While distributors ponder how much to spend on new films showcased at Sundance, the business of opening and playing off previous acquisitions continues, with most of the success coming from higher-level films from top companies, particularly those in the middle of the Oscar race. Among the new offerings (at least the two for which grosses were reported), the interest is more limited, meaning that earlier releases will continue to have to carry the burden in upcoming weeks. But at least two films - "Amour" and "Quartet" - are showing some real strength in still limited (36 and 32 screens respectively) release, though the temptation to add theaters quickly will be strong for both films.
Increasingly, films that show any sign of initial success are broadened out, particularly at this time of the year (but hardly limited to awards season), which means strong competition for core theaters from close-by ones, while smaller films have trouble gaining traction. This model likely reinforces the trend of smaller, niche films - the kind that dominate Sundance - to look for alternative venues, particularly Video on Demand, to ensure success, meaning even more competition for art houses.
Although its full gross hasn't yet been reported, First Run Features reports that the Los Angeles opening for "56 Up" is headed for a very strong $16,000 for the weekend, showing its earlier success in New York was not a fluke. This latest in a series of seven year updates on a group of English citizens from childhood on could be the biggest in the series yet, and even better, one that should have most of its viewing in a more limited group of theaters.
"LUV" (Indomina) - Metacritic score: 52; Festivals include: Sundance 12
$90,000 in 45 theaters; PSA: $2,000
One of the last of Sundance 2012's U.S. Dramatic competition films to hit theaters, this urban-set story of an 11-year-old's confrontation with the realities of adult life opened in multiple markets in mainly non-art house situations with mixed results. Co-starring veteran actors like Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton and Dennis Haybert in supporting roles, it tells the story of a nephew and his recently released from prison uncle as they spend time together in Baltimore, with both learning lessons from the other.
Independently made African-American films, particularly when not getting awards-attention level reviews, usually struggle to attain crossover audiences ("Middle of America" another Sundance-showcased film that never got deserved attention), while its core audience is not as attuned to seek out low-marketing level quality films short of a major Oprah Winfrey or Tyler Perry backed push. But getting this out into theaters at any level does gain needed attention, which Indomina hopes to parlay into decent Video on Demand interest (that venue coming soon), with later BET showings also meant to broaden its viewing.
What comes next: Good word of mouth will be needed to sustain theatrical interest. AMC Theaters provided the bulk of the runs and some marketing assistance, which should mean this will get the benefit of the doubt for holdovers for next week.
"Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation" (Kino Lorber) - No Metacritic score; Festivals include: NYDoc 12
$6,000 in 1 theater; PSA: $6,000
Opening in the heart of Greenwich Village at the IFC Center, this documentary about the 1960s and 70s music sceen in the neighborhood had an adequate opening for a film with not a lot of hype or significant reviews other than its November festival showing.
What comes next: Kino Lorber expects to expand this to other cities over upcoming weeks.
"Quartet" (Weinstein) - Week 2
$320,000 in 32 theaters (+30); PSA: $10,000; Cumulative: $392,000
Riding the wave of Anglophilia that remains strong (as shown by American response to "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and "Downton Abbey," both not coincidentally sharing as a leading actress Maggie Smith), Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut is showing real promise as it enters initial expansion. Set among retired musicians and featuring the usual top-drawer British cast, it is achieving this success with no awards attention and mainly ordinary reviews, suggesting how much interest there is among older audiences for films like this.
That said, this pales in comparison to the opening of "Best Exotic." Its initial week had 27 theaters, with a PSA of $27,000, nearly three times as big on its way to a $46 million domestic take (and much more worldwide). Still, in a period with few other major new specialized openings, and Oscar fare beginning to age, this should have a chance to appeal to its intended audience for the next couple of months.
What comes next: Weinstein as of late has been much more cautious in overexpanding its films (see under "Intouchables" and the very slow launch of "Silver Linings Playbook,") which can mean less total gross but also far lower marketing costs. This is doing well enough so far to justify a substantial expansion, but as of now might not deserve the 1,233 theaters "Exotic" had at its widest point.
"Amour" (Sony Pictures Classics) - Week 5
$413,000 in 36 screens (+21); PSA: $11,479; Cumulative: $1,185,000
This is very strong expansion for this multiple-Oscar nominated film that is gaining strength as it reaches new markets. The PSA is about a third better as this level as last year's eventual Best Foreign Language Film winner "A Separation" on its way to a $7 million gross, and outpacing by a wide margin previous successes from director Michael Haneke as well as a somewhat wider break for "The Intouchables." In other words, one of the top subtitled releases of recent years, despite its being more rigorous (though acclaimed) than those films.
The importance of these numbers can't be underestimated. They mean SPC will have easy access to more theaters and feel more comfortable about bigger advertising expenditures. That will give the film more exposure as Oscar voting goes on and a sense that it is enough of a popular success to bolster Best Actress nominee Emmanuelle Riva's chances, as well as for other categories. It also suggests that the core older audience (demographically similar to Academy voters) is responding positively to the film.
What comes next: This will continue to expand over the next few weeks until most mid-sized and larger markets open and outlying areas that don't normally play subtitled films are added. The ultimate gross is far from known, and of course would be enhanced by one or more Oscar wins (three - Foreign Language Film, Actress and Original Screenplay - all seem to be in play). But this already looks like it is headed to elevated status for what is essentially a more limited, core-art house experience.
"The Impossible" (Lionsgate) - Week 5
$2,530,000 in 886 theaters (+78); PSA: $2,856; Cumulative: $10,247,000
The fourth film with a Best Actress nominees in current release, this Naomi Watts-starrer is holding on quiet well at a not-spectacular level. It certainly is doing well enough to enhance its lead's chances even if it isn't getting quite the hype of some of her competitors.
The most promising element is that the PSA barely decreased even with a small increase in theaters, suggesting that though this continues to be a modest grosser in individual theaters, it still is doing well enough to continue playing and adding to its gross (which shortly will rise ahead of "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and its nominated star, and barring strong Oscar wins likely ahead of "Amour" (which it is at the moment by a wide margin).
What comes next: This level of gross guarantees significant on-screen presence during the voting period, and a likely ultimate gross over $20 million, not bad for Spanish production (in English, like this week's #1 film "Mama" starring another Best Actress nominee) that already has been a phenomenom in its home country.
"Rust and Bone" (Sony Pictures Classics) - Week 9
$247,000 in 168 theaters (+89); PSA: $1,470; Cumulative: $1,484,000
Expanding not unlike what would have happened had Marion Cotillard been Oscar-nominated, but not with the same results. The PSA - coming from a combination of longer-playing and new theaters - is weak and won't be able to sustain much further expansion or holds at many of these theaters.
What comes next: With Marion Cotillard being the major draw, this looks like it could equal what director Jacques Audiard's previous film "A Prophet" grossed ($2 million), even without the nomination.
Other films (Gross in millions + total)
"Hyde Park on Hudson" (Focus) Week 7: $428,000/$4,847,000
"Anna Karenina" (Focus) Week 10: $157,000/$12,321,000
"Chasing Ice" (Submarine Deluxe) Week 11: $29,700/$1,001,000