With "Gravity" and now "Captain Phillips" dominating the Top 10, propelled by ticket buyers who often overlap with those who might otherwise pursue more specialized fare, the overall weekend arthouse box office is less than spectacular. Several independent releases outside the normal definition of specialized comprise much of the business. Among new openings and ongoing films, non-wide releases did much of the business.
The new exclusive/limited runs are treading water as three major new releases will launch this week -- "12 Years a Slave" (Fox Searchlight), "All Is Lost" (Roadside Attractions) and "Kill My Darlings" (Sony Pictures Classics). These should kickstart the lagging business at the time of the year when core theaters should be thriving.
"Romeo and Juliet" (Relativity) - Criticwire B-; Metacritic: 41
$509,000 in 461 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $1,104
A European production financed by an Austrian jeweler, with Relativity hired to handle U.S. distribution, this film has roots in a past specialized release. Director Carlos Carlei made "The Flight of the Innocent" in the early 1990s, which after its Toronto premiere was thought to have a real shot at box office success. It failed, but MGM then produced "Fluke" with him, to modest results. Since then he has been making TV films in his native Italy. This effort, with a cast led by Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet, and with support from such stalwarts Paul Giamatti, "Homeland"'s Damian Lewis and Stellan Skarsgaard gained little traction, doing weak business in a selection of well-placed theaters across the country.
What comes next: This will have a tough time holding on to the many of these theaters its second week, more so with Relativity already pushing hard to hold its much more successful "Insidious Chapter Two."
"The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete" (Lionsgate) - Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 63; Festivals include: Sundance 2013
$260,000 in 147 theaters; PSA: $1,769
Enterprising Lionsgate, with "Catching Fire" next month likely to exceed "Gravity" as the fall's top grosser, also partners with other companies in more niche markets to usually impressive numbers (as they recently have done in the Latino market with Mexican producer Pantaleon). The formerly stand-alone distributor CodeBlack also collaborates with them ("Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain" enjoyed success with the African-American market, along with long-time in-house star Tyler Perry).
However, this effort from veteran director George Tillman Jr. ("Soul Food," "Men of Honor") failed to connect, playing at nearly all of the top theaters in major cities for the intended audience. This was a Sundance-premiered film, and with Jennifer Hudson leading the adult actors in this story about two young people left to fend for themselves during summer vacation, it looked like it had some potential. But word of mouth alone, even if good, likely won't be enough to sustain this based on results so far.
What comes next: A struggle to hold on to theaters for more than a week.
"Escape from Tomorrow" (PDA) - Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 60; Festivals include: Sundance 2013; also available on Video on Demand
$66,100 in 30 theaters; PSA: $2,203
Shot guerilla-filmmaker style under the normally all-seeing security folks at Disney World, and used the setting to form a context for this story about a typical dad taking his family to the park who finds his world transformed after obsessing over a couple of cute French girls. This had all the makings of a cult film (and possibly unreleasable if Disney tried to protect its corporate image). Instead, they laid low, and future cult status should come from legitimate viewings. With VOD limiting theatrical play and a cross-country release in small markets with limited showings, this isn't a bad result despite the smallish-PSA. The main action will be on VOD, for which long-time indie sales agent John Sloss hopes, against industry norms, to provide actual numbers during the week. This is the kind of offering that might easily have found its way online with only a theatrical release initially because of its outside the box presentation, but with VOD and the publicity surrounding this, and enhanced by reviews and other media, could gain much wider viewing.
What comes next: A likely long availability on VOD and similar outlets.