Meantime, despite an usually large number of films earning critic's raves, the smart-house crowd at this time of year is too small and divided to boost many to breakout status. And at the same time, some of the better-grossing films are luring moviegoers with other attractions such as genre appeal, entertainment value.
"Marley" (Magnolia) - Metacritic score: 84; Festivals include: Berlin 11, South by Southwest 11; also on VOD (video on demand)
$260,000 in 42 theaters; Per screen average (PSA): $6,190
This documentary about the legendary Reggae star would be impressive enough if it were only just a theatrical release. That it opened in a many cities as it did and attained its PSA is even better. Throw in that at the same time it is also available on VOD, and this looks like one of the major specialized success stories of the year.
What it means: Along with the parallel VOD successes of "Melancholia" and "Margin Call" last fall, this is going to encourage distributors to push this release mode even further, even if it does deny them access to many theaters.
"Goodbye First Love" (IFC-Sundance Selects) - Metacritic score: 86; Festivals include: Locarno 11, Telluride 11, Toronto 11, New York 11, Palm Springs 12, Rotterdam 12
$21,200 in 4 theaters; PSA: $5,300
Major festival exposure and strong reviews didn't translate in signifcant grosses for this French romantic story which opened in NY/LA this weekend. With only slightly better critical response, IFC's "The Kid With a Bike" did nearly three times the PSA. It becomes available on VOD on Tuesday.
What it means: This will open in other cities soon, but looks to not have the success of other recent subtitled openings.
"The Day He Arrives" (Cinema Guild) - Metacritic score: 82; Festivals include: Cannes 11, Vancouver 11, Pusan 11, Rotterdam 12
$3,000 in 1 theater; PSA: $3,000
This is the fifth of film from South Korean director Hong Sang-soo to land a U.S. release, and so far it has earned the best reviews yet. But despite playing at NY's prime Lincoln Plaza theater, it failed to find an audience equal to its acclaim.
What it means: The further play for this film is likely to be limited.
"Darling Companion" (Sony Pictures Classics) - Metacritic score: 38; Festivals include: Santa Barbara 12
$46,296 in 4 theaters; PSA: $11,574
For the second week in a row, SPC released a new film from a long-dormant director in his 60s. Unlike Whit Stillman's "Damsels in Distress," Lawrence Kasdan's ("Body Heat," "The Big Chill") features characters from his own generation. Clearly, the three Oscar-winners in the cast (Kevin Kline, Diane Keaton and Dianne Wiest) outweighed negative reviews; the old-fashioned relationship comedy still managed to pull an older audience. SPC played a mix of two core specialized theaters and two more mainstream ones (including the unusual choice of the Arclight Sherman Oaks in LA, rarely part of a four-theater opening), indicating they hope to find interest beyond the usual theaters.
What it means: Expect SPC to nurture this as they go forward and play off the real appeal of the cast.
"My Way" (Well Go USA) - Metacritic score: 22; Festivals include: Berlin 11, Newport Beach 11
$16,200 in 22 theaters; PSA: $736
The most expensive Korean film of all time (a major hit at home, this period war film, released by a veteran distributor of more commercial Asian films, got rock bottom reviews, and the grosses show it. The gross at the most-desired theater in the country - the Arclight in Hollywood - was just about a record low (around $1500, where a $10,000 opening weekend is considered weak).
What it means: As with "Flowers of War," the huge Chinese hit that flopped in its US play, mass-audience foreign hits more often than not don't work in the US. The Weinstein's "Intouchables" - a French film that has outgrossed "Hunger Games" internationally - will be an interesting test to see if that is always true.
"The Moth Diaries" (IFC-Midnight) - Metacritic score: 39; Festivals include: Venice 11, Toronto 11; also on VOD
$2,400 in 2 theaters; PSA: $1,200
Though a "special" presentation at Toronto last September, the theatrical component of this girls' school-set vampire-genre film scored poorly with reviews, despite director Mary Harron's previous reputation ("American Psycho," "The Notorious Bette Page.") The weak grosses reflect that.
What it means: Already on VOD, that will remain its main venue going forward.
"Jesus Henry Christ" (eOne) - Metacritic score: 59; Festivals include: Tribeca 11; also on VOD
$9,300 in 3 theaters; PSA: $3,100
Opening in LA only, this sperm-donor parenting story managed to reach a small audience with at best just OK reviews.
What it means: With backing by exec producer Julia Roberts (her husband was the director of photography) this likely will gain a bit of further theatrical exposure along with its parallel VOD run.
"Bully" (Weinstein) - Week 4
$505,000 in 263 theaters (+105); PSA: $1,920; Cumulative: $1,530,000
Another big increase in theaters, but with a better than 40% fall in PSA. This already has tripled the gross of the other recent Weinstein doc (the Oscar-winning "Undefeated"). The rating change has made a major difference.
What it means: Now that this has expanded into a broader range of multiplexes nationally, this is not showing the same level of interest as the media attention might indicate. But it is doing far better than it had any chance of doing without it, and still is likely to expand further and add a good deal more to the gross before enjoying significant attention as it goes to live-streaming and DVD.
