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Arthouse Audit: Record Surprise 'Spring Breakers' Puts New Distrib A24 On Map

Photo of Tom Brueggemann By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood March 17, 2013 at 4:23PM

A24’s “Spring Breakers” opened to the most unexpected limited success of any film in recent history with a two-city $90,000 per screen average: this for a filmmaker (Harmony Korine) whose past films have struggled to gross that much during their entire runs.
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"Spring Breakers"
A24 "Spring Breakers"


A24’s “Spring Breakers” opened to the most unexpected limited success of any film in recent history with a two-city $90,000 per screen average: this for a filmmaker (Harmony Korine) whose past films have struggled to gross that much during their entire runs.

After weeks of sparse new openings to fill the post-Oscar void, this weekend showed real strength. Curiously, none of the three new good-to-great openers come from the usual companies that dominate the year-round line-up, and each was not seen as an automatic success (which is why they weren't picked up a bigger company).

A24 had a second opening this week (a very unusual move) with “Ginger and Rosa,” very ambitious for a new company. Formed just before Toronto last year by three veterans of the specialized industry, including David Fenkel, who co-founded Oscilloscope Laboratories in 2008 (which also opened a new film this week), the company has already made a mark with two high-end acquisitions (Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” and the Sundance hit “The Spectacular Now”) but their success this weekend marks a powerful opening salvo that establishes them as a potential major player in the specialized world.

Opening

“Spring Breakers” (A24) – Metacritic score:  64; Festivals include: Venice 2012, Toronto 2012, South by Southwest 2013

$270,000 in 3 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $90,000

Opening to one of the biggest PSAs of recent times – ahead of such huge openers as “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” this ranks as one of the most unexpected successes (at least so far) of any specialized release in a long time.

Directed by Harmony Korine, whose theatrical performances from films “Gummo,” “Julien Donkey-Boy” and “Mr. Lonely” were far below their initial festival impact (none grossed more than $200,000, though they all have done well on DVD), this movie premiered to mixed response at first Venice and then Toronto last year (the often critical trade reviews were both negative), then was acquired by newcomer A24 mid-fall. Unlike Korine’s earlier films, this, though hardly typical commercial fare, seemed aimed at a more mainstream audience, with James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez starring in a story of the trouble college girls get into trying to finance their spring vacation.

Korine has built up a reputation as an original, off-kilter filmmaker, which gave the flick and its cast a maverick edge from the start. But A24 pushed a social-media, youth-oriented campaign, chose South by Southwest as its American premiere close to opening rather than Sundance (the showing got significant media attention) along with old media press coverage, including some strong reviews, particularly in New York, to build up this strong gross.

Korine appeared at multiple shows at the film’s Los Angeles venue, boosting its performance at the Arclight, but the film clearly had a life of its own that would have made it look strong at half the gross. It has been difficult for specialized companies to break through to a younger audience, which is more attuned to mass-media marketing than specialized low-budget, review-oriented campaigns. A24 seems, at least with this films, seems to have shown what moving beyond conventional means and, with a youth-oriented story, at least initially there can be a major response.

What comes next: These grosses are going to mean that A24 will have to fight off exhibitors as they expand the film, with major circuits as well as specialized theaters wanting a piece of the action. Their game plan is to expand to multi-hundred theaters nationally this Friday.  “The Master,” with an opening PSA 50% larger last September (in two more theaters, making that even more impressive) expanded immediately but never really found its legs with a wider audience, so a great gross like this doesn’t guarantee wide release success. But it does mean its media coverage – both conventional and more importantly social – will increase greatly, meaning this should end up as one of the top grossing initially specialized releases of the year.

“Up on Poppy Hill” (GKids) – Metacritic score: 71; Festivals include: Toronto 2011; Rome 2011

$55,028 in 2 theaters; PSA:  $27,514

Another more recent company with an opening any of them would be pleased with, GKids, which specializes in (mostly) foreign animated films scored very well with this Japanese film directed by the son of Oscar winning Hayao Miyazaki (from his story) in two theaters in New York (the IFC Center and Film Society of Lincoln Center). Miyazaki senior’s final three films were released by Disney on a wider initial basis, so an exact comparison to them is trickier (“Spirited Away” opened in 2003 in 26 with a PSA of $17,000). But this opening is far ahead of GKids’ earlier releases, including Oscar nominees “Chico and Rita” and “A Cat in Paris.”)

What comes next: Los Angeles opens this Friday, but these grosses for a film connected to the Miyazaki studio will likely attract wider attention even with Dreamworks’ “Crood” initially serving as the go-to family film starting next weekend.

This article is related to: Box Office, Box Office, Box Office, A24, Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.