By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood July 6, 2014 at 3:12PM
Independence Day weekend doesn't tend to be a big specialized release date. In the last six years, only "The Way, Way Back" in 2013 stands out as a significant new release over the holiday. So it isn't surprising that the pickings were modest this year.
Magnolia's Roger Ebert documentary "Life Itself" is the only new film even reporting numbers, which turned out decent in a multi-city run (while also available on Video on Demand).
The rest of this month promises the strongest lineup of new indie films since late last year, starting with Richard Linklater's acclaimed "Boyhood" this Friday, several other significant Sundance films as well as the latest Woody Allen effort upcoming as well. These could join The Weinstein Company's "Begin Again" (which is showing significant early crossover strength in its second week) and RADiUS/Weinstein's "Snowpiercer" as summer successes after a series of disappointments in recent weeks (other than A24's "Obvious Child," which continues to perform well, without appearing to show major wider appeal).
"Life Itself" (Magnolia) - Criticwire: A-, Metacritic: 87; Festivals include: Sundance, Cannes (2014); also available on Video on Demand
$138,000 in theaters; PSA (per screen average): $6,000
Roger Ebert has become a larger-than-life figure, and his ability to cope for years with devastating disease only increased his stature and made for an even more compelling story. This documentary fits into a pattern for similar successes (creative personality with intimate, close-up details adding to what is already known), plus elements of a known filmmaker (Steve James) and a subject (to state the obvious) familiar to film critics and moviegoers, so strong interest seemed likely. Magnolia, who is handling theatrical and streaming for this film (CNN partnered on the project and will present this later on, likely in a shortened and content-edited version), decided, as they frequently do, to present a Video on Demand parallel to theatrical release. This accounts for the wider than usual initial release. The theatrical results would be considered positive even if this weren't on VOD. With that (and the significantly additional media coverage the film received benefiting all venues) this has to be considered, at least initially, as successful.
What comes next: 25 more theaters planned for this week, 100 the week after. The reviews make this one of the most acclaimed docs of the year, which could have some impact later on when we enter awards season.
"A Hard Day's Night" (Janus) (reissue)
$160,000 in 102 theaters; PSA: $1,569
50 years after its initial release, restored to what is said to be the most pristine version ever, this still-popular Beatles' film played a fairly wide reissue break to decent results, likely to bolster its future playoff on multiple media. Only two of the engagements included full showtimes, including New York's Film Forum, the top repertory/revival theater in the country, which had its best showing of the year with this. Most of the rest were single or limited shows (including midnights), making the results more impressive.
What comes next: More extended runs will continue in 30 series this weekend.