nearly identical playoff pattern four years ago, the Alan Turing biopic has now hit its hoped-for critical mass heading into the Oscar nominations and much wider release ahead. Weinstein’s strongest Oscar contender, “Imitation Game” is hitting on all cylinders in a league of its own amid any number of significant, initially limited films that have expanded this season.

“The Theory of Everything” (Focus) Week 9
$1,114,000 in 651 theaters (-85); Cumulative: $24,780,000

Though later in its runs than “Imitation Game,” this Stephen Hawking biopic continues to benefit from holiday playtime and positioned to get more exposure after its expected upcoming awards haul.

“Foxcatcher” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 8                      
$907,762 in 298 theaters (-17); Cumulative: $7,943,000

Nearing $8 million before really going wide, “Foxcatcher,” curiously, lost a handful of locations this week. (Most of its fellow late-year specialized releases have played on at least double the theaters so far.) This is a film whose potential is tied to its nomination tally. While a near-certain supporting actor contender for Mark Ruffalo, its inclusion in the picture/actor/director/screenplay races is possible, though no longer assured. How it fares late next week come Oscar nominations time will likely be the biggest factor on how far beyond $10 million this gets.

“Birdman” (Fox Searchlight) Week 9
$845,000 in 282 theaters (-10); Cumulative: $25,416,000

This continues to show late-run strength despite its earlier wider playoff and many new films competing for attention. This should get to over $27 million before its expected major nomination haul next week, which then should help boost the gross even higher. Searchlight has done a terrific job keeping this in the spotlight during this crucial period.

“P.K.” (UTV) Week 3
$est. 800,000 in 218 theaters; Cumulative: $est. 9,500,000

This Bollywood worldwide smash continues into a rare strong third domestic week as this looks soon to top $10 million on still very few screens.

“Inherent Vice” (Warner Bros.) Week 4
$239,000 in 16 theaters (unchanged); Cumulative: $1,451,000

Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel is still only showing in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto, including some prime outlying theaters in the first two cities. It went up 18% this week, a nice boost for its prospects and showing this didn’t just initially get first weekend PTA fanboys. This expands to around 450 theaters this Friday.

“Mr. Turner” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 3                      
$231,227 in 24 theaters (unchanged); Cumulative: $962,818

Mike Leigh’s biopic on English painter J.M.W. Turner fell under 10% in its second week on 24 big-city screens, with a solid PSA particularly considering its two-and-a-half hour length. Timothy Spall has won a ton of Best Actor awards, including from Cannes, New York, European Film Academy and the National Society of Film Critics, but still remains an uncertain Oscar nominee. The film is showing enough interest to suggest a somewhat successful expansion even if Spall, snubbed the Globes and SAG, doesn’t get into the final Oscar five. At this point, “Turning” is doing about the same as Leigh’ previous two releases “Happy-Go-Lucky” and “Another Year.” Both films (neither Oscar boosted) got to around $3.5 million, as did the previous “Vera Drake” (which did get a Best Actress nod).

“Whiplash” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 13                        
$210,789 in 84 theaters (-3); Cumulative: $5,902,000

Although this has never performed to its potential, SPC has done a terrific job keeping this front and center despite its now three months in release and major competition. J.K. Simmons supporting actor wins keep piling up, and this is in the running for more Oscar largesse.

“The Babadook” (IFC) Week 6; also available on Video on Demand                                 
$64,400 in 46 theaters (-20); Cumulative: $727,601

Despite easy access via home media, this Australian horror film continues to get some theatrical interest, even more impressive with the huge competition out there.

“Citizenfour” (Radius/Weinstein) Week 11
$62,953 in 49 theaters (+9); Cumulative: $2,263,000

RADiUS managed to add theaters this tough weekend, adding more gross as its best documentary awards acclaim continues.

“The Homesman” (Roadside Attractions) Week 8
$61,000 in 54 theaters (-7); Cumulative: $2,279,000

Here’s an example of holiday uptick — the gross remained even despite losing some theaters, The future of this depends on whether Hilary Swank makes it into the Best Actress race.

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