By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood December 15, 2013 at 4:20PM
"Saving Mr. Banks" (Buena Vista) - Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 66
$421,000 in 15 theaters; PSA: $28,067
Disney rarely goes limited with its films (other than an occasional animated release), although it launched "Lincoln" last year in 11 theaters for an $86,000 PSA in advance of its very successful wider run. The gross here though shows why studios are careful about going this route. Particularly in comparison to "American Hustle," this looks disappointing and somewhat weak. But whatever the reasons for this strategy (the film opens in over 2,000 theaters on Friday), it would be premature to discount the film's future based on these numbers.
Why? There are significant differences from "Hustle." The former is playing at six of the highest grossing theaters in the world (in New York and Los Angeles). "Saving" opened in six cities, and for the rest these are actually decent numbers. And the audience for this is somewhat different from "Hustle" -- likely older, more female, more suburban as well as family-oriented. That group of moviegoers is much less likely to trek out to theaters two weekends before Christmas.
This is not to make excuses for the gross, which, while good, isn't at the level that Disney likely hoped for both in terms of marketing before it reaches a wider audience or in terms of its awards positioning. It comes after the film overall underperformed both with SAG and the Golden Globes. But the numbers are relatively better than the initial performance in Britain, where it opened two weeks ago to mediocre wide business. We won't have a clear idea whether the reaction in these initial cities will benefit upcoming dates.
What comes next: The main audience for this film, if it is to appear in anticipated numbers, won't show up to a large extent until December 25 and after. For some films, particularly at this time of the year, pre-Christmas numbers can be a bit deceptive. The bottom line is that the jury is still out on how well this will perform, but these grosses shouldn't be read as a sign of impending disaster.
As an example of how different something different than a core 4-6 theater New York/Los Angeles can skew a gross, the second weekend of "Inside Llewyn Davis" (CBS) shows how expansions can be misleading if one only looks at PSA. Keeping to its initial two cities, but adding 11 more outlying and suburban runs in them, it grossed $344,000 in 15 (+11) for a PSA of just under $23,000, less than a quarter of last week. With its core theaters facing severe competition for seats (with "American Hustle" and/or "Hobbit 2" showing at most of them this week), it also didn't have the access to maximum capacity it opened to. Still, the total gross came in at 15% less than what four theaters took in last weekend. This could suggest that this film will ultimately be of a more limited appeal than some of the Coen Brothers other films. Their last similar release, "A Serious Man," in 2009 went from 6 to 21 theaters, with its second weekend gross up 83% from its opening (the comparable PSAs were $42 and 22,000 first and second weeks). "A Serious Man," which got a Best Picture nomination months later, ended up grossing $9 million. CBS is expanding this slowly, opening in several other cities in limited theaters next Friday.
The other significant expansion this week was "Nebraska" (Paramount), which is being rolled out very slowly. It took in $850,000 in 250 theaters (+137), PSA a so-so $3,400, total so far of $3,316,000. This should hold on through Christmas at most of these, with the plans for a much wider release at the time of the Oscar nominations next month. This is clearly going to be at the low end of grosses for Alexander Payne's films, but with a real chance of ending up with a much higher ultimate total, particularly if Bruce Dern wins Best Actor down the line.
Adding more theaters on a lower scale was "The Great Beauty" (Janus) which took in $85,000 in 35 theaters (+12), now up to $529,000. Holding steady at 4 screens in advance of its national planned expansion for Christmas, "Mandela" (Weinstein) took a big drop to $31,800, down a steep 58% from last week's strong hold. Its total is $238,000 to date.
Two of the longer running initially limited placed in the Top 10 again, #8 "Philomena" (Weinstein) grossed $1,756,000 in 835 theaters (unchanged), up to $11 million, and #9 "The Book Thief" (20th Century-Fox) did $1,675,000 in 1,158 (-158), total $14,9 million. Just below at #11 was "Dallas Buyers Club" (Focus), $1,130,000 in 574 (-160, total $14,257,000) and "12 Years a Slave" (Fox Searchlight), $685,000 in 497 (-585), now at $36,317,000.
Also over $50,000 this weekend were "All Is Lost" (Roadside Attractions), which did $163,000 in 261 (+114, total $5.7 million), a reissue of "Blue Jasmine" (Sony Pictures Classics), $101,000 in 302 (+267), $32.9 million) and "Blue Is the Warmest Color" (IFC), $57,200 in 54 (-24, $1.9 million).