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Arthouse Audit: 'Middle of Nowhere' Proves Buyers Wrong with Innovative Releasing Model

Photo of Tom Brueggemann By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood October 14, 2012 at 3:48PM

The high quality of some recent wide-release films is taking its toll on specialty films. With "Argo" nabbing raves, "Looper," "Seven Psychopaths" and "The Perks of Being a Wildflower" also in the top ten and "The Master" and "Arbitrage" still drawing audiences, it's tough to compete with smaller films.
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Nicole Kidman in 'The Paperboy'
Nicole Kidman in 'The Paperboy'

"The Paperboy" (Millennium) - Week 2

$103,995 in 49 theaters (+38); PSA: $2,122; Cumulative: $245,000

Grossing about the same in 49 theaters as it did last week in 11 is not an encouraging sign for the expansion of Lee Daniels' hothouse murder mystery. 

What it means: Could this have been a film, with its big-name cast and sexually provocative content, that might have benefitted from a parallel Video on Demand release? With the success of "Arbitrage" and others, that might have been the best plan for this. Still, it likely gets a lot more viewing on future venues than do most films at this gross level.

"The House I Live In" (Abramorama) - Week 2

$22,470 in 8 theaters (+6); PSA: $2,813; Cumulative: $47,000

A multi-theater wider run in LA was the central feature of this week's expansion (which could get extra attention from the Academy Doc branch members racing to see as many of the contenders as possible), to mixed at best results. Brad Pitt has come on executive producer, which could elevate its profile.

What it means: This is still performing as well or better than some other acclaimed recent docs.

"Wuthering Heights" (Oscilloscope) - Week 2

$10,000 in 4 theaters (+3); PSA: $2,500; Cumulative: $23,117

Not so good grosses as this expanded slightly this week. Although reviews continue to be strong, it looks like this no-star but distinctive version of the Bronte novel doesn't interest audiences.

What it means: Oscilloscope will get this open in more cities, but its future is limited.

"The Other Dream Team" (Film Arcade) - Week 3

$30,900 in 12 theaters (+5); PSA: $2,576; cumulative: $73,000

Another modest but steady gross for this sports doc, as it expands to new cities.

What it means: With so many docs competing for attention, it's tough to gain the traction needed for many of them. Still, this is getting normal playoff from new distrib Film Arcade.

"How to Survive a Plague" (IFC) - Week 4; also available on Video on Demand

$12,400 in 9 theaters (+2); PSA: $1,400; Cumulative: $2,120,000

Minor grosses at best for this Sundance-premiered doc.

What it means: Not much action left for this.

"The Master" (Weinstein) - Week 5

$823,000 in 682 theaters (-182); PSA: $1,207; Cumulative: $13,920,000

Fading quickly at this point and falling out of the top 10, this will outgross the similarly acclaimed "The Tree of Life" last year, but is facing the same problem of wider audience disinterest beyond the enthusiasm of critics and sophisticated cinephiles.

What it means: This still could get a second wind with the nominations later.

"Arbitrage" (Roadside Attractions) - Week 5; also available on Video on Demand

$363,350 in 195 theaters (-49); PSA: $1,863; cumulative: $6,673,000

A normal drop at this point of the run under ordinary circumstances, more impressive with the home viewing option.

What it means: This will encourage even more day-and-date theatrical/VOD releases.

"Liberal Arts" (IFC) - Week 5; also available on Video on Demand

$18,760 in 25 theaters (-4); PSA: $750; Cumulative: $245,000

Another film with little traction at this point.

What it means: Long live VOD.

"Detropia" (LoKi) - Week 6

$16,215 in 11 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $1,474; Cumulative: $253,000

Looking like it is nearing the end of its run with a big PSA fall, this filmmaker-distributed documentary still has made an impact.

What it means: Though never a large grosser, the careful nurturing of this film has taken it further than might have been expected.

"Samsara" (Oscilloscope) - Week 8

$112,944 in 48 theaters (-4); PSA: $2,353; Cumulative: $1,801,000

With a decent and more importantly steady PSA, this visually spectacular doc now has become Oscilloscope's largest-grossing film, topping "We Need to Talk About Kevin."

What it means: This still has several weeks gross left in it, so it will add a good deal more.

"Sleepwalk With Me" (IFC) - Week 8; also available on Video on Demand

$70,000 in 70 theaters (-34); PSA: $1,000; Cumulative: $2,120,000

Ending its run after two months theatrically (though still going strong on VOD), this has been with combined results one of the most successful films to come from Sundance this year.

What it means: Along with "Arbitrage," a model of how to succeed with both platforms ("Sleepwalk" though had a first week very limited before VOD started).

"Searching for Sugar Man" (Sony Pictures Classics) - Week 11

$202,767 in 157 theaters (+118); PSA: $1,379; Cumulative: $1,698,000

Going by far the widest yet nearly three months into the run (following a "60 Minutes" Rodriguez profile last Sunday), SPC built on its steady performance so far to put this in a position to get over $2 million and take its place among the top-grossing documentaries of the year.

What it means: Slow and steady wins the race.

"Intouchables" (Weinstein) - Week 21

$50,000 in 59 theaters (-25); PSA: $847; cumulative: $12,745,000

Finally nearing the end of its run, at least for now. 

What it means: This was the first screener sent to Academy members. Since only Foreign Language committee members select the nominees in that category--and have to see the films at a theater--this is a clear sign that Weinstein is looking for inclusion in other major categories.

This article is related to: Box Office, Box Office, Box Office, Wuthering Heights, The House I Live In, The Paperboy, Middle Of Nowhere, Smashed, Simon and the Oaks


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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.