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Arthouse Audit: Docs 'Act of Killing' and 'Blackfish' Open Strong, 'Way Way Back' and 'Fruitvale Station' Soar

Photo of Tom Brueggemann By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood July 21, 2013 at 6:01PM

Strong openings for documentaries "The Act of Killing" and "Blackfish," plus a rousing VOD day-and-date success for "Only God Forgives," yielded one of the better first weeks for multiple specialized films in some time. An exclusive run of "Computer Chess" also shows some early promise, while a much wider debut for the Kristen Wiig-starrer "The Girl Most Likely," although it is the biggest total grosser, suggests struggles ahead.
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Computer Chess
"Computer Chess" (Kino Lorber) - Criticwire: B+; Metacritic 74; Festivals include: Sundance 2013

$11,000 in one theater; PSA: $11,000

With a Wednesday opening at New York's Film Forum bringing the five-day total to over $18,000, excellent for this small theater, Andrew Bujalski's Sundance Next premiere is the best opening yet for this Mumblecore pioneer ("Frances Ha-Ha," "Mutual Appreciation"). Set at a 1980s tournament between a computer and a group of young chess fanatics, it scored particularly strong reviews from the New York Times and the Village Voice to launch this to decent results.

What comes next: Five new cities are set for next Friday, with Los Angeles and elsewhere to follow on August 2.

Ongoing/expanding

Two potential breakout specialized films -- both now looking like they might be in elevated awards contention -- built on their initial successes as the expanded further this weekend. After a hiatus when nothing since "Mud" (released in April) has shown signs of real crossover success, both Fox Searchlight's "The Way Way Back" and Weinstein's "Fruitvale Station" are strong and getting stronger.

"The Way Way Back" is perhaps the bigger surprise, which despite its writing pedigree (its directing/writing team won an Oscar for "The Descendants") and some star quotient seemed possibly to fit into the dreaded tweener territory where so many promising specialized films end up, with neither strong appeal to core audiences nor wider more general ones a danger. Clearly benefitting from a successful screening program and other marketing as well as now strong patron word of mouth, the film grossed $2,240,000 in 304 theaters (+225, PSA $7,368, total $4,632,000) for its third weekend. The gross is just short of "Mud"'s first week in slightly more theaters. That film went on to a $20 million + total, which is certainly now in range for this film, with Searchlight now having every reason to be confident that an even wider release should lead to much higher returns, as well as a possible screenplay nomination down the line.

"Fruitvale Station" in its second weekend did a strong $742,000 in 34 theaters (+27, PSA $21,824, total $1,334,000). As a summer time release and as a serious topical-issue themed film, this is short of the staggering initial grosses "Precious" received on its later-year release, nor is it quite at the level of the somewhat similar "Milk," which had the benefit of bigger star appeal and a prime-awards season placement. But those are minor quibbles - this is already outpacing "Beasts of the Southern Wild" last year, with clear signs that audience response is very strong and more importantly it is reaching multiple audiences in its initial results, crucial for ongoing success. With Weinstein's support and the likelihood of major awards consideration ahead (it is probably the best-positioned film of any released so far this year), this also has a real shot at hitting $20 million or higher.

The top grosser among other specialized releases is "20 Feet from Stardom" (Radius/Weinstein), holding up well at $398,000 in 135 theaters (+4, PSA $2,948, total $2,426,000). Though Radius has thus far not been as aggressive in chasing down high theater counts as its parent company, this looks likely to be at or near the top of documentary grossers for the year, and should easily top last year's "Searching for Sugar Man."

Among wider release films later in their runs, Sony Pictures Classics "Before Midnight" leads the way with another $201,000, now totaling $7.4 million, Roadside's "Much Ado About Nothing" added another $144,000, just under $3.7 million, and A24's "The Bling Ring" did $70,00 to get to $5.6 million. All three of these have fallen a bit short of what was anticipated.

Among more limited releases "I'm So Excited" (SPC) did $162,000 in 50 (+28) to reach $683,000 in its fourth weekend, Goldwyn's "Still Mine" added New York in its second weekend to do in 18. Weinstein's "Unfinished Song" did another $162,000 to get it passed the $1 million mark, while Cohen's "The Attack"added another $134,000 as it nears that level.

This article is related to: The Act of Killing , Only God Forgives, Blackfish, Box Office, Box Office, Box Office, The Way, Way Back, Fruitvale Station


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