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Arthouse Audit: 'Sleepwalk with Me' Is Hit, Three Sundance Entries Struggle to Find Audiences

Box Office
by Tom Brueggemann
September 2, 2012 3:30 PM
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Drafthouse Films "The Ambassador"

Even on a holiday weekend, the holdover specialized films--especially "Sleepwalk with Me"-- continued to prosper as the new ones opened badly . They boasted the lowest opening per-screen averages since the low-performing post-Christmas period. The three best new openers earned significant reaction at their Sundance premieres, but so far have failed to achieve the same level of ticket-buyer response.

The big story though is the second week of Mike Birbiglia's huge NY-opener "Sleepwalk With Me." A quick expansion yielded decent results even as it became available on Video on Demand, certain to be studied by the industry as a possible model.

Because of the four-day holiday, several films ( including "Compliance,"  "The Queen of Versailles," "Compliance" and "The Imposter") have not yet reported grosses.

Opening

"For a Good Time, Call..."  (Focus) - Metacritic score: 58; Festivals include: Sundance 12

$141,361 in 23 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $6,146

Less than helpful reviews have initially trumped strong advance audience responses (starting at Park City) for this very funny, raunchy female-based comedy not unlike "Bridesmaids." Opening wider than normal affected the PSA, but even taking this into account, this at best an average gross -- so far.

Acquired reportedly for something over $2 million for worldwide rights, this is the latest in a string of NY or LA based offbeat female-driven romcoms after the breakout success of "(500) Days of Summer." As with "Ruby Sparks" and "Celeste and Jesse Forever," the film was written by its lead actress (Lauren Miller). None of these has yet showed close to the success of last summer's breakout comedy hit, and even the best of them has fallen below several successful specialized releases during a very successful summer. So, combined with the less than stellar reviews, the initial modest response isn't a huge surprise.

What it means: The key is word of mouth. This opened to enough audience sampling that, with little competition over the next two weeks for audience attention, its real humor and genuinely surprising elements could yet develop a decent audience.

"The Ambassador" (Drafthouse) - Metacritic score: 69; Festivals include: IFDA 11, Sundance 12, New Directors/New Films 12; also available on Video on Demand

$11,900 in 4 theaters; PSA: $2,975

Mads Brugger's African-set diplomatic documentary (almost a performance art piece a la Sacha Baron Cohen) got favorable reviews after its successful Sundance premiere, but ended up with a weak total gross. This was a tough film to market, despite getting solid press attention. Its subject was not an attention-grabber and its director/"star" (the director) was unknown.

What it means: Though this is set for one week bookings in other major cities, this will primarily be a VOD-viewed film.

"Little Birds" (Millennium) - Metacritic score: 69; Festivals include: Sundance 11, Tribeca 11

$5,400 in 1 theater; PSA: $5,400

This Sundance 2011 Juno Temple/Kate Bosworth-starrer opened Wednesday at NY's Angelika Theater to a weak gross, despite decent reviews. This release comes 20 months after its premiere, delayed in no small part because director Elgin James had to serve a federal prison stint for a years-earlier assault charge from when he was involved with gang-related activities.

What it means: It looks like tough going ahead for this road drama.

"The Bullet Vanishes" (China Lion) - No Metacritic score

$40,000 in 15 theaters; PSA: $2,587

This 1930s Shanghai-set murder mystery/ghost story, a commercial hit in China, received a typical China Lion release in multiplexes adjacent to its likely audience, to mixed results at best.

What it means: These releases always bring more attention to the later DVD releases of these films, which always find an audience. Like similarly released Indian and Korean films, this opened close to its home country date in order to minimize piracy.

"Flying Swords of Dragon Gate" (Indomina) - Metacritic score: 60; Festivals include: Berlin 2012

$90,000 in 18 theaters; PSA: $1,800

Hong Kong master action director Tsui Hark's film was a 2011 release in Asia, and now is getting mainly non-specialized theater play, with strong backing from AMC Theater's Independent program.

What it means: Most likely a single-week film for most of its runs.

"The Day" (Anchor Bay) - No Metacritic score; Festivals include: Toronto 2011, Sarasota 2012

$10,800 in 12 theaters; PSA: $900

This sci-fi thriller premiered as a midnight film at last year's Toronto, where it was picked up by wrestling entertainment's WWE (which has acquired a number of action films) and then partnered with Anchor Bay. The result is a nothing gross, but the marketing will elevated its later availability.

What it means: "The Raid: Redemption" remains the sole Toronto Midnight film last year to gain any traction.

Expanding/ongoing

"Sleepwalk With Me" (IFC) - Week 2; also available on Video on Demand

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