"Damsels in Distress" (Sony Pictures Classics) - Week 2
$122,524 in 46 theaters (+24); PSA: $2,664; Cumulative: $319,812
As this moves out to more cities and suburban areas, the PSA remains mediocre as new reviews range from favorable to negative, consistent with the mixed response this off-beat Whit Stillman comedy has received previously.
What it means: This won't break out to the extent that initially seemed possible, and looks likely to end up at the lower end of expectations.
"Monsieur Lazhar" (Music Box) - Week 2
$157,311 in 33 theaters (+14); PSA: $4,767; Cumulative: $310,966
Expanding quickly, the PSA only fell about 20%, which is an excellent sign for word of mouth for this Canadian Oscar nominee. As usual, Music Box is in more theaters initially, which decreases the PSA, but at this level of playoff this can be considered solid.
What it means: Further expansion with steady grosses look likely for the school-room drama with a twist.
"The Raid: Redemption" (Sony Pictures Classics/Alliance in Canada) - Week 5
$480,866 in 548 theaters (-323); PSA: $877; Cumulative: $3,501,777
Down from his widest release last week, this Indonesian action film is now falling off quickly after going deeper into the marketplace than most subtitled films do.
What it means: This likely loses most remaining theaters soon.
"We Have a Pope" (IFC-Sundance Selects) - Week 3; also available on VOD
$41,000 in 18 theaters (+3); PSA: $2,300; Cumulative: $161,400
Only slightly expanding this week, this continues to be a minor grosser (for the number and quality of its screens, the PSA isn't strong). It is competing in a market with a lot of strongly reviewed films at the moment, but is the only one among the subtitle ones that isn't a heavier drama, which could be helping it a bit.
What it means: The main viewing for this already is its home VOD availability.
"Jiro Dreams of Sushi" (Magnolia) - Week 7
$160,000 in 70 theaters (-9); PSA: $2,286; Cumulative: $1,545,000
The good grosses for this keep coming - the PSA is only down 10% this week, a further sign of strong niche audience response.
What it means: This should easily be one of the top documentary grossers in theaters this year, likely approaching $3 million.
"Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" (CBS) - Week 7
$670,000 in 446 theaters (+11); PSA: $1,502; Cumulative: $7,059,000
This deep into the run, with a surprising increase in theaters (it had fallen last week) and a minor falloff in PSA (around 25%), CBS has managed to nurture (spend) this crowd-pleaser into a real success.
What it means: This likely continues on screen for several weeks to come, with what seemed to be an $8 million gross ceiling easily surpassed, with $10 million not out of the question.
"The Kid With a Bike" (IFC-Sundance Selects) - Week 6
$163,000 in 86 theaters (+13) - PSA: $1,900; Cumulative: $954,000
The PSA only showed a small decrease as more cities/theaters were added, a good sign that this acclaimed Belgian film continues to enjoy continued interest. Further expansion is planned, so this should easily top $1.5 million in gross.
What it means: This is already the biggest-grossing film in the U.S. from the veteran Dardenne brothers (whose films always get released), and even adjusting for higher ticket prices this has now at least equalled them in attendance, with significant business still ahead.
"Blue Like Jazz" (Roadside Attractions) - Week 2
$130,000 in 126 theaters (-10); PSA: $1,032; Cumulative: $486,000
The gross fell about 50% for the second week for this religious film about a college student confronting the secular world.
What it means: Not much more life likely for this.
"The Deep Blue Sea" (Music Box) - Week 5
$86,911 in 46 theaters (-7); PSA:$1,889; Cumulative: $764,920
Still struggling to get the audience it deserves, at least the minor PSA increased this weekend.
What it means: This won't likely get much over $1 million in gross despite stellar reviews highlighting Rachel Weisz' strong performance.
"Footnote" (Sony Pictures Classics) - Week 8
$190,775 in 93 theaters (+9); PSA: $2,051; Cumulative: $1,356,496
As is typical for the limited number of past Israeli films, "Footnote" is experiencing steady growth and taking its time in reaching its audience. With a theater count up again this week, the PSA fell only slightly, always a positive thing.
What it means: This still looks like it will at least come close to being the highest-grossing Israeli film in the US (around $3 million), although it clearly has a long way to go.
"Jeff, Who Lives at Home" (Paramount) - Week 6
$125,000 in 122 theaters (-61); PSA: $1,025; Cumulative: $4,026,000
In its final weeks, this adds a bit more to its minor gross (compared to the number of total theaters played in and marketing spent by Paramount).
What it means: With the greatest appeal to younger audiences, this failed to get the audience that fellow recent Toronto acquisitions "Friends With Kids" and "Salmon Fishing in the Yukon" did.
"A Separation" (Sony Pictures Classics) - Week 17
$56,933 in 59 theaters (-32); PSA: $965; Cumulative: $6,938,613
Just about over for this very successful film, far surpassing any previous Iranian film.
What it means: "A Separation" has now outgrossed the previous four Oscar foreign language winners.