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Arthouse Audit: Controversial 'Paperboy' Leads Weak New Debuts

Box Office
by Tom Brueggemann
October 7, 2012 4:57 PM
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Nicole Kidman in "The Paperboy"

Although improved from last week's weak openings, the new ones again fell below the strong performance of September's debuts. The controversial "The Paperboy" had the best overall performance. New York openers "Wuthering Heights" and "The House I Live In" managed to stand out among the rest, backed by strong reviews.

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" and "Arbitrage" popped among the wider limited releases, with the former poised to break out soon ("Arbitrage" remains limited by its parallel Video on Demand availability, but is still a major performer). Meantime, more good documentaries seem to be competing for audience attention than at any other time in history, thus dividing up that market, making it harder for any of them to succeed.


 Opening

"The Paperboy" (Millennium) - Metacritic score: 44; Festivals include: Cannes 2012, Toronto 2012, New York 2012

$110,033 in 11 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $11,000

Lee Daniels' hothouse adaptation of Pete Dexter's mystery novel is closer in spirit to his debut film "Shadowboxer" than his acclaimed "Precious." Despite consensus negative reviews (with some raves in the mix) this opened to adequate if not great grosses in several cities, going beyond the usual NY/LA limited release. Similar to David Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis," this debuted in competition in Cannes, with a major young actor as the lead. With Nicole Kidman and Matthew McConaughey also in the mix, this was expected to be a top acquisition prospect. But when they didn't see any deals they liked, producer Millennium kept it for themselves (they also distributed McConaughey-starrer "Bernie" earlier this year to great success), and booked top-notch theaters in all markets.

What it means: This film will have solid value down the line with its notoriety and star value, including a wider limited release. Whether this has any further theatrical crossover appeal remains to be seen.

"Wuthering Heights" (Oscilloscope) - Metacritic score: 79; Festivals include: Venice 2011, Toronto 2011, Sundance 2012

$8,785 in 1 theater; PSA: $8,785

One of the more acclaimed films at last year's Venice/Toronto has a delayed release, with a good showcase at NY's Film Forum, where this had a reasonable gross for that venue.

What it means: This is a more rigorous (adventurously cast) version of the Bronte classic. Its strong reviews guarantee a big-city playoff, but it will remain a niche film.

"Butter" (Weinstein) - Metacritic score: 41; Festivals include: Telluride 2011, Toronto 2011, Hamptons 2011, AFI 2011

$70,653 in 90 theaters; PSA: $785; also available on Video on Demand

More than a year after its highly anticipated premiere, this Jennifer Garner/Hugh Jackman satire limped into theaters after nearly a month on VOD. Though well-received initially, with some viewers even suggesting award potential, that chance has long since faded. This weekend's gross (playing in multiple locations) also means little remaining theatrical life.

What it means: Radius, Weinstein's nascent VOD division, is certainly going to have success going forward, but so far they haven't clicked as well as more veteran distribs in this venue in pairing VOD to theatrical success.

"Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare" (Roadside Attractions) - Metacritic score: 67; Festivals include: Sundance 2012, Newport Beach 2012, Provincetown 2012 ; also available on ITunes and Video on Demand

$25,956 in 12 theaters:; PSA: $2,163

One of the many acclaimed Sundance docs in the mix for awards this year, this film's cause was helped by strong publicity and decent reviews in big cities, although the same day VOD release and serious subject matter will limit its theatrical playoff.

What it means: Even more than "Waiting for 'Superman'" was for public education, this film could be a key document in any discussion of the American health system.

"The House I Live In" (Abramorama) - Metacritic score: 73; Festivals include: Sundance 2012, Los Angeles 2012

$19,654 in 2 theaters:; PSA: $9,827

Opening in NY, this acclaimed doc about drug prohibition in the US did far better than "The Other Dream Team" last week, with two great theaters leading to a very good gross for a tough issue film.

What it means: This gross will increase interest beyond the big cities where it is already booked.

"V/H/S" (Magnolia) - Metacritic score: 54; Festivals include: Sundance 2012, South by Southwest 2012, Seattle 2012; also available on Video on Demand

A multi-director omnibus horror film from the Midnight section of this year's Sundance, the theatrical opening comes after several weeks already on VOD, with mixed at best grosses.

What it means: This multi-city opening will draw more attention to VOD going into Halloween.

"The Oranges" (IDP) - Metacritic score: 47; Festivals include: Toronto 2011, Indianapolis 2012, Montclair 2012

$180,000 in 110 theaters; PSA: $1,636

Acquired by ATO at Toronto 2011, then distributed with its partner IDP a year later, the much wider than usual release for this multi-star rom-com led by Hugh Laurie failed to gain much audience despite significant marketing. The older man sleeping with neighbor friend's daughter scenario may have been a turn-off.

What it means: The PSA for this is about 15% of what "Perks of Being a Wallflower" had last weekend at a similar number of theaters, so any much wider expansion seems unlikely.

